Team building industry is huge. You can get anything for your team – from a simple pub crawl, company sports day or tea party to almost dying together somewhere high in the mountains. You can get excellent experiences and spend a lot of money. But do these events actually build a team? I think that they more likely cause anxiety and awkwardness than achieve any real benefit. What to do instead? Build you team every day based on elementary human values.

Team building events are fun yet add little value

Organisers of team building events know what their customers want. Working together in teams, having fun, smiling a lot and very likely getting drunk together to bond even more. Management likes to see that and everyone enjoys that. So what’s wrong with it? According to surveys and other sources at least big part of your team will feel awkward and alienated not comfortable and trusted. So should you drop all team building events? Definitely not. Organise at least one proper team building event a year. But if you think that it will build your team – think again.

When you all come back to the office on Monday – which ones of the experiences will help the team to deal with the Monday crisis? The hangover? The laughter? Or the much improved volleyball skills? OK laughter will help at least a little bit. But how about next Monday? And the one after that? A good team building event will be remembered long after it’s finished, but its team building benefits will dissipate very quickly. This is why you need to build your team not once a year, but every day.

Team building events are in most cases anything but related to work. But guess what – your team needs to be a team not while playing football (unless you own a football club), but while solving your customer needs. This is why team needs to be built around that.

Team building is usually all about having fun. When shit hits the fan on that Monday morning – it’s usually not fun. So a lot of what was learned on that team building event will be forgotten or unusable in real life situations.

If you want to have a team building event it has to be without their family members and partners. Just doesn’t work that way. But how do the partners feel about it? Usually not too happy. Sure there will be some singing Yeah, Yeah, Yeah and having a great weekend out, but there will be plenty who will be unhappy with the extra burden of looking after children, pets etc. There will be the occasional jealous one. So you will be able to pull off one or two team building events a year, but in some cases the net result can be even negative.

3 things that build team spirit

So what am I suggesting instead? Do as many as possible small things on every day basis. Anything that is also fun, but closely related to real work situations and real team work. Team building is like going for a long run once a year. You will feel tired for a week and that’s it. You need to got to the gym every day and train that team muscle as often as possible. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  • communicate – like in any relationship communication is the key. Find the right approach for your team – daily standups, weekly checkins, project retrospectives, team chats for various (also non-work related) topics etc. Do and support whatever fosters communication within the team. And be strict as soon as you see unproductive meetings as those will do the exactly opposite to team building
  • values and rules – same like in any group of people whether that’s a family, tribe, book club or a biker gang – there have to be values and rules to follow. Without them there is no group, there is no team. They are existing in reality even if you have not written them down. This way values are out of your control. So write them down as soon as possible and follow them strictly. No shouting or serious punishment is needed, but everyone in the team needs to follow the same rules all the time without exceptions. That will get you close to “This is Sparta” kind of team and build trust like no kayaking event can
  • recognise – your team doesn’t do something because you told them to. They do because they want to. They want to help customers and their team members. And so they do, but the problem is lack of feedback. Companies will work really hard to get some feedback from customers. Starting from NPS, customer surveys and key account management. But how about feedback from team members? That is often forgotten, but is at least as important if not more. People want to hear both criticism and even more – praise and recognition. It is like fuel for their engines. Leaving them without recognition is as good as leaving them without food. So make yourself and others to use one of the many ways to recognise and thank your team mates – post it thank you notes, radical candor framework or recognition application – whatever it may be, but try it and see your team being built!

I am not saying that team building events are useless or evil. Spending fun time with your team is definitely beneficial, but just not enough. You need to foster team spirit every day and all the time. I have given you three possible improvements that are most important in my opinion. Ask me if you need any additional information, try them out and let me know how it goes!