The Ultimate Guide to Corporate Team Building

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Approximately 80% of employees’ days are spent working in teams. When done right, the opportunities are endless; when done wrong, the results can be catastrophic. As best-selling authors Adrian Gostlick and Chester Elton write in The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance, “the problem” is that most teams are “nowhere near as effective as they could be, and worse, are often riven by massive tension if not outright dissension.” This dysfunction “drains employee energy, enthusiasm and creativity rather than fueling them.” In other words, teamwork — or lack thereof — can make or break your business, which means team building is a critically important responsibility for human resources professionals and corporate executives alike.

According to Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 02E Brands, team building is “the most important investment you can make for your people.” His company is considered one of the country’s best places to work, which Scudamore attributes to its strategic team building activities. 

Alex Kowtun, co-founder of Monkey In Paradise Vodka and a Forbes Council Member, agrees, calling teamwork “the single most important skill and business process in making your organization effective and better than the competition.” Plus, he says, “unlike marketing or research and development,” team building “does not typically require a huge budget.”

Nevertheless, many companies do waste a lot of money trying to build trust and engagement through extravagant team building exercises, which led Carlos Valdes-Dapena to assert in Harvard Business Review that “most corporate team building is a waste of time and money.” 

This part Valdes-Dapena got right; what he got wrong was the extrapolation that this means companies shouldn’t invest in building a strong team culture.

laptops and other work materials on table from above, demonstrating team building

As Lance Salyers, founder of 5×5 Advisory, explains in Forbes, trying to “manage around the trust problem is understandable but misguided.” Teamwork, he explains, is different from group work. Group work, as in an assembly line, simply requires that each individual perform their tasks while “the design of the system and its coordination from the authorities above [transform] individual contribution into group production.” 

True teamwork, on the other hand, is what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. “Watch high-performing teams in any domain,” Salyers says, “and you will see a group of people operating with a shared sense of mission and a feeling of camaraderie.”

Indeed, about 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important,” and nearly two out of every five employees lists “working with a great team” as their number-one reason for staying with a company.
So, what are the benefits of true teamwork, what’s the importance of team building, and what are the keys to building effective teams? In our guide to corporate team building, we answer all of these questions. (And, if you need help developing team building skills in your organization, we can help!)

backpackers climbing mountain, demonstrating team building

The Top Five Reasons to Focus on Team Building

Before investing your time in determining which team building ideas would work best for your organization, you should be sure that team building is itself a valid exercise for improving your business. Here are five reasons you should focus your energy on building and supporting winning teams.

1. Team Building Builds Trust

As strategic consulting executive and Fearless Growth author Amanda Setili says, “If we don’t believe that the other person is going to do what they led us to expect them to do, then we’re not going to put ourselves at risk. And if we don’t put ourselves at risk, then we’re not going to be successful. And the company… is going to slowly erode and die.” 

Indeed, numerous studies from the Great Place to Work Institute have shown that the most successful companies have high-trust cultures. In the Institute’s 30 years of research, it’s found that “people experience a great workplace” when they consistently:

  • Trust the people they work for
  • Have pride in what they do
  • Experience camaraderie with their colleagues

To experience camaraderie and build trust, you need true teamwork. 

“While it’s important to recognize the accomplishments of individuals who go above and beyond” to increase employees’ pride in what they do, “great workplaces realize the importance of promoting teamwork and encouraging cross-collaboration,” explains the Institute’s Tabitha Russell Wilhelmsen. The Great Place to Work-certified organizations and Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For all have one thing in common: they “succeed by bringing people together to accomplish things together in an environment of trust.”

Trust makes people feel safe. When employees feel safe, they: 

  • More honestly assess and express their strengths and weaknesses
  • Are more proactive
  • Take more risks
  • Listen to each other and more easily reach consensus 

As a result, there’s better communication and collaboration, which produces better, quicker outcomes.

male and female office workers celebrating, slapping high five, at a desk, demonstrating team building

2. Team Building Improves Communication

David Grossman, author of You Can’t Not Communicate and founder and CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based communications consultancy, reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that companies lose an average of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. On the other hand, companies with effective communication are 50% more likely to have lower employee turnover and produce 47% higher total returns

So how do business leaders ensure active and thorough communication? They model the behavior by maintaining open lines of communication with their managers and employees; and they invest in team building, because the best communication occurs within teams built on trust. In fact, true teamwork is defined by communication. 

Solid teams strategize as a whole and in smaller working groups, and discuss tactics for each and every task, determining together the most effective and efficient way to achieve a desired result. In strong teams, employees understand their roles and the roles of their teammates, and how each person’s role contributes to the success of the team and the organization. When employees know what their team members are doing, they can check up on progress and provide assistance toward reaching the shared goal.

3. Team Building Increases Productivity

Employee performance improves up to 20% when employees interact. In fact, according to psychologist Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, face-to-face interactions between workers even have biological benefits that ‘supercharge’ productivity. An international survey of 2,300 professionals supports this claim, indicating that workers are more productive when they have friends at work, with 72% of employees with a best friend at work reporting being satisfied with their jobs.

Of course, the best way to connect with co-workers is by working together, sharing experiences, failures and successes. With the trust and communication built through true teamwork, employees are more likely to share the workload and learn new skills, boosting productivity and improving team performance and the organization’s bottom line.

three female employees laughing together with laptops at desk, demonstrating team building

4. Team Building Enhances Creativity

According to Tendayi Viki, an associate partner at Strategyzer who helps large companies innovate for the future, “Research on creativity and innovation has been consistent in showing the value of exposing individuals to experiences with multiple perspectives and worldviews. It is the combination of these various perspectives in novel ways that result in new ideas ‘popping up.’” 

In contrast to siloed work, with a single employee focused on a single assignment, successful team building enables employees to learn from each other, provide new perspectives, and brainstorm innovative ideas. This, in turn, enhances creativity in approach and result — and, as McKinsey & Company has proven, “creativity is associated with superior performance.”

5. Team Building Facilitates Inclusion

Organizations that are intentional in hiring, retaining and developing diverse talent are 19% more innovative, earn 140% more revenue, have more than twice as much cash per employee, and are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. This is because diversity in race, ethnicity, culture, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age and geography increases diversity in perspective, tactics and expertise. However, diversity isn’t enough. 

No matter how diverse your workplace, if the people you hire don’t feel respected, appreciated and part of the group, they’ll quickly become disengaged, damaging morale, accelerating turnover, and weakening recruitment. 

As Deloitte concludes in Diversity and inclusion: The reality gap, “The era of diversity as a ‘check the box’ initiative owned by HR is over. CEOs must take ownership and drive accountability among leaders at all levels to close the gap between what is said and actual impact.”

This is the difference between diversity and inclusion, and the best way for leaders to close this gap is to promote the type of team building that builds trust and communication. The more teammates share experiences, failures and successes, and the more time they spend together working on projects and enjoying non-work hours, the better they’ll understand, appreciate, respect and include each other. 

Want to learn more about diversity and inclusion? Download our ebook.

Lacking diversity? You're not alone. Many companies are not only reimagining their recruitment process but reconnecting with their employees to ensure everyone feels respected, valued, and included. Download your guide to achieving diversity.

So What Do Inclusion, Creativity, Productivity, Communication and Trust Mean for the Organization?

It goes without saying that when inclusive, trusting and collaborative teams are more creative and productive, they produce better results, which improves the company’s bottom line. However, they also provide an opportunity for HR leaders and executives to promote healthy competition among teams, which can amplify the positive effects. The statistics on companies that incorporate competition, or gamification, are compelling; here are a few:

  • Nearly nine out of 10 employees report that if a task is gamified, they feel eager to complete it
  • Nearly seven out of 10 employees intend to stay with a company for three or more years if they use gamified activities
  • Gamified activities increase productivity by 48%
trophy, demonstrating gamification as part of team building in the workplace

Ten Tips for Doing Team Building Right

“The idea behind team-building exercises is to help employees become more in-tune with each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” explains an expert panel of the Forbes Coaches Council. “Sadly, many team-building exercises don’t work that well because… there’s not enough engagement to actually create a connection. Developing that connection is the whole purpose of team building, so any exercise that doesn’t is a waste of the company’s resources.” 

In February 2020, 14 experts shared with Forbes their thoughts on the most effective ways to create a connection and avoid wasting resources. Following are our top 10.

The most effective team-building activities:

  1. Align with the company’s priorities and business goals (Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC)
  2. Are designed with — and not for — the team (Linda Allen-Hardisty, Allen-Hardisty Leadership)
  3. Are based on how team members “like to be appreciated,” “wish to be connected” and choose to have fun (Kyle Cromer Elliott,
  4. Begin with a clear “measure of success and what will help [participants] accomplish this measure” (Christine Rose, Christine Rose Coaching & Consulting)
  5. Are “authentic without being overly intrusive” (Karyn Gallant, Gallant Consulting Group)
  6. Encourage all participants to “flag concerns and solve issues in advance” (Laura Camacho, Mixonian Institute)
  7. Ask the right questions (Inga Bielińska, Inga Arianna Bielinska Coaching Consulting Mentoring)
  8. Identify and aim to solve real challenges faced by the team (Sameer Khan, Inspiring Insights LLC)
  9. Offer a clearly communicated outcome (Ashley Good, Ashley Good Coaching & Consulting)
  10. Conclude with “realistic expectations” and future commitments from management (Palena Neale, unabridged)
hand placing the last of a series of nine sticky notes, to be used for a team building activity

Fifteen Team-Building Games for the Workplace

One important takeaway from the advice of the Forbes Coaches Council experts is that no one focused on the location or the expense of the team building activity; requiring team members to leave their families for a retreat, for instance, can cause more harm than good.  

Instead, try these less expensive, less complicated and less time consuming team-building exercises:

  1. Work Jeopardy
  2. Office Pictionary
  3. Show and tell
  4. Make your own job title
  5. Personality and working style assessments like StrengthFinder and Myers Briggs
  6. Boardroom/Meeting room escape rooms
  7. Creating a mantra for the year
  8. Team videos
  9. Team volunteering/community service
  10. Practicing gratitude/Circle of appreciation
  11. Two truths, one lie
  12. Office debates
  13. Scavenger hunt
  14. Memory wall (work-related whiteboard timeline)
  15. What’s in the room (pick up any random object in the room and prepare a marketing plan to sell it)

Then ask yourself: what’s more effective than an hour or a day or even a week dedicated to formal team-building activities? Practicing good management skills every day of the year.  In Your Guide to Being the Best HR Leader, we show you how.

The MBL Difference 

Looking for help building effective teams? There’s no better solution than MBL. At MBL, we are a true partner. We think of our work as building relationships, not as a business transaction. It’s our mission to learn as much about your company and its needs as possible, so we can act as your guiding force. We will share our vast network of carriers, technology and wellness providers, and more, so you can keep your employees happy, attract new talent, and boost your bottom line.

If you’re looking for guidance team building, consult with our advisors

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