Team Building Activities: Some Work… While Others Don’t!

Trust Fall

Just watch a single episode of the television show “The Office” and you’ll have a fairly solid idea of what not to do as far as team building exercises are concerned. Even if your boss isn’t Michael Scott and the Dunder-Mifflin gang isn’t your crew, poorly planned team building exercises can backfire in a hurry.

Team building is an excellent way to build up company morale and strengthen relationships between team members. It emphasizes trust and teamwork while improving communication. But, all too often, the team building exercises that are chosen don’t succeed at any of these things. Instead, they violate people’s dignity, privacy, and personal space. From just not having fun to openly disliking the activities, it can be tough to get all of your crew members on the same page when it comes to team building activities.

On the other hand, it can be extremely difficult to gauge the success of a particular team building activity. Your employees might be enjoying themselves, but that just isn’t enough. How can you verify whether anything is actually being accomplished? Sadly, many team building activities don’t have a clear-cut set of goals – or if they do, they are not shared with participants, which results in their benefits being greatly minimized.

Though the success of specific exercises will vary depending on the participants, there are some that are more apt to go awry. There are a few that stood out for me during my experiences in the corporate world. Curious to see if others shared my views, I asked amongst friends and family, and noted the opinions of others online.

The team building activities discussed below – while not always unsuccessful – are the three that came up the most when I posed the following question: “Which team-building activities would you rather avoid?”

Trust Falls

This summer camp game turned team building activity usually doesn’t cut it in the workplace. In fact, trust falls were mentioned more frequently than any other activity in my search for the ‘worst’ team building exercises around.

In a trust fall, one participant stands still with their arms held out. The other participant stands in front of the first person with their back to them and their eyes closed. After replying ‘I trust you’ (or something of the sort) to the first person’s question of ‘Do you trust me?’, the closed-eye participant falls backwards into their waiting arms.

This particular team building exercise is all about creating communication and trust between team members. However, the simulation doesn’t have anything in common with day-to-day workplace tasks, rendering it a useless activity.

Furthermore, with a trust fall, there is a high potential for injury. Though the activity is not inherently dangerous, accidents can happen, especially when you add weird size pairings  (think: a 6’4’’ employee and a 5’6’’ employee) into the mix.

Simply put, a team building activity that doesn’t accomplish anything relevant to the workplace and that is also dangerous should be avoided altogether.

Blindfolds

Most of the people that I talked to said that they weren’t very fond of team building activities involving blindfolds – and that was putting it lightly!

The idea behind this team building exercise is to increase trust among team members by forcing the blindfolded employee to wholly rely upon their partner while being led around a room, which should encourage dialogue and communication.

This game has the potential to work well but often, it triggers juvenile tendencies in participants. After being bumped around, it is not uncommon for that person to retaliate by intentionally bumping around their partner when roles are reversed. More often than not, revenge and grudges result from blindfolded team building activities. And that’s not to mention that the activity is juvenile in itself and holds few benefits applicable to the workplace – it’s benefits are meagre and all but impossible to track.

Physically-Extreme Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor team building activities can be a much-needed change of pace, depending on what they are. Picnic lunches, scavenger hunts, or day walks / hikes can work fabulously, but, when things get extreme, many employees start to feel uncomfortable.

Physically-extreme adventure activities aren’t the best choice (unless you’re in the action sports or outdoor adventure industries). I’ve heard a handful of stories from people who have been all but forced to participate in rock climbing adventures – even when they were deathly afraid of heights. Another individual I spoke with was forced to participate in a group canyoning excursion as part of a team-building activity. She was afraid of both enclosed spaces and running water, and barely made it through the day.

More common are physically-demanding exercises that some participants might not be fit enough to both complete and enjoy. ‘Fun’ runs, lengthy bicycle rides, kayaking trips, and the traditional yet oft dreaded ropes courses are only a few examples. While these sorts of activities are no doubt fun for the active and adventurous people in the group, they can make other team members feel pressured to perform, often to impress their boss or coworkers. This can lead to injury or, as is more often the case, plain old embarrassment, which is definitely not ideal given that team building is an activity used to boost morale, confidence, and communication.

Plus, a good number of these outdoor excursions don’t result in any actual benefits. Sure, they can be fun and, yes, it’s nice to get away from the office every once in awhile, but the whole point of team building is to increase communication and build relationships and many of these activities just don’t do either.

Activities That Actually Work

Though there are many team building exercises that don’t hold many benefits, luckily there are some that do. These activities are fun, safe, and engaging while providing real benefits and easily-trackable results. The most effective team building activities take the form of goal-oriented, interactive games that get employees out of their work environments while breaking down the normal corporate hierarchies.

Progress and success in goal-oriented games, unlike the ‘worst’ team building activities discussed above, can actually be measured because of, well, the goals that are set. Goal-oriented is not, however, necessarily synonymous with competitive – though the activity itself certainly can be. Subconsciously, being outside the workplace and away from corporate hierarchies helps employees interact and think in new, more honest, ways. And, of course, ensuring the game is interactive and requires teamwork is vital, but most importantly – it’s gotta be fun!

MapDash – a great team building tool

With MapDash, we have created a geo-mobile scavenger hunt that is a very effective team building tool. A MapDash ‘game’ is a goal-oriented race to get to certain locations first, pick up hints, and then move on to the next location in the scavenger hunt. It is competitive yet good-natured, and requires frequent communication amongst participants. It’s simple to use, so your employees will feel at ease when playing – but contains enough quirks to keep it entertaining and challenging for everyone.

Unlike the other activities mentioned earlier, success can be easily and accurately measured with MapDash. Instead of just sending out all of your employees to have a good time, you can send them out to have a good time and keep track of their progress in the process. This is all thanks to MapDash’s in-game reporting that includes statistics and analysis, providing a convenient method of tracking your employee’s progress, how they make decisions, and how they interact with each other to reach a common goal.

What Does All This Mean for You?

At the end of the day, it is up to you to choose the specific team building activities that you have your team members perform. Every company is different, and your company’s specific needs, preferences, and goals should be reflected in the activities that you ultimately choose.

However, it is important to keep in mind that some activities tend to produce trackable benefits (i.e. goal-oriented exercises, scavenger hunts) while others tend to fall flat (trust falls, blindfolded exercises). Above all, I encourage you to choose a team building exercise that  is fun, safe and that you yourself are eager to participate in. A team building activity that isn’t fun won’t do anything to improve communication, trust, confidence, and morale in your team members. And those goals, of course, are the reason for team building in the first place.

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