Workplace team building has gained an unfortunate reputation for disruptive away days, contrived open-air challenges, and embarrassing role-playing exercises. Mention any of these activities to your staff members and their hearts will sink. Clearly, this is counterproductive for boosting staff morale and productivity.
However, you can’t ignore the importance of well-functioning team relationships in any organization. But how can you foster these as a manager, building strong teams without resorting to paintball sessions or collaborative raft building?
According to Washington D.C. based leadership training consultant KO Coaching, the key is a process called experiential learning.
This approach to team building uses exercises which are closely related to the workplace and your staff’s roles, rather than irrelevant activities aimed at boosting a tenuous sense of togetherness.
It may still involve an element of the dreaded roleplay, but the acting will generally be done by the training consultant. Staff members will be asked to deal with situations exactly as they would if they encountered them in their normal working days.
For example, in one exercise the trainer could play the part of an angry customer. It would then be up to the staff members to work together to solve the issue. This could involve discussion or brainstorming within the group, followed by devising a plan of action.
Or, the trainer plays the role of the boss setting down a project that needs tackling urgently. A group then needs to put together a presentation on how they’ll complete it.
Importantly, both of these exercises will be carried out in real-world circumstances. They’ll be conducted in a closed group of employees monitored by the trainer, rather than in front of an audience of other staff members. The trainer will observe and analyze, and use what they’ve seen to suggest ways of improving team effectiveness.
The specifics of the exercises will differ according to the nature of the workplace. But the essential point is that they’ll be designed to encourage and reinforce team thinking within an environment that applies directly to the staff’s daily responsibilities.
The participants can more easily appreciate the relevance of the exercise to their roles. They’ll be more likely to see the real benefits it brings, and they won’t resent the whole event as a time-wasting diversion.
While there’s certainly a place for building a social element into workplace relationships, team building isn’t best done through traditional away days. Experiential learning has more immediate benefits and generates less awkwardness, and its long-term success is all the greater because of it.