Ninety-three percent of employees who say they feel valued at their job report that they are motivated to do their best work. These are the results of a poll done by the American Psychological Association, which show that there are obvious benefits to organizations for team building events and activities. Despite this, according to research by Cintrix, thirty-one percent of employees say they dislike team building activities. A very likely contributing factor is that team building is at times very misunderstood (and sometimes just misapplied).

Team building has a history of being a fairly nebulous term. This is in part due to the difficulty of applying any real objective metrics to human group behavior and efficiency, but as study methodologies have improved researchers have been able to identify approaches that have been shown to actually work. Data analyzed from 105 studies from 1950-2007 in the Small Group Research paper titled “Does Team Building Work?”, shows clear evidence that team building can have measureable benefit to a team’s success. The findings of Salas’ team in the aforementioned paper pointed to four approaches that could have a vital impact on your team’s affective and process outcomes. When choosing activities for your team you will need something that can help improve your team’s aptitude for goal setting, problem solving, role clarification or interpersonal-relationships.

While overall team goals frequently come from outside the team itself, the ever-important skill of goal setting is at times ignored or sidelined by team leaders. A team’s objectives are usually comprised of a myriad of small tasks, which a team has to effectively manage to produce the necessary results. Team building activities that help them acquire the tools to set their goals together will also sometimes inspire the team to exceed expectations, by fostering an excited and competitive atmosphere. Luckily it’s easy to find ways to include goal setting as a focus of an event seeing as how, from calling plays to picking a navigator, it is a key element of most games or challenges which most team building activities include.

Also inherent to most challenges and games is problem solving, another important approach to team building. While all the individuals within a team may be quite competent at setting goals and problem solving, if they’re unable to do so as a group the team will be significantly less effective than the sum of their parts. As Eduardo Salas is quoted, “a team of experts does not make an expert team.”

Just as critical to team building is role clarification. This can sometimes simply mean clear lines of communication with all relevant tasks assigned by the team leader, but in today’s fast paced business environment it has become necessary to have a dynamic and flexible team. Designing team building events to help enable a team to learn and discover what each member can bring to a unique challenge, as well as helping them efficiently and clearly delegate tasks amongst themselves will greatly improve a team’s overall productivity.

None of this is possible without effective communication. While this is near enough to common knowledge, managing interpersonal-relationships within the workplace can be a murky business at best, and the team’s relationships are paramount to positive communication. Helping facilitate positive bonds between employees through fun team building activities that are task oriented will allow the team to associate that positive affect with working alongside their team members to complete objectives. This can also alleviate some of the potentially negative aspects that close friendships within a team can sometimes yield, such as cliquishness or too much side-talk. When team members can learn to have fun while working on their projects, learn to communicate with each other in a clear and efficient manner, and set and manage goals effectively, they will begin to see their full potential realized.

Tom Porcella