We all know the feeling. You’re looking at a team building company’s website and thinking “Right, but how does this actually work?” It can be hard to get a sense of what the activities will be like, and how they will actually impact your team.
When choosing the right team building program, it’s important to understand how such programs actually accomplish their objectives. Different team building programs will work slightly differently. Some may be based around certain educational concepts like PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act). Others might utilize team strengthening activities like trust falls or trust walks. Still, others may base their activities on puzzles or escape games (like Invite Japan does).
Team building also doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal program. Going out to dinner or drinks with coworkers to celebrate the completion of a tough project is team building. Team building could also be just a quick ten minute activity at the end of a meeting.
No matter what though, all team building programs use similar strategic principles in order to make teams stronger and more effective. Understanding these principles will help your team make more informed decisions about team building programs, as well as better prepare your team for what to expect from the experience.
In the following post, we’ll guide you through the principles that make team building work. The first part will be about team building activities in general. Then in the second part, we’ll discuss Invite Japan’s team building programs and why they are so effective.
Part 1: General Principles that Make Team Building Work
The following are some of the major goals and strategies of team building programs. These strategies are what make team building work so well–they strengthen teams and show them the way to making themselves more effective.
Give teams time and space
The most fundamental principle that allows team building to work is giving teams time and space to focus on the team. This point might seem overly obvious but it’s an important one. Just as individuals need time and space to focus on themselves and reflect, teams also need time and space to focus on being a team.
Again, the specific time and space are not necessarily important. You can have ten-minute long team building sessions or three-day long seminars. You can do a team building activity in a conference room in your office, or at a resort in Hawaii.
What is important is that you carve out a space and time for your team that is separate from the daily routine (see Change Up the Routine below). You can’t rely on team building to happen naturally in the office during the course of work.
The best team building activities work by being immersive. They completely draw the participants into the “world” of teambuilding. This allows them to really open up and focus. In the case of Invite Japan, we use exciting puzzle challenges as a way to fully immerse teams in the team building experience so that they can focus on working together. Improv acting activities are another useful way to immerse teams in team building and get them to bond and release their creativity.
Challenge teams in a “low-stakes environment”
Another foundational strategy behind how team building works is to give teams the opportunity to succeed at challenges in an environment where the stakes are lowered. You might be wondering how this is useful. Shouldn’t team building be high-stakes in order to prepare them for challenges in the real world?
Counterintuitively, the answer is no. You see, at work, people face a lot of high-pressure situations, often connected to job performance or reputation. Because high-pressure situations create a lot of stress and fear, people often react to them in ways that revert to self-preservation and survival. Or they use tactics that ignore the well-being of a team.
Team building works by cutting through these survivalistic reactions and getting team members to see that other avenues for reacting to situations using teamwork are possible. It does this by providing challenges that are mentally (and sometimes physically challenging), but that don’t come with any high-stakes loss or external pressure if failure occurs.
This allows team members to relax a bit, and creates a headspace in which team members can truly focus on being a team rather than on surviving as individuals. They can experiment with different methods of reaching decisions, different roles, and different ways of thinking through problems without worrying about losing a big client or messing up an important project.
When team members relax and have fun (see below), they can enjoy spending time together and share in the feeling of success as an intrinsic good that can be beneficial for the whole team. Even if they fail at the challenges, teams can laugh about it afterwards and learn how to improve in the future.
No matter what, teams walk away having learned together as a team. The lessons that they learn in the challenges can then be applied the next time the team faces a real high-stakes challenge, so that teams can make better team decisions with less strife and stress.
Change up the routine
Getting teams out of their normal routines is another reason why team building works so well. This is not to say that routines are unimportant. They provide structure and stability and decrease friction when completing tasks.
However, routines can also lead to complacency, boredom and “coasting”. They can condition a status quo mentality that may be incapable of incorporating new perspectives, ideas and methods. That’s why, sometimes, it’s important to break them.
Stepping outside of daily routines can feel refreshing. It can open your mind and allow you to think consciously about your habits and preconceived ideas. It can also be exciting and fun. You can learn and experience new things that you might not have otherwise.
Team building engages in this sense of adventure that comes from breaking routines. First of all, the team building itself is an extra-routine event (see above). It’s not a normal part of the daily schedule, and so it gives teams a break from their regular routines.
Secondly, the team building activities themselves are not ordinary, run of the mill tasks that people routinely do. They involve fun and mentaly stimulating challenges like puzzles, scavenger hunts or games.
Because teams are breaking out of their routines and discovering these new experiences together, it becomes easier for team members to relax, bond, and break free of their regular roles and prejudices. Team members can come to see new perspectives, and teams as a whole can develop, grow and become more effective.
Let teams discover their weaknesses and strengths
Helping teams improve and become more efficient is a central goal of team building programs. Team building activities are geared towards making teams stronger, healthier, and more productive.
To do this though, teams need to be able to see what their strong points and weak points are. And seeing these strengths and weaknesses is not always so easy for teams to do on their own.
As we mentioned above, teams are often busy and engaged in their work and tasks. It can also be difficult to assess points of improvement without outside help. Teams can be very well-functioning and still not be able to notice some of the blind spots that could impede them in the future.
Team building activities are very helpful at getting teams to notice both their weaknesses and strengths. The activities used in team building programs are geared at challenging teams in various aspects of effective teamwork: decision-making, problem-solving, helping each other, communication, trust, etc.
No team is perfect in all of these aspects. And perfection is not the goal. Rather, it’s to help teams see where they can improve, where they can celebrate their success, and how they can help each other to achieve their goals. Because ultimately, teams can only succeed at team building challenges when they work together.
Strengths and weaknesses apply not just to teams as a whole, but also to individuals. Teamwork is about combining strengths, becoming greater than the sum of the parts. In the course of the challenges teams get to understand the skills that each team member possesses–and some may be a bit surprising. Because the activities are not routine, team members sometimes discover new strengths and weaknesses that they never knew they had. This is all part of the team building process.
In some team building programs, discussions are formally included. These are also beneficial at getting teams to think critically about how they function effectively. Even if they are not part of the program you choose, we highly encourage that teams take the time to discuss and debrief after the program as a way of cementing the experience.
Discovering strengths and weaknesses is part of the overall learning process that occurs in team building. When teams learn together they also grow together and become closer in the process. But this learning often takes different forms from standard, formal learning environments like classrooms.
Team building utilizes active learning. Active learning means that participants are engaged in their own learning process. So instead of just listening passively, they talk, discuss, interact with their environments and create.
Active learning occurs during the challenges. During the challenges, team members learn new skills through trial and error. They also learn from each other in the process of discussing how to proceed and making decisions.
This active learning process teaches teams about being an effective team. It helps them learn how to better communicate and make decisions, how to trust each other, and how to utilize each others’ strengths. By learning from each other, team members come to recognize the value that each member brings to the table.
Sometimes there is a more formal educational aspect in team building. This comes in as part of a workshop or lecture, where a staff member gives a talk or provides context that may be useful. Usually, these lectures supplement the main team building activity so as not to take away from valuable active learning experience.
Let teams have fun together and make memories
Along with taking teams out of the regular routine (see above), team building also provides teams with an enjoyable and fun experience. This is one of the main secrets behind how team building works. Team building programs often emphasize how fun they are for participants, and there are a number of reasons why that is.
The most obvious reason is that team building wants to engage participants and immerse them in the activities. Boring activities will only lead to distraction and participants becoming unfocused. By leading with fun, team building can capture the attention of team members so that the results are more effective.
Fun activities also allow team members to relax and open themselves up to new experiences and perspectives. Much like breaking the routine, when teams have fun together, they are more willing to work together and to view challenges as something enjoyable. They are also more willing to talk and communicate. This lesson can then be applied to the workplace as well.
Finally, having fun as a team creates good memories and shared experiences. As mentioned earlier, no matter whether teams succeed or fail, when they are having fun in a low-stakes environment they will be creating good memories that they can laugh about later. This will also spur positive associations of their team members working together, which can be beneficial in forging stronger, more cohesive teams.
Part II: How Invite Japan’s Team Building Works
Now that we’ve given you a run-down of how team building works in general, we want to take the opportunity to talk about Invite Japan’s team building programs specifically. We’ll show you how they work in relation to the aspects mentioned above, and let you know what you can expect from your team building experience with us.
Invite Japan’s main team building lineup includes Online Team Building, Suitcase Mystery (a transportable game in a box), Hidden Secrets Journey (a scavenger hunt game), as well as a number of supplemental workshops on topics like Psychological Safety, Team Roles, and Anger Management. We also have a special Improv seminar that uses improv games and activities to help teams bond and release their shared creativity.
All of our team building events use puzzles as a base. What kind of puzzles? Lots of different ones. That way, different skills are tested: logic, math, pattern recognition, spatial reasoning, lateral thinking, etc. Utilizing these different skills requires working together to successfully complete the challenges within the time limit (usually around 1~3 hours depending on the event).
As you can probably already see, our puzzle-based team building programs hit all of the aspects mentioned above. They create a low-stakes space, outside of the normal routine, where teams can learn together, test their strengths and weaknesses, and have fun.
Puzzles are fun and enjoyable as well mentally challenging. They’re also surprisingly refreshing. And they open people up to new experiences and mental stimuli, and get conversation going. When people become so focused on puzzles, they naturally bond and work together.
In other words, our team building really works. Which is why our team building is so successful, and why companies return to us again and again.