Often when talking about the effects of team building, it can be hard to imagine them concretely in the workplace. Terms like teamwork, cooperation, even team building can sometimes obscure the real-world impacts that these terms convey. And as much as this team building terminology can be informative and helpful for learning about different aspects of team building, it can sometimes make it hard to imagine the actual benefits of a team building activity for your own team.
Here we want to talk about the concrete effects of team building in the workplace. Let’s imagine your team having completed a team building activity. What happens when everyone returns to the office? What might the results be two or three days, a month later? How will your workplace change as a result of team building?
Change up workplace culture
One of the biggest effects that team building has is in changing workplace culture through strengthening relationships. Workplace cultures are formed by the complex interactions that occur between coworkers–in the hallways, in the break room, at meetings, over emails, outside of work, etc.
We often talk about healthy workplace cultures versus unhealthy or toxic workplace cultures. Ideally we would want healthy workplace cultures that support and value individual team members, and empower them to bring their best for the team. Healthy workplace cultures also create ways to openly share opinions without the threat of destructive conflict or resentment.
Team building changes and charges these relationships by bringing people closer together. During team building, team members learn about each other, laugh together, and make memories. These form lasting bonds that continue into the workplace.
After team building, it is easier for team members to see each other as individuals with unique personalities and skills, rather than just as people you have to interact with in the office. Once they have succeeded in facing challenges together that are low-stakes, it becomes easier for team members to trust and open up to each other in the workplace.
This obviously changes workplace culture by creating a more open and trusting environment to work in. Workplace cultures can sometimes be very stubborn, so it may take time and effort to see substantial changes. Still, even the littlest amount of team building can start to lay the groundwork for significant changes later.
Remote teams will also benefit from team building, perhaps even more so. Because remote teams are a relatively new phenomenon, there’s a lot of leeway in terms of creating a remote workplace culture where team members feel appreciated and valued. Furthermore, remote teams need a lot of work when it comes to feeling a sense of team unity. By bonding together in (online) team building activities, team members will feel more together, and view remote coworkers as more than just faces on a screen.
In other words, even with remote teams, where members interact infrequently, team building is important for establishing and strengthening a healthy workplace culture.
Workplace culture is not only formed by relationships but also by norms. These are the daily habits and schedules that coworkers follow–where they go, who they sit next to, who they talk to and when.
Norms also involve how decisions are made, and the principles that underlie actions taken as a team. For example, if your team makes decisions by consensus, that is a norm. If your team is hierarchical, with subordinates having to report everything to their immediate superiors, that is also a norm.
Norms aren’t necessarily good or bad. However, norms are often taken for granted–a “this is the way things have always been done so that’s how we do them” type of thinking. It can therefore be beneficial for teams to “break out” of these norms and routines, in order to see whether they really are functional or not.
When teams go through team building, they work through challenges that are outside of their daily routines and norms. This allows them to become more aware of them when they return to the workplace.
Maybe two team members who hardly ever interact at the office bond during the team building game. This breaks the regular norm from before and strengthens their relationship in the workplace, increasing team unity.
Another example is that a team uses a different decision-making method during the team building activity. Perhaps they use a consensus method instead of relying on one person to make decisions. This can have the effect of changing how those team members view decision-making when they return to the office. Maybe they implement that new method, or start making decisions with their teammates more informally.
As you can see, breaking norms for a short period of time can have a positive impact on people’s awareness of those norms and possibly how to change them. Norms can sometimes be quite complicated and depend on external structures like corporate policy and procedures. However, even making team members more consciously aware of norms can help them figure out how to make improvements within those structures.
Complete tasks more quickly
Team building helps teams complete their tasks more effectively and with less friction in the workplace. This in turn allows them to get work and tasks done more quickly There are two ways that this happens.
The first is that team building teaches teams how to make decisions more effectively together. This happens in the challenges. As teams go through the different challenges, they must work together to succeed. This leads them to use alternative decision methods and ways of making quick actions. Once they return to the office, they can use what they learned to become more effective teams.
The second occurs on a more individual level. Team members bond during team building. They interact in different ways than at work, allowing for more interpersonal relationships to flourish. Team members learn to trust each other, and also get to know skill sets that their teammates possess which maybe they didn’t know about before.
All well and good, but how does that relate to getting work done? Actually, it’s quite essential. Building trust is a fundamental aspect of effective teams. Teams that trust each other will be able to adapt better to new challenges because they know implicitly that their team is supporting. There will be less fear about facing challenges, or about trying out new ideas.
But on a more simplistic level, teams that have strong relationships with each other are just more fun to be a part of. This is not to say that team building makes everything rosy, and conflict is still a part of every team (as we will discuss later on), but team building can reduce the friction and unhappiness that occurs with struggling teams.
Back in the workplace, tasks will become more enjoyable because team members know and understand each other, and can therefore accurately depend on each other without fear or worry.
Communicate more easily
All this is related to better communication as well. Teams that have better relationships and can trust each other more can have better and more productive conversations. It’s also easier for team members to bring up new ideas and work together to solve problems.
Effective communication is essential for productive teams. In the workplace, team members need to be able to communicate with each other in an open and honest way. In this way, team building can help by getting team members to open up and speak to each other.
During the challenges, team building forces teams to communicate with each other. As they deal with challenges, communication flows naturally, since they are completing a task together. This also gives team members a chance to interact with each other, as we mentioned above.
This type of communication training is useful for back in the office. Because team members know each other, communication can flow more easily. And teams will have had experience communicating with each other to solve low-stakes challenges, which makes it easier to communicate when real challenges appear later on.
Another way that team building affects communication in the workplace is by creating shared memories. When teams have shared memories, they have shared moments of laughter, happiness, joy and success. These memories also become the basis of the shared identity of team members, and are embedded in daily conversations and interactions.
You’ll see the effects in the workplace almost immediately. Creating shared memories makes communication, and therefore teamwork, flow much more smoothly.
Create a psychologically aafe environment
Psychological safety is a term used to talk about healthy workplace cultures. It’s a combination of trust and the ability to manage conflicts. “Psychologically safe” workplaces are ones in which team members aren’t afraid of speaking their opinions, and in which doing so doesn’t cause any breakdown in relationships. This is all due to the trust that team members have for each other.
In other words, psychological safety doesn’t mean the absence of all conflict. Conflict is not all bad when it comes to psychological safety, and in fact it can be beneficial since it leads to a sharing of opinions and more openness in the workplace. This in turn is said to lead to a more diverse and creative workplace, thereby making the team better off in the long-run.
Team building helps teams create more psychologically safe workplaces by giving them new ways of solving problems and fun new methods of forming trust and stronger relationships with colleagues.
Much like changing workplace culture, making a psychologically safe environment takes time and constructive engagement as a team. However, team building can help speed up the process. With regular team building especially, teams become more open with others and honest about feelings. During team building, team members often have to show vulnerabilities–like when they don’t know how to solve a problem alone. Sharing these vulnerabilities is an important step in building more trust and opening people up to sharing new ideas.
So when conflicts do arise, as they inevitably do, teams that have gone through team building will be more prepared to manage the conflicts. This will also help them when challenges arise too, as they can work together, share opinions and make decisions under high pressure without letting it affect their working relationships.
Allow new ideas to form and disseminate
The concept of psychological safety discussed above is tightly bound to a team’s ability to come up with new ideas–and share them. When teams feel safe to express their opinions and engage in open discussions, it is more likely that team members will bring up their ideas and be able to run with them. Teams will also be more likely to listen to them, absorb them, and either incorporate them into their strategies or at the very least build on during brainstorming sessions.
So team building can lead to a more creative and dynamic team by strengthening trust, as well as communication, and by helping teams share feelings and information with each other.
Team building challenges themselves can also inspire creativity and new ideas. Team building that uses puzzles or improvisation activities are designed to spur members’ creativity and mental thinking. It forces participants to think outside the box in order to solve problems with the rest of their team. It also allows team members to use different skills, which can often spark new ideas.
Furthermore, as we discussed above, breaking out of the normal daily routine can ignite new ideas. Team building breaks the norms and habits of team members even if only for a little bit, and places them in extraordinary circumstances that can lead to the formation of new ways of thinking.
Finally, team building brings excitement to teams. When teams have fun together, it can bring out new ideas and creativity. Letting go and having fun automatically makes people a little more willing to use their imagination and be comfortable forming and sharing ideas that they normally would think are too embarrassing.
During team building sessions, team members are often focused on the task at hand. But after the event is over, the wheels in their minds begin to turn. As they think over the events of the day, they will be inspired, mentally stimulated, and recharged. And they will come into work thinking about new ideas and things they want to accomplish with the rest of their team. New projects can get started more quickly, and creative ideas can spread more rapidly.
Create a team that people want to join
A healthy workplace culture is not just for the team that is working there now. Teams change–they gain people, lose people, grow and shrink. With these changes inevitably come new personalities, skill sets and ideas. A strong team is a team that can accomodate these new members.
Dealing with adaptation and diversity are elements of team strength. It basically comes down to how teams can respond to the new and the different. Teams that cannot handle this internally may very well have a hard time engaging with it externally also. And one of the best ways to gauge how a team deals with diversity is by seeing how it welcomes new members.
Team building can help a lot when it comes to new members joining a team. Team building can “break the ice” and have new members get to know each other or the rest of the team in a natural way. Also, team building can introduce some of the values and ethics of the team that they are joining.
It’s also a way for the team to learn about the new members. Maybe they will see what skills they have to offer, or how better to place them in roles and positions that fit.
We often get requests for team building events for groups of new hires. These team members are young, often fresh out of college. By doing team building activities, the new hires open up, get to know each other as a cohort, and learn about the company they are joining. Their supervisors meanwhile, get to “see them in action”.
What’s most important is that new team members enter a healthy workplace culture. When new team members feel left out or undervalued, it creates resentment and friction. This affects the whole team too, since new ideas will be harder to spread, and communication will become less smooth.
Team building, by forging strong relationships built on trust, creates healthy workplace cultures, and allows new team members to easily fit in. It also builds team unity, which allows all members, even new ones, to feel that they are accepted and working towards a common goal.
We’ve talked a lot in this blog post about workplace culture. That’s because team building influences teams through workplace culture–forging trust, strengthening communication, creating a diverse and healthy working environment, and so on. The more regular the team building, the stronger the workplace culture will be.
Hopefully, this post has given you some ideas about how team building can help your team in the workplace. Team building is not just a collection of abstract ideas. Team building has real impacts on teams’ behavior in the workplace, and their effectiveness.
There are many great team building activities that can impact workplace culture and change the environment that your team operates in. Invite Japan can help find the right activity that is suited for your team and its goals.