I often run into employers who don’t understand why their team building activities don’t work. Despite spending money on professional team building, their teams still have trouble collaborating and don’t seem any better for it.
I think back to a situation at an investment firm I worked with. In order to build teamship, the company sent teams off on a corporate retreat where the employees were asked to participate in a “trust fall” exercise. When the employees were told about it, there was a collective groan. No one wanted to do it but management wouldn’t back down, so the employees grudgingly complied. They did the exercise, but there was no air of camaraderie. Instead, there was more of a feeling of “let’s just get this over with.” The only true team building that came out of that event was the employees getting together to make fun of it for days afterwards. Instead of helping to build teamship, the employees found it a waste of time and even a bit embarrassing.
In order for team building to be effective, it needs to both engage employees and truly inspire collaboration amongst participants.
Make Every Role Count with a Collaborative Game
You may have heard of the Humans Versus Zombies game, otherwise known as HvZ, which has become widely popular on many college campuses.[1. “Organized Play: Humans Versus Zombies,” http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/10/26/education/edlife/07trendspotting-edlife-1.html] The premise of the game is that the world has been overtaken by a zombie invasion, with all players either being assigned the role of zombie or human, and the goal is for either the zombies to turn all humans into zombies, or for the humans to survive amongst the brain eaters for a certain amount of time, defending themselves with moderator-approved “weapons” (usually harmless items like socks or marshmallows).
While it may seem like just some harmless college fun, it’s actually a great way of creating collaboration among teams. By giving teammates roles without the group, whether that role is zombie or human, leader or loner, each person has a part to play and often needs to collaborate with others in order to make it to various safe zones. Despite the fact that setting up these games requires a large amount of collaboration, there were upwards of 500 college students planning it and playing it at one time.
And college students are seeing this as more than just a game. According to Florida Tech’s chapter, many of these students are seeing this game as “one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.”[2. “Humans Vs Zombies: More Than Just a Game,” http://ecurrent.fit.edu/blog/panther-voices/tito-marketing/humans-vs-zombies-more-than-just-a-game/] When was the last time you heard that said about a trust fall? Not only does a role-playing game like this require the participation of every member of the group to pull off, with everyone’s specific character and goals moving the game forward, participants are driven to collaborate because of the engaging nature of the game storyline.
Of course, you might not have the time to engage in a long tail activity that requires hours of planning, there are still opportunities to do this on a smaller scale. Create a problem and give each of your team clues to help solve it. Use the tenets of HvZ to create a fictional problem that’s fun to solve – one that includes a role for every person on your team. This creates an activity that not only teaches collaboration, but motivates employees to collaborate more and more through a storyline that feels real and immediate.
Move Them to Motivate Each Other with a Collaborative Charity
Charities might not be the first thing that come to mind when you think of team building. In fact, even though many companies offer charitable contribution options to their employees, those charitable contribution programs are usually monetary and purely for private donation. Not exactly group-oriented, right? But charitable giving doesn’t have to just mean a quiet, personal donation, especially in the age of social media and digital connectedness. Creating a charitable program that requires active participation and interaction between employees engages them through the idea of a bigger-picture cause, and drives them to encourage each other to reach collaborative goals. And not only that, it boosts employee pride and engagement with the company, and it does some good in the world, to boot.
The Ice Bucket challenge, a challenge that raised $42 million for ALS research, is an excellent example of creating a collaborative charity event.[3. “The Ice Bucket Challenge Tricks Your Brain into Wanting a Frosty Shower,” Aug. 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-08-28/the-psychology-behind-what-makes-the-ice-bucket-challenge-work] The idea was simple: people would receive a challenge from a friend, and be given the option to either donate outright, or douse themselves in a shower of icy water. Then, that person would issue the challenge to someone else. What often happened was that participants chose to douse themselves and donate money.
There is a psychology behind what made this challenge so popular. First, it was shocking, both to the people doing it, and to the people who watched it. Next, it was engaging. It’s estimated that every ice bucket challenge video earned at least 24 views, and got one share on social media. It also allowed people to show they cared about the cause enough not just to throw money at it, but to do something about it. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it put the impetus on participants to collaborate towards a common cause, increasing awareness and donation by bringing others into the challenge via a sort of charitable “dare.”
While you don’t have to shower yourself in ice to build team collaboration, giving employees a common cause and having them achieve that cause in a unique way is a great way to both build collaboration and create an inclusive environment. Take the psychology behind why the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, and try to create your own way to challenge your employees and get them involved. Not only will it build collaboration, but that collaboration will then boost employees’ collective pride in their organization’s philanthropic efforts, which can actually lead to better engagement on the job (it’s considered one of the three main drivers of employee engagement, with 54% of employees exhibiting correlation between pride in company contributions and workplace engagement).[4. “The Importance of Increasing Employee Engagement Using Corporate Giving Programs,” https://doublethedonation.com/blog/2015/09/the-importance-of-increasing-employee-engagement-using-corporate-giving-programs/]
Getting team members to collaborate is the key to having a successful team. By creating fun, exciting ways to facilitate the exchange of ideas, you can help improve that collaboration and improve your overall productivity.