When we think team building activities we usually think corny corporate exercises like falling back in the arms of your team mates to build trust. 

But what happens when these exercises are done and over with and the team returns to their office?

Most of the time, team members return to their desks and all the team problems that were there before the team building exercises are still there. Nothing has changed. 

So why is this? 

For one, team building exercises don’t target the actual problems in your team. The also happen sporadically - an afternoon once in a while, or a weekend every year. 

Identifying your team’s problems

As the leader of your team, you are the person who can get a bird’s eye view of the relationships between your team members. That’s why you can be more strategic about your team building activities. 

One of the biggest issues is that team building just happens, with no consideration to what the team actually needs.  

You should be able to see the problems within your team if you have been observant of the dynamics. But you can also take a team effectiveness assessment if you want to validate any inkling you might have.  

Try to make a list of the key problems within your team. But don’t enshrine or bedevil any of your team members. Bobby is not the only one to blame for communication mishaps, for example. Every relationship is the result of the actions and reactions of two people, and each person has a responsibility for their part in the relationship. Here are some questions to help you write up your list: 

  • Are there conflicts in the team that are creating divisions?
  • Do your team members know each other enough?
  • Is individualism in certain team members hindering the results of the team?
  • How is your team's communication? Are there any recurring themes in how communication breaks down in your team?
  • Are certain team members resisting change, or the direction of your company, and so holding back the whole group?
  • Does your team simply need a boost in morale?

You’ve identified the problem. Now what? 

Understand this: the relationship dynamics in your team will not change with a single team building event. Improving how people work together should be happening consciously throughout the year. 

Team building is simply an ongoing part of your company culture

If you have identified your team’s problems, you will see that many have to do with behavioural problems. These are the problems that team building usually seek to improve. For lack of trust, do this exercise; for bad communication do that one. 

But behavioural problems are deeply rooted; they shouldn’t be approached head-on, as they might make team members feel self-conscious, and team building exercises are of little help in the long run

Instead, ask your team members what kind of activities they would enjoy and find helpful for their lives in general. If each team member’s personal development needs are fulfilled, they can become more self-sufficient, tolerant and emotionally mature. When your team members are feeling good about themselves and the work they do, their outlook positively impacts how they communicate and relate to their team members. 

Make team building less about work and skills, and more about the team. Make it about truly helping your team members, rather than treating the symptoms. 

But keep in mind - all these things can’t be achieved during an afternoon of team building games or during a weekend retreat. 

If you do want to bring your team closer, here are a few things that you can try:  

1. Get together for a barbecue 

A team barbecue on a nice weekend might do a lot more good to your team than a bunch of team building games. The relaxed atmosphere can allow team members to be (more) themselves and to open up to the others. 

Try to make organizing the barbecue a team building activity in and of itself. Each team member can be responsible of one aspect of the gathering, so that everyone is involved in the success of the event. And if you want, you can still try out some team building games during your barbecue. Just don’t make it all about the games.

2. Scavenger hunt 

Scavenger hunts are fun and exciting! They bring out that child-like thrill in people, and encourage healthy competition. 

Although you do want your team members to be a little competitive, you probably want to encourage team spirit and collaboration more. So while you will divide your team in pairs for the scavenger hunt, manipulate the situation so that no one pair wins, but the whole team. For example, try making the scavenger hunt a puzzle that the whole team can get excited about at the end. 

3. Start a lunchtime yoga program 

Yoga can help your team members relax and approach their work in a fresh way. Consider organizing yoga classes a couple of times per week. Yoga classes benefit both body and mind, so your team members will draw lots of benefits from them. But perhaps the greatest benefit is that with time, yoga classes will not only help team members approach their work in a different manner, but also their work relationships. 

4. Volunteer together 

When people come together to do something for someone less fortunate, their relationship is forged a little tighter. Volunteering together might be a touchy issue, since everyone supports different causes. But even if that is the case within your team, you can still find things that your team can do together to improve your community. 

It can be as simple as planting trees together, or picking up garbage in your neighbourhood one afternoon, or preparing personal care packages for a homeless shelter nearby. Few team building tools are as satisfying, inexpensive and beneficial as team volunteering. 

5. Create your own team building activity 

This meta-team building activity can be a lot of fun, and it’s quite different than traditional team building activities. After you’ve divided your team members in groups two or three, each group is supposed to solve the problem of creating an interesting and fun team building activity, targeted at a specific team problem. But the exercise in itself is the team building exercise. At the end of the exercise, each team can present their activity - if the other team members like it, you can try it out next time! 

Do you have any original team building activities that your team came up with? What worked and what didn't work? Share your team's stories with us in the comments below!