10 Characteristics of Effective Team Building

team walking in national park
Team building activities must follow the 10 guiding principles for effectiveness

You encounter team building activities throughout modern life from school, youth groups to the corporate world. However, when you are planning a team building activity, what do you need to think about to make sure that all goes well?
Well, here are a few tips I have learned during my 25 years experience of running team building activities for all ages.

1. Have a clearly defined and understood purpose

Why are we teambuilding? What are you trying to achieve by making your team go through the team building activity you are planning? Usually you will be trying to teach and develop team skills, but sometimes you will be attempting to fix a dysfunctional business team.

2. Support and foster leadership behaviour

One of the key things that is usually missed during team building activities is to support and develop leadership skills. As a supervisor or trainer, you should be watching to see who emerges as a team leader, and give them the support, guidance and encouragement that will help them to lead and organise their team.

3. Increase understanding of team members’ skills, abilities and character

Sometimes team building activities are run just to get to know other members of an existing team better. It could be getting to know your customers, or suppliers, or just within your own team.

By knowing what skills team members have, when facing a new challenge or problem, the team leader will be able to quickly allocate roles according to the skills within the team.

4. Everyone should have a role and responsibility during the activity

Make sure that no one is left out during a team building activity! Often, some of the quieter ones in the group are left out whilst the more confident and boisterous egos charge in to complete the task at hand. It may help you to win the race, but won’t build team cohesion. You may regret it later when you need those specialist skills from those reclusive specialists in your team.

5. Learn new skills together

It can be really great for team building to all learn a new skill together. Whether it is how to be better at sales, or how to be better at sailing, find a new skill that you can all share the experience of learning. Also, help each other out as you learn, passing on tips you discover.

6. Be challenging, problem solving

Your team building activity will be a bit boring if the solution is obvious and easy. Get the marble out of the bottle is easy if all you have to do is turn it upside down. Tape the bottle to a tree and it makes the task a bit trickier. Add the rule that you can’t break the bottle and it will really get the team thinking.

7. Provide the perception that success is achievable

There is a psychological term called “flow.” If people perceive that they are faced with a challenge but it is achievable with a bit of effort, then they soon get into their flow and crack on with finishing the task. If a solution is possible but the team don’t believe it can be done, then they will quickly give up. So, the challenge you set for your team building activity must appear to be achievable for your particular team.

8. Be logistically well planned, organised and make it run smoothly

Ever turned up at a team building day and not known where to go, who was running it, or where you should sit? Simple things like a table plan or signs directing attendees where to go will make them feel welcome and comfortable. They will then be more likely to engage with the tasks you set.

9. Prepare for innovation, cheats, rule breakers and non-engagement

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With any planning, you have to expect the unexpected. I am always amazed at the ways in which team members will attempt to cheat or do something completely unexpected in order to win the team building game. At a recent event I ran for teens, I gave them the challenge of getting a metal flask out of a roped area using only some poles, string and elastic bands. They quickly worked out that they had to make an elastic collar to grab the flask, but they asked to try a different approach. They leant over into the area, and used the longest pole to knock the flask clean out of the area without hitting the ground. Job done. I let them have it, as they had complied with my rules. Next time, I will make sure that the fenced off area is bigger so that they cannot do that.

The biggest challenge you will face is those who don’t want to be there. You will have to use your emotional intelligence to work out what will get them to engage. More on that another time.

10. Have fun

I left this one until last, but it is just as important. Part of the bonding journey is to have fun along the way. Make your team building activities fun, and they will be remembered for all the right reasons.