Recently, I was at a two-day team time-out with the engineering team of Inventive Designers. Yes, I know, team building has a bad reputation, especially so among the typically cynical software engineering crowd. Generally, people start replaying old episodes of “The Office” in their heads and they realise that in real life it’s not nearly as funny if they are in the middle of it. However, despite its reputation I want to make the case that team building is the most important investment you can make for your people.
In our workplace, effective team work is critical to build the best-in-class products and experience for our customers (much more so than any individual contributor alone). So yes, taking a team time-out is an investment, it often doesn’t come easy or cheap. But read on, and you’ll understand it will pay big dividends over time!
1. Have Fun
Good team time-outs are memorable, engaging and fun. We make a point, that it doesn’t feel like ‘a day at the office’, by taking the team two full days to another location, away from normal operational work. We’re doing creative activities (create your personal crest and explain it to a few colleagues) and sometimes competitive activities (how fast can we accomplish something as a team). Spending time together, sharing an experience or working towards a common goal allows bonding to happen more organically and far more effectively. And admittingly, having a few beers in the evening together to discuss the tactics and achievements sure helps a lot.
“Great two-day event where I met my colleagues in a completely different (informal) way!” – Atheesan Murgesu, Product Consultant
2. Build relationships
This form of networking, socialising and getting to know each other better, creates the perfect breeding ground for the next crucial team-building step: building understanding and trust.
“If employees feel connected, their motivation and productivity are enhanced. A reconnecting session makes employees feel that they are not alone, that they’re part of the bigger whole. That feeling motivates and energizes.” -Lieve Van Weddingen, Aspiria
3. Set the stage for continuous improvements
A trusting environment opens our minds for giving and getting feedback. Giving honest and constructive feedback is difficult at the best of times, and never happens in a low-trust environment. I’m sure you’ll agree that getting the right feedback from a trusting relationship is crucial to improve ourselves and to bring teams to the next level.
4. Mitigating conflict
Being away from our regular tasks and deadlines and in that open and honest environment, brings out another interesting side-effect: conflict! Or more accurately, it helps to reduce the fear of conflict. With a capable and objective facilitator present, tensions or frustrations that may be building up slowly can be discussed openly and turned into constructive improvements. Instead of letting them simmer and cause irreparable damage later on.
“Without any expectation, I started our TTO with the hope to meet some (for me) new colleagues. Eventually, I met all of my teammates in a fun way, I even got to know surprising things from colleagues I thought I knew. When we had to give and receive feedback in a constructive but honest way and when we spoke about the critical role of time management, those were the most important learning moments for me.” – Thomas Truijen, Product Consultant
5. Encourage Communication and Collaboration
To no surprise, communication is key. One of the best reasons for team building is that the activities actually work to accomplish improved communication and collaboration. Everybody wants a friendly work environment, where people are comfortable and happy to talk to and work with anyone.
Needless to say: we had a blast these two days, learned a lot, and improvement ideas are flowing. Now that we’re back, the trick is to keep that positive energy going at the office by finding ways to keep the excitement going and create opportunities for people to connect and interact in meaningful ways outside of regular meetings.
As a team, out of many suggestions, we have chosen to install an achievement wall (“yey us!”), do regular lunch-talks and discussions (brown bag sessions), and start some internal “micro-blog” posts and to continue improving our intra-team communication. Didn’t I already say that communication is key?