Company Bonding...With Boundaries

Cornerstone Editors

They often make employees roll their eyes or plan an escape, but corporate team-building activities are becoming more common — and more elaborate — than ever before. A Google search yields companies that sell packages for work outings that range from beehive building to museum scavenger hunts.

As the options for team-building activities grow, managers must be increasingly cautious in selecting ones that develop their teams, rather than tear them apart. In one company’s paintball excursion, employees were quick to point their weapons at supervisors, NPR reports. "I think we were all really unprepared at the impact, literally — emotionally and physically — the impact of shooting paintballs at each other," says Peter Brooks, a former employee of the company. "People were very mad at each other."

As colleagues increasingly work remotely and on different schedules, team-building takes on a whole new meaning. "Getting people together, taking them out of their element and having them work on a project or activity face to face is more important than ever these days," Sybil F. Stershic, president and founder of Quality Service Marketing, an Alburtis, Penn.-based internal marketing and communication consultancy, tells the Lehigh Valley Business Journal. But some activities are better than others when it comes to company bonding experiences.

Match activities to outcomes

Whether employers should organize recreational challenges or problem-solving activities depends on the outcome they want to achieve. "For example, if you want the team to have a bit of fun and relax together following a very intense period of work, it may well be that a fun session doing something like chocolate-making followed by a dinner is entirely appropriate," Dominic Irvine, founding partner of learning development consultancy Epiphanies LLP, tells The Huffington Post. "On the other hand if you are starting a project, time taken to share previous experiences and personal perspectives on the challenges that lie ahead may be more appropriate," he adds.

Make participation voluntary

"I once made a career move because I’d stupidly agreed to do a sponsored parachute jump with all my colleagues, despite being absolutely terrified of heights – and the job-switch felt way easier than owning up to my cowardice," Josephine Fairley, co-founder of Green & Black's Organic Chocolate, writes in a column for The Telegraph. Instead of requiring all employees to participate in a 10K, offer alternative ways for them to contribute.

Promote values over experiences

"The companies I really admire are the ones which get their team engaged in some kind of out-of-office activity that builds shared values, not just shared experiences," Fairley says. Many companies offer group volunteer opportunities. Fidelity Investments sponsored a School Transformation Day on August 2, during which employees in 17 locations across the country worked to spruce up city schools in need of repairs.

At eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, employees started an informal book club. It soon turned into a weekly series in which individuals took turns sharing their findings as they related to the company’s work. "The hope was that if it was fiction that it would spur creativity and that if it was nonfiction there would be inherent lessons from other industries and walks of life that allow us to be better at designing eyewear," co-founder Neil Blumenthal tells Fast Company.

What team-building activities have helped your employees develop shared values?

Photo: Decibel Management

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