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Team Building Exercises Aren't Just for Fun—They're Critical to Employee Engagement

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Companies and employees are increasingly focused on finding a healthy work-life balance, but that doesn't mean the two need to be entirely separated. We spend the majority of our days in the workplace—which means we spend a majority of our days with our coworkers, and it turns out, we're happier if these coworkers are our friends, too.

According to recent studies, office friendships increase employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity. LinkedIn found that 46 percent of professionals across industries believe having friends at work is important to their overall happiness. Similarly, a 2012 Gallup report revealed that 50 percent of employees with a best friend at work reported a strong connection to their company—compared to just 10 percent of employees without a best friend at the office.

How can companies encourage office friendships? One way is through team building—even if your employees don't turn out to be BFFs, they'll get to know each other better and engage in conversations that don't revolve around the latest client project. I spoke with Ido Rabiner, CEO and co-founder of Strayboots, an organization that specializes in team building through scavenger hunts, about the importance of team building and personal relationships in the workplace.

Does it really matter if employees know each other on a personal level?

Knowing your teammates better, even just one small new detail, can improve your connection at work and create a healthier office environment. If people are more sensitive and responsive to each other, they'll be better working together. I'm not talking about invading their privacy, but about getting to know your teammates as people first.

Why is it important to build up teams?

Your "human resource" is the most precious part of your organization. Research shows that companies with a 5 percent increase in employee engagement report 3 percent higher revenues the following year. In other words, team building exercises can have a direct impact on the quality of the work itself, in addition to improving employee engagement and loyalty.

How do you design team building activities to meet employees' diverse interests?

We deal with this every day because teams, by definition, are diverse and we want to make sure everyone on the team feels included. We work with our clients to incorporate different types of challenges and layers into the scavenger hunt that align with different themes or objectives. All of our scavenger hunts can be fully customized to address a specific need, whether it's taking the teams through specific areas to get to know their new office location, or adding company-focused questions and branding to improve their knowledge of the business.

When's the ideal time for team building exercises? Nights? Weekends? During the week day?

Every team has its own agenda and company culture, so it varies from group to group. We've seen that most teams prefer doing their hunts in the early afternoon on weekdays, when people are still fresh and can make the most of their adventure. After all, it's a fun activity and companies want full participation, so weekends and nights won't work for everyone.

Why is it important to invest in team building exercises outside of actual work?

Employees need to feel that their company cares about investing in helping them become better teammates. Setting aside a special time and place for team building exercises communicates the message that it's a mutual commitment.

Photo: Twenty20

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