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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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How Smart Engagement Builds a Dynamic Workforce

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How Smart Engagement Builds a Dynamic Workforce

Real engagement in the workplace is part of a dynamic process of feedback and exchange. The more information you have about your employees, the easier it is to build programs and processes which actively involve them in learning and development. The more engaging your learning and performance strategies are, the greater the rewards in terms of staff productivity. Workforce engagement has never been more important. Gallup research shows that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged. And according to Deloitte, as few as 4 percent of companies believe they are good at engaging with Millennials in the workplace. True engagement boosts company loyalty, reduces absentee days and increases an organisation’s profit. With employee engagement at record lows, the challenge lies in finding new ways to win the hearts and minds of your workers. The best way to do this is by building a culture of strong, creative communication and feedback while driving organisational growth. Practical, Proven Ways to Boost Workplace Engagement This all sounds fine. But how does it work in practice? Breaking the cycle of boredom, distraction and disengagement requires more than enthusiasm and good will. To understand your employees enough to engage them, you need to provide a system of continuous feedback which gives them the chance to tell you exactly what they need, where they’re at, and what they aspire to. This can happen in real time, 24/7, on the smart mobile devices that are central to Millennial communication, and that are becoming increasingly intertwined in the lives of older generations of workers as well. Once you have this vital feedback, you can start setting up central, cloud-based programs which feed their interest, meet their career objectives and fulfil their individual need to be recognised, encouraged, trained, coached, mentored and considered–in all the right ways. Customised programs lead, in turn, to a more focused and engaged workforce. Staff are now keen to collaborate and are increasingly able to innovate in small and major ways. Open lines of communication produce employees who feel valued, connected to their workplace, and able to build relationships in a more effective manner. By collecting real data from your employees, you are in a far better position to connect with them–in ways that resonate with their lifestyle, objectives and expectations. Over time, you have the tools to build a smarter, more engaged and far more productive workforce. How Continuous Feedback Is the Key to Engagement The following examples of continuous feedback show how it can work on the ground. 1) Measure Employee Engagement Craft a customised survey on a recurring quarterly or biannual basis to gather staff opinions on topics as diverse as feeling safe in the office, having opportunities for career development and quality of managerial feedback. 2) Encourage Open Communication Make your surveys fit for purpose to receive maximum possible feedback. Design confidential surveys–encouraging honest, unbiased responses–and dispose of lengthy questionnaires by allowing staff to answer a couple of questions in less than 10 seconds per day. 3) Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement Create a series of pulse surveys designed to measure specific performance indicators, allowing HR to make ongoing adjustments. Call for targeted feedback on areas of employee dissatisfaction, gathering suggestions to improve company culture and practice. A continuous feedback survey platform like Cornerstone Engage allows your organisation to capture, analyse and act on real-time employee feedback. You can then: Measure engagement more accurately Capture feedback to help identify areas of difficulty and improvement Create customised programs to suit individual needs Track the effectiveness of these programs over time Drilling down into the details will give you the data you need to make truly impactful workforce decisions. So why get stuck in recurring loops of boredom and dissatisfaction? Integrate Cornerstone Engage with your cloud-based talent management platform and find your way out of the maze. Photo: Creative Commons

The Great Engagement Robbery: How Others Influence Engagement

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The Great Engagement Robbery: How Others Influence Engagement

"Don't grab your shovel right away. Just step back and watch the pace and tempo of how we work around here." I hold a strong belief in personal responsibility for employee engagement, but it would be wrong not to acknowledge how relationships can influence and shape how we work. In this post, I will outline how workplace relationships can foster disengagement. We were working on the railroad... The term railroad has two meanings. As a noun, it refers to a system of tracks for trains that are built and maintained by hundreds of employees. As a verb, it means to rush or coerce someone into doing something. I have the perfect story to illustrate both definitions at the same time. In 1974, I got a job with the railway on a crew called the "Perishable Gang" in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was still the age of nepotism, so I got the job because my father was a railroader. I wanted to make a good impression at work and I wanted to make my father proud of me. The perishable gang was a group of four to eight employees who were responsible to look after livestock cars, heater and refrigerator cars, and pick up large grain spills in the railway yard when there were no freight trains moving through Thunder Bay. ... and then I was railroaded I vividly remember my first day at work. I arrived before eight in the morning and as there were no trains coming for three hours, we drove out in trucks to clean up a large grain spill in the yard. With shovel, burlap bags and great enthusiasm I eagerly went about my task. I rapidly filled a burlap sack with grain, slung it over my shoulder and crossed multiple railway tracks like an Olympic hurdler to sling the bag into the back of the pickup truck and return rapidly to fill the next bag. I thought the rest of the gang was going to be impressed with my show of herculean effort. And sure enough, within twenty minutes, the head of the gang called me over and suggested we take a walk down the track. He asked me, "How do you think it is going?" "I am working about as hard as I can," I replied. "That could be the problem," he said. I looked at him, puzzled. He continued. "I want you to go back to the spill. Don't grab your shovel right away; just step back and watch the pace and tempo of how we work around here. Once you understand our pace, and only after you understand our pace, do I want you to pick up your shovel and fall in." How workplace relationships effect engagement Had you been watching me work, in less than 90 minutes from starting a new job you would have witnessed a highly engaged new employee transform into a plodding and disengaged worker in record time. Ultimately, I did not perish working in the perishable gang as I was let go during the annual seasonal layoff three months later. Don't get me wrong; I take full responsibility for my lack of engagement. But even with personal responsibility for our work other people have a huge influence on our engagement. This early formative experience is why I entered the field of engagement thirty-five years later - to atone for my past sins of disengagement. If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.Let him step to the music which he hears,however, measured or far away. - Henry David Thoreau The purpose of this story is to examine the role of others in your own engagement and the engagement of employees within your organization. Do others enhance or undermine engagement where you work? How are you addressing the role relationships play in influencing engagement? Are you helping employees take personal responsibility for work and educating them on how to do this?

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