The ability to collaborate effectively with teammates is a highly sought-after skill in candidates. It's not surprising when you consider the numerous advantages of successful teamwork. In a major study from Acas, these benefits were found to range from improved employee motivation and commitment, to increased productivity and even higher quality of work.

Yet, as managers, it can be easy to overlook activities that help to strengthen teamwork, in favour of training that focuses on specific hard skills. Team building is therefore often dismissed as a fun activity, but when carried out effectively, it can go a long way to bolstering collaboration and motivating your staff.

What is team building?

The term 'team building' has become something of a buzzword, encompassing everything from strategic away days to staff nights out. But at its core, team building can be broadly defined as any activity that entertains, motivates and challenges staff, while having the positive side-effect of improving skills related to collaboration.

Why team-building activities are a useful tool for leaders

Over four decades of research, organisational behaviour pioneer J. Richard Hackman discovered that good teamwork isn't about the personalities, behaviours and attitudes of individual team members. Instead, it relies on certain "enabling conditions"; factors such as a supportive environment and a strong team structure geared toward promoting positive dynamics.

In other words, it doesn't matter who you have on your team, collaboration can thrive given the right conditions. Team-building activities can be an effective way to achieve these conditions. Even if the objective of your team-building day is simply to get out of the office and have fun by bringing people together and out of their comfort zone, you can help to sow the seeds for better collaboration down the line. This, in turn, can be a major motivator for your staff.

Types of team-building activity

The phrase 'team-building activity' might conjure up an image of a group of middle-managers completing trust exercises in a hotel conference room, but there are many other options available. 

Common types of team-building activity include:

Away days

This is a fairly loose term that broadly refers to getting your team out of the office for a day to engage in a specific activity. Whether that activity involves building a raft or improving upon a company's strategic direction, it places your team in a new environment. This can prove helpful in breaking down silos and fostering new lines of communication.

Training sessions

Team-building activities don't have to be 'fun' for them to be effective and to improve motivation. Is there a skill that members of your team are keen to learn as a group - perhaps coding, or a foreign language? Even if it's not directly relevant to your business, this can be a highly effective way to bring your team together.

Problem-solving activities

Tackling challenges and solving difficult problems can give your team a sense of shared achievement that carries over into their day jobs. You may want them to consider a real problem facing your business or industry, or you may prefer a generic problem-solving exercise. Either way, pay close attention to how they perform as a team and provide feedback after the session.

Want more leadership tips? Check out our article on 'Building Effective Teams' For more career tips, browse all of our advice here or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to discuss your career options.

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