What Are Team Building Exercises And What Is Their Purpose?

By: Michiel Van Kets

Team building can be pursued through a variety of activities, ranging from the simple and basic, such as one off bonding exercises before or during meetings, to complex, multi-day simulations, trainings or retreats carefully organised by professional associations or companies specialising in such programmes. These latter full scale team building exercises or less intensive variations thereof may include seminars, workshops or conferences. Many team build ideas fall somewhere within this range and can also include an internally planned day out doing active outdoor pursuits such as paintball, rope courses or orienteering. Team building can also be achieved through healthy competition, such as baseball or soccer games organised against other companies or organisations; or through events such as community service projects, held for good socially worthy causes.

Teambuilding is now widely recognised and accepted as being a significant and workable variable in many, if not most, group environments where performance is dependent on how well the group unit works together. The focus of most team building endeavours is to bring out the best within the team so as to ensure positive communication, good leadership skills, development and progress both for the individuals within the group and for the group as a whole. In addition, the ability to work cohesively and closely together as a team to achieve a specified goal, reach a set target or to solve issues and problems is enhanced.

Though used in many settings, such as classrooms, to teach school aged children the value of working well with other children and to impart valuable social and group setting skills to these children, the value of team building exercises is most pronounced in business and corporate settings. This is because work environments generally tend to focus heavy just on individuals and their personal goals in accordance with their roles within the organisation. Rewards and recognition often single out individual employees and their own achievements, rather than recognising the interdependent workers as a whole unit. Creating effective teams, or building a good team as it were, with an emphasis on larger organisational aims rather than just individual accomplishment, is therefore a challenge in many companies.

It is therefore not sufficient to gather a team together and just organise a day of fun and revelry for the company or for team member without clear goals. Nor is it just enough to conduct a few ice breaker games and leave it at that. There needs to be a greater and more in-depth focus on the team as a whole unit. For teams to come together cohesively and for these exercises to work properly, team members themselves must also be individually convinced that these exercises will benefit them too.

At its core then, team building exercises are generally comprised of a task or a range of tasks designed to develop individuals within a group in relation to the organisation, to hone and improve each participant's ability to work with the rest of the group as effectively as possible. The main purpose of such team building exercises is thus to aid and guide groups or teams to becoming more cohesive units of individuals who work effectively together to deliver on given tasks.

To this end, there are linked reasons and benefits to engaging in team building exercises, which may also be seen as ways to meet the bottom line aim associated with these exercises, which is to build an effective, productive and cohesive team. Firstly, team building can begin with improving communication and the level of interpersonal relationships between colleagues or within the corporate group. Team building ideas to improve communication are essentially problem solving exercises or activities that are designed and geared towards improving communication skills between group members. Exercises are often issue based, which means that teams are given particular issues that are solved most effectively by communicating well with other members of the group. The goal for a facilitator hoping to improve communication is to create any exercise which underscores the significance of good communication in the performance of a team. The exercise must also show up any potential problems with flows of communication and possible solutions to overcome these. Improving communication between team members builds better teams, just as much as well-built teams feature good communication.

Another benefit of team building exercises is its usefulness in helping team members learn to solve problems or to make decisions more effectively as a group. The focus here is on groups working cohesively together to solve given tasks that pose as difficult problems or that require the group to decide on complex issues together. These exercises may require creative approaches from the group and a concomitant benefit of the process of working together in these difficult situations is also that participants may come to learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses as well as learning more about their colleagues' styles and opinions. In addition to teaching the team and team members strategies to regulate themselves and come to an agreeable consensus, this process of discussion over difficult issues will no doubt greatly aid the identification and effective utilisation of the strengths of each team member, so that the team is at its most effective in delivering its required performance.

The team must therefore learn and practice effective and productive collaboration with other team members. This may require adaptability and trust on the part of team members and can be achieved through team building exercises that focus on being adaptable to changing circumstances and exercises that induce trust between group members. A primary benefit that may arise as a result of adaptable team members who trust each other and communicate well is that it will thus be easier to get all team members on the same page. This is when it might be possible to instil the values and goals of the company or organisation over individual accomplishments.

Secondarily but nonetheless significant, team building exercises, when done correctly and chosen well with a clear objective in mind can make a work place a more enjoyable one for employees and a happy worker is more likely to feel incentivised, energised and motivated to enhance the productivity of the company.

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Michiel Van Kets writes article about The Stairway Consultancy, a management consultancy that has a team of facilitators that are experienced and diverse, offering team building exercise and customer service courses. Established in 1989, the Stairway team have practical experience of working in leadership, customer service, marketing, HR and learning and development fu

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