We talk a lot about customer engagement here at Kapta, and there’s good reason for that: Without customers, you don’t have a company. Period.
But internal engagement matters, too. The bigger and more demanding your book of business gets, the more you need cross-functional teams to keep your clients satisfied. And it’s not enough that they just be cross-functional; they need to be highly functional.
Employees are higher functioning and more deeply engaged when they’re able to use their strengths to be successful at an organization, and when they’re able to work more productively with their team.
So we’re taking a break from our client-facing content to look inward, and offer some inspiration around team building. At its heart, team-building is about connecting to coworkers as people. The goal isn’t for everybody to be best friends—it’s to help your teams understanding how individuals think, process, prioritize, and work, so they can communicate and collaborate more smoothly and effectively.
Often, the simple fact that coworkers are people, too, gets lost in the day-to-day stress of deliverables. Team-building is about stepping out of everyday work, however temporarily, to gain perspective and check in as a team. There are many ways to do this; we’ve grouped them into 3 main categories:
- Routine, onsite check-ins
- Offsite retreats or workshops
- Social outings
We’ll take a closer look at all three so you can evaluate what might work best for your next team-building event.
1) Routine, On-site Check-Ins
We go to meetings all the time. Status meetings. Client meetings. Meetings to review deliverables. In fact, it’s not uncommon for teams to complain about the sheer number of meetings they have to attend every day, especially if there’s no time set aside to just work.
With that in mind, it’s good to be judicious about adding more meetings to the calendar; however, it’s also important to set aside time for team check-ins. In other words, meetings that aren’t about any specific client or deliverable, but rather a general opportunity to get together and share positive feedback.
We find every 4-6 weeks is a good interval for meetings like this, and there’s no reason not to serve food and drinks. Monday morning with coffee and breakfast burritos; Wednesday lunch; or Friday afternoon with chips, dips, and beer. Food and drinks set up a pleasant space that’s unlike most of the other meetings your team will attend that week.
Within each meeting, the goal is to provide opportunities for the team to express appreciation and positive feedback for the work their colleagues do. Rather than leaving this open-ended, which may result in more superficial comments, structure the conversation around Team Norms.
Team Norms are values each team agrees to early in their work together. These values should feel like a natural expression of the company’s values or culture as a whole, but they are tailored to specific teams or work groups, so they can be a little more practical and specific. Some good examples of Team Norms include:
- We encourage constructive feedback, because it gives people a chance to be more successful, sooner.
- We don’t fight amongst ourselves. Different functions have different priorities, but we are all working together to accomplish the same task.
- We do not email each other on evenings or weekends unless we’ve talked about it ahead of time.
It’s important when establishing Team Norms to get buy-in from the team as a whole, and to keep the list to about 5. Nobody needs a Team Constitution—just a few, key, shared values to help guide the culture of a specific working group.
Once those are established, your monthly team check-ins can include a chance for everyone on the team to share an example of how a teammate exemplified Team Norms. These kinds of check-ins reinforce shared values and give the team regular, quick chances to show their appreciation, which can help keep lines of communication open and smooth as work continues. And, since they happen onsite in the course of the normal work week, they are often relatively inexpensive and easy to schedule.
2) Offsite Retreats and Workshops
Occasionally, you need to step even farther out of context to get your team thinking differently about their coworkers. This is where it can be useful to go offsite, or bring in 3rd party groups to facilitate workshops.
Unlike regular team check-ins, which are structured around Team Norms and include appreciative remarks about work, offsite or 3rd-party facilitated workshops should take your team to a completely different environment. These exercises help people step outside their normal day to better understand themselves and their own strengths, as well as the strengths of their teammates; a good facilitator will then help your team apply what they’ve learned to their workplace environment.
Some good examples of activities like these include Tangrams, Liberating Structures, and DISC. In Tangrams, the team creates images out of geometrical shapes, learning along the way how many unique ways there are to tackle a problem, and how a high-functioning team needs different kinds of thinkers to thrive. Liberating Structures are designed to boost engagement and inclusion, with a focus on creating a culture of innovation within an organization. And DISC is a personality assessment, designed to build nuanced profiles for each team member, illustrating how they work as individuals, and how they can better relate to each other. In all cases, a skilled, 3rd-party facilitator is key to making the experience engaging, meaningful, and valuable for everyone.
In all the examples above, teammates learn more about what makes each other tick: How they function, how they think, and how to create a smoother, more satisfying work environment. It’s not just about making people happy at work; it’s about making teams more effective.
There are also options that get your team out of the office and moving around, without the same level of in-depth reflection. A good, old-fashioned ropes course can build leadership skills and strategies, as well as trust and communication. If it’s winter or if your team is decidedly uninterested in dangling from moderate heights, Escape Rooms are fun and social, and require teamwork, creativity, and communication. Neither ropes courses nor escape rooms are necessarily designed to crystallize clear learnings about your coworkers’ strengths or your team’s dynamics, but they are more than just a social outing in that they demand cooperation among the team.
Offsite or 3rd-party moderated team building workshops necessarily require more investment than in-line meetings. However, they are a worthy use of time and money, especially if the team is coming out of (or looking towards) a particularly stressful set of deliverables.
3) Go Social
Sometimes you just need a break. No workshops. No puzzles. No meetings. Just time outside the office to reconnect as people, and remember that even if so-and-so sent an annoying email about such-and-such, or handled a situation poorly, you still mostly like them as a person.
The options here are endless: Top Golf, arcades, bowling, or just a nice happy hour at a nearby bar. Social outings can’t tackle the deeper level of who we are, how we work, and how we can work together better, but they’re a nice release valve when things are stressful, and an important reminder that relationships matter.
Ideally, your team-building strategy involves a mix of all these elements. Periodic deep-dives, offsites, or 3rd-party workshops to learn more about each other and how to work together better. Regular check-ins to make sure the way you’re working day to day is reflective of the values you share and the people you are. And the occasional social event to lighten the mood.
It can be easy to dismiss the time or money it takes to stop working and, as Socrates advises, “live an examined life.” But it’s not just about internal satisfaction, though that has its own merit. When a team is high-functioning internally, they can be high-functioning externally, too. Teams with strong internal relationships are better poised to build strong client relationships, and clients recognize when a team has good chemistry, just as they recognize when a team is falling apart.
So make a plan for team building in the coming year, and let us know what you do, and what kind of results you see.