Team Building Activities that Increase Employee Engagement
In an effort to keep employees motivated, satisfied and productive, business leaders and psychologists have developed a variety of programs over the years. Each program had its own keywords and methods, but each was aimed at helping employers reduce turnover and improve profitability. Kaizen, manufacturing for continuous improvement, Maslow’s hierarchy and management by objectives are just a few of the tools and philosophies that have been used to help achieve business goals.
Results ranged from dismal failure to overwhelming success; no single program was right for every organization.
In recent years, a great deal of attention has been focused on the concepts of team building and employee engagement. Although some managers view these concepts as merely the latest “fads,” they are truly essential for any company wishing to improve retention, boost productivity and enhance employee morale.
Why Team Building Is Important
In most organizations, it is easy to identify the “star” employees. They are the ones to whom management turns when a project must be completed on a tight deadline, when accuracy is critical or when only the best, most creative work will do. These are the “rowers.” They are the ones who do the most to help the business progress. Employees who are not rowers are riders. Some riders are dead weight, but others are only a few steps behind the rowers.
Eventually, however, the rowers are going to tire of pulling the weight for the entire team. The riders are going to be dissatisfied as well and begin to feel that they are unappreciated or that management is playing favorites.
With an effective team, the system of rowers and riders disappears. Every team member participates in the success — or failure — of a project. Whether the goal is to improve productivity over time, meet an urgent deadline or encourage creativity, teams can produce outcomes that are greater than the sum of the individual employees.
What Team Building Can Accomplish
Team building exercises can produce a variety of results. The organization’s culture, size and goals can influence the outcome, but most organizations report six common results.
1. Employee morale is enhanced
Instead of having only the star performers recognized, the entire team earns the praise it deserves. In turn, pressure on the stars is reduced, making them less prone to burn-out and lowering their stress levels.
2. Communication is improved
Team building activities help improve business relationships by fostering a sense of camaraderie, and this encourages open communication between co-workers as well as between employees and members of the management staff.
3. Employees’ trust in management is enhanced
Team building activities allow employees to see supervisors and managers as colleagues rather than authority figures.
4. Employees develop better problem-solving skills
Every business will encounter issues occasionally. Some are minor, but others are full-blown crises. Team building exercises can enhance the ability of employees to think and act strategically and rationally. Instead of having to wait for specific instructions from a boss, employees can evaluate a situation and determine the appropriate course of action before a tiny issue escalates into a major problem.
5. Creativity is enhanced
Sharing ideas, discussing possible solutions to issues and brainstorming ways to contribute to the organization’s success can inspire creativity. The result can be creative ways to improve customer service, streamline workflow, enhance the company’s public image or solve a common problem.
6. Employees become more motivated
When employees believe that their opinions and ideas are valued by their employers, they become more confident. They feel freer to express themselves to management, offer suggestions or ask questions. In turn, they will be motivated to volunteer for extra duties, accept new challenges or embrace change.
The Importance of Employee Engagement
American businesses bear a heavy financial burden due to a lack of employee engagement. After including higher health care costs, absenteeism and workplace accidents, Gallup estimates the total is between $450 billion and $550 billion annually, according to its report, “State of the American Workplace”. The study found that a mere 30 percent of the full-time workers in America were actively engaged at work, while 20 percent were actively disengaged. The remaining 50 percent were neither actively engaged nor actively disengaged; they were present, but they were not motivated to excel at their jobs or care about the fate of their organizations.
The 30 percent of employees who are actively engaged at work are contributing to their employers’ profitability in a variety of ways.
- Employees who are actively engaged are more productive. Engaged employees tend to work harder because they feel that what they do has value. They feel a connection to their employer and realize that they are helping the company succeed. The Gallup study found that engaged employees could boost a corporation’s productivity performance by as much as 200 percent over a similar corporation with disengaged employees.
- Engaged employees are easier to retain. Employee turnover costs American businesses almost $11 billion annually. When employees are engaged, they feel appreciated, strengthening their bond with the company. This makes them less likely to seek other opportunities.
- While disengaged employees often smear a company’s reputation via social media or word-of-mouth, engaged employees present a positive image of the company. Engaged employees can be a valuable asset, offering the kind of brand advocacy that cannot be purchased. Disengaged employees can influence potential customers, resulting in reduced revenue.
Additional benefits that employers reap from employee engagement are not monetary. However, although it is impossible to assign a dollar value to these benefits, their importance should not be discounted.
1. Engaged employees tend to be more creative
They enjoy finding new ways to complete projects or tasks, and they are constantly looking for innovative ways to contribute to the company’s success. Disengaged employees will rarely offer innovative ideas or develop new solutions.
2. Engaged employees tend to be better communicators
Whether the conversation involves customers, co-workers or supervisors, engaged employees communicate more effectively. Disengaged employees typically hold conversation to a minimum, which does little to nurture customer relationships or contribute to a productive brainstorming session.
3. Engaged employees tend to be happier
No one enjoys working with someone who is constantly complaining about their employer or their job duties. Engaged employees are typically cheerful employees who enjoy reporting for work every day, and they can brighten the workplace with their positive attitude and optimism.
Creating a Strategy to Increase Employee Engagement Through Team Building Activities
According to a study conducted by Accor Services, 90 percent of the organizations surveyed reported believing that employee engagement had a significant impact on the success of the business, but only 25 percent had a strategy or plan to bolster engagement. Without an effective strategy, increasing employee engagement is virtually impossible.
- Regardless of the goal, developing an effective strategy requires an understanding of the current situation. Employers need to know what their employees truly think about their immediate supervisors, their co-workers, upper management and the company as a whole. The employees who actually perform tasks are usually the best people to identify problems or offer constructive suggestions. However, employees are often reluctant to provide the very information that employers need most; they fear that there may be negative consequences. For example, some employees worry that they could be branded a malcontent or lose their employer’s respect. Many employers find that if they engage a third-party provider adept at conducting employee surveys to obtain the information, employees are more candid, especially when it comes to identifying issues within the company that are hampering productivity or negatively impacting customer relationships.
- Determine the obstacles that are preventing employees from delivering quality work. Perhaps employees lack the necessary tools, fail to see the importance of their work, do not have the proper skills, lack faith in management or are not obtaining a sense of personal satisfaction from the work that they do.
- Create a mission statement that defines the company’s values and vision. When writing the statements, avoid popular clichés and goals that should be givens for every company, including terms such as customer-centric, problem-solving, innovative and teamwork. Look for terms that will inspire employees, engage their emotions and encourage them to rally around a common purpose.
- Communicate the company’s mission, values and goals with employees. When Gallup conducted a survey that asked more than 3,000 workers whether they understood the company’s values, goals and strategies, only 40 percent responded that they did. Employees cannot meet expectations if they do not know what is expected of them, and they cannot know what is expected if those expectations are not communicated to them in a clear and unequivocal manner.
- Plan a strategy that will be valid for many years to come. Although minor adjustments will no doubt be needed over time, an engagement strategy that changes constantly will leave employees confused or annoyed. Each announcement of a new program or opportunity will become less effective as employees become increasingly disinterested and skeptical.
- Monitor progress through follow-up surveys. Simply putting an engagement strategy in place and leaving it on autopilot cannot achieve lasting improvement. Employers must know what is working and what is failing, and employees are the only true source of the information.
Recommended Team Building Activities to Foster Employee Engagement
Once an employer has identified the problems and created a strategy, it is time to launch an engagement initiative. There are many team building activities that can nurture employee engagement, and not every activity is ideal for every organization.
However, the following list provides some activities that have met with widespread success in a variety of industries and in companies of all sizes.
1. Potluck Lunches
Potluck lunches are an inexpensive way to encourage employees to socialize. Participating employees can sign up to bring a dish that they prepared or purchased for everyone to share. Bringing food and people together in an informal setting has been a team-building mainstay for decades. Employees have the opportunity to communicate with each other in a relaxed environment, which fosters a sense of camaraderie and helps them build working relationships through the connections they make.
Retreats can be an excellent way to help employees “recharge their batteries” by giving them time away from their routine. It makes employees feel appreciated, stimulates creativity and offers a neutral setting that can provide a fresh perspective on the issues. A retreat can be as brief as a single day or as long as a week. The object is to provide an environment that allows employees to have fun and socialize while they build skills, brainstorm solutions or strengthen relationships with colleagues with whom they may typically have little direct interaction.
3. Book Clubs
Establish a book club. Most of the time, the company selects and purchases books for employees who join the club to read. The topics can be as varied as reducing stress, becoming a more confident public speaker, balancing work and family time, charting a career path, understanding new technology or resolving conflicts in the workplace. Club members typically meet once a week to discuss one or two chapters and share their interpretations of how the material can be applied to their current job or situation. Because participation is voluntary, employees tend to be more enthusiastic about learning how to improve both their personal and professional lives.
4. Shadowing a Colleague
Offer opportunities for employees to shadow colleagues in other departments or with different duties. Employees are often curious about what others do and what functions they fulfill. Allowing an employee to shadow another for the day costs nothing but the time of the two employees involved, but it can foster interdepartmental cooperation while giving employees the opportunity to explore different career paths.
5. Sponsor a Charitable Organization
Sponsor employee participation in challenges and events that benefit a charitable organization. For example, the company could pay the employees’ registration fees for a walk or run to raise funds for research on a specific disease and provide the employees with matching shirts sporting the company’s logo. Alternatively, employers could offer employees the opportunity to spend a workday as a volunteer. Many companies have found that sponsoring a team to participate in a building or restoration project to improve the quality of life for a needy family breaks down walls between employees, provides employees with a shared experience that nurtures working relationships and demonstrates the company’s commitment to giving back to the community.
6. Hobby Clubs
Sponsor hobby clubs for employees. Employers allow the clubs to meet after or before work or on weekends in a space provided by the company. The company can provide occasional funds if it desires. Employees with similar interests have an opportunity to meet with others who share those interests. Many times, club members are from different departments, have different tenure or have very different job responsibilities, so members have the opportunity to establish relationships with people that they might never have come to know otherwise. Building connections through shared interests fosters a sense of camaraderie that can prove valuable for enhancing cooperation between departments.
7. Lunch n’ Learns
Schedule “lunch and learns.” The employees furnish their own lunches, and the company arranges for an employee or outside speaker to host an interactive session regarding a particular experience, career or skill. Like hobby clubs, lunch and learns can bring a diverse group together who share an interest in the specific topic.
Offer meaningful awards to recognize the personal and professional achievements of individual employees as well as teams. Recognize an employee who recently completed his or her degree with a special ceremony or luncheon. When a team meets an important deadline, recognize the entire team rather than the just the team leader or department manager. Remember to recognize teams for the work they do outside of the office; if they participate in a charity run, routinely volunteer in the community or spend their weekends training service dogs, publicize the information. No matter how modest individuals may be, everyone enjoys a moment of praise for their teams.
9. Involve the Families
Although most team building exercises involve only the employees, companies should include activities for the employees’ families as well. Sponsor a beginning cooking class for the children of employees or a class on cheese making for employees and their significant others. During football season, host tailgate parties in the company’s parking lot on game day. Sponsor a class on carving pumpkins in the fall or invite employees and their families to watch a special sporting event on a big-screen TV in the company auditorium. Including the families facilitates the development of extended bonds among spouses and children of employees that can enhance the loyalty that employees feel for their employers.
10. Fun Activities
Make teamwork fun to encourage widespread participation. Fun activities are limited only by the imagination of management, but here are a few suggestions.
- Departmental softball teams have been a long-time staple for giving employees an opportunity for a little friendly competition. Take the concept and apply it to more unusual competitions. Sponsor a competition in which teams compete at marbles or charades. Let teams compete for the highest combined score on a video game or the lowest combined score on a round of indoor golf.
- Find brainteasers or puzzles, assign employees to teams and give each team member a clue that is only meaningful when combined with the other clues. Let each team meet in private to find the solution and offer a small reward to all teams discovering the correct answer within the allotted time.
- Host a creativity contest. Place an assortment of unusual items such as stones, glitter, tongue depressors and sponges in a paper bag along with some glue and give a bag to each team. The team’s challenge is to create something using only the items contained in the bag. At the end of the day, a panel of judges will decide which project displays the most creativity.
- Stimulate employees’ minds while fostering collaboration by playing “guess who it is.” Collect childhood photos from current employees and give each team a set of photos to identify, with the winning team determined by the greatest number of correct guesses.
- Sponsor a parade float competition. Teams are asked to design and build a miniature parade float of their own choosing, and an independent panel of judges decides on the winner in the different categories such as the float with the best construction or the one displaying the most creative design. Center the competition on a specific holiday and require that all floats have some connection to the holiday.
- Host a talent show in which teams compete rather than individuals. The audience is typically the performers’ fellow employees but can be extended to include families or friends. Whether acting in a comedy skit, performing as a band, dancing or re-enacting a scene from a popular movie, the competitors can enjoy the show just as much as the audience.
11. Rummage Sale
Host a rummage sale in the company parking lot with all proceeds going to charity. The company furnishes the folding tables and publicizes the event. Employees donate items that they no longer need or want. Each team prepares its items for sale, arranges them on their table and handles the sales. At the end of the day, the team with the highest sales receives some type of recognition, even if it is just a certificate or a mention in the company newsletter. However, a tangible reward can encourage greater participation, so many companies offer the winning team gift certificates to a restaurant, store or movie theater.
12. Working Lunch
Host a working lunch. The company provides lunch and divides employees into groups of no more than 10 people. Each group is given a work-related issue or question to discuss. After picking up their lunches, each group adjourns to a private location to eat and discuss the topic. Responses can be written or verbal.
In the current economy, businesses ignoring the need to engage employees and encourage teamwork have a lot to lose. As this post has demonstrated, there are many team building activities that can foster employee engagement. Many of the exercises cost the employer little or nothing in terms of money, but the results can have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line.
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