Are Your Team-Building Efforts Yielding Lackluster Results? This Might Help

Effective and thoughtful team building can help you get the buy-in you need from your team—an important factor in helping you meet your business goals.
December 20, 2016

Most businesses are engaged in some type of internal team building across their departments. The goal of these efforts is to increase connection among staff, strengthen communication, create more energy and, ultimately, raise productivity. Pretty great outcomes, right?

Yet managers and leaders often put out tons of team-building effort, only to find the results they are after just aren't happening. If you find yourself in this position, I'd like to offer a potential solution that might shift your trajectory: change your perspective. What I mean by that is, look at what you are doing for team building and why you are doing it from your team's perspective. It's easy to focus on what your organization wants and the goals they have for your efforts; I'm asking you to think about what your employees want.

In my work building internal communities and teams, I've talked with a lot of employees about what they want in a work environment. After all, they may spend more time at work and with their co-workers than they spend with the most significant people in their lives, so they have a vested interest in making it as pleasant as possible. While their specific answers vary wildly, they most often fall into one of three buckets. To help you get started in shifting your perspective, I'll share those buckets with you.


Your people want to feel like they fit in with the team—like they belong there. Not only that, they want to feel like they are part of something bigger than just themselves. 

Your people may want more than prizes and pats on the back; they may want to know that they are seen and that their voices are heard.

Telling them they are part of a team is very different than having them feel like they are part of a team. How can you help encourage a sense of belonging? Try these team-building ideas:

  1. Create an inclusive environment. Take an active interest in understanding each team member's unique skills and interests, especially those that aren't necessarily in their job description. When mapping out a project, tap into that information when assigning responsibilities.
  2. Define the team. As an exercise, spend some time creating a unique description of what it is, exactly, that makes your team a team. This can help with team building. What are its qualities, values, quirks, etc.? You can then post the description where your team and other departments can see it.
  3. Include some fun and creativity. When it comes to team building, few things brings people together like playing together. If this isn't something you've done before, consider putting yourself out there first as the team's leader. You'll be setting an example that it's OK to play, have fun and be silly.


Your people may want more than prizes and pats on the back; they may want to know that they are seen and that their voices are heard. 

If they have an idea or a concern, they may want to know they can express it and it will be acknowledged. If they are having a difficult time outside of work, they may want to know someone notices. Here are three ways to help build this kind of recognition into your team:

  1. Capitalize on all that you now know. When you learn a lot about your team members' unique skills and interests (see above), you can look for opportunities to recognize them in front of the team. This may also help with team building by showing that your team's culture includes celebrating others.
  2. Act on their ideas. If you ask for their input (and much of good team building involves asking for input), consider acting on their ideas—even if you think yours is better.
  3. Show some compassion. If you have a team member who is clearly struggling with something outside of work, consider leaving a card or a favorite candy bar on his or her desk so they know someone noticed.


Often people want to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your company has a zero-tolerance policy on workplace bullying, harassment and intimidation, no matter how subtle. 

You may think this isn't a problem for your team, but it's a good idea to make sure. Here are three ways you can help make your team members feel safe:

  1. Establish a formal intimidation policy. Define what it looks like, what to do if someone feels intimidated and what the consequences are. Your company may already have one, but you may want to make a more specific one just for your team.
  2. Listen. So often, people who work up the courage to say something have their concerns brushed aside, leaving them feeling worse than before.
  3. Lead by example. You don't want to be that boss.

By using these ideas to shift your lens on team building, you can help create the kind of buy-in you need to get the results you want, the results your team wants and, ultimately, the results your organization wants. Team building is a win all the way around.

Photo: iStock