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How to Create Winning Team-Building Activities

August 31, 2015

By: Crystal Spraggins

When it comes to some things, I’m a committed do-it-yourself-er. But there are some other things that I believe require expert intervention. Effective team-building activities fall into that category.

Destroying teams is something the wicked do on purpose and the inept do by accident, but either way, absolutely no training is required.

Not so much with team building. Clumsy attempts at team building are, at best, completely ineffectual and, at worst, actually harmful to team morale. Ouch. That’s why you shouldn’t go it alone. In fact, “not going it alone” is my number 1 tip for creating winning team-building activities.

Here are some other tips to supercharge your team-building activities:

Make It Transparent

There’s no such thing as effective team building without transparency. Team building requires trust, and trust requires transparency. Let your team know what’s going on. Why have you decided to initiate team building at this time? What types of behaviors are you hoping to discourage? What behaviors are you hoping to encourage? What are your departmental goals? How do you think they’ll be enhanced by these activities?

Make It Convenient 

If at all possible, don’t schedule activities during the evening, on weekends, or on that portion of half-day Fridays your employees were hoping to be somewhere else. Team building is an important company goal. Expect to use company time.

Make It Relevant 

All training should be relevant to your employees’ duties, or they’ll quickly surmise there’s no point to it and become bored and resentful at being pulled away from their “real jobs” to engage in what they perceive as useless activity. Irrelevant training also is a waste of time and money (but you already knew that).

Make It Civil 

Lay the ground rules and insist everyone follow them. No interrupting others while they speak, no displays of disdain for others’ ideas, no hogging the spotlight (i.e., everyone gets a chance to provide input), etc. Whatever the rules are, let the team know up front.

Make It Stick 

In other words, follow up. Without follow up, anything learned during your team-building sessions will eventually be forgotten and very likely never implemented. Adults in particular learn what they practice, so before you even initiate any team building know when and in what way you’ll be reinforcing lessons learned. Again, a qualified trainer can be an invaluable help here.

Make It Personal 

Team building starts with knowing yourself, including your talents, traits, and temperament. That’s why team building that doesn’t incorporate some level of self-assessment is a missed opportunity and won’t be as meaningful as team building that does.

Make It a Part of the Culture 

Hit and run team building just doesn’t work. Not only do you need to make this stick (see above) you also need to reinforce effective team-building behaviors all year around. Don’t entertain gossip about your direct reports from other direct reports, hold employees accountable for cooperating and keeping their commitments to each other, and insist on respectful behavior in general.

And back to my number 1 tip…

Make It a Group Effort (i.e., Don’t Go It Alone) 

Again, effective team building requires professional assistance. A certified coach or HR consultant is the way to go. This expert can help you do a needs assessment, develop pre-session goals, facilitate the session(s), and plan follow-up activities. Without assistance, that’s a lot to put on the plate of a busy manager lacking expertise in this area. 

Figuring out how best to work together isn’t always as intuitive as we’d like, but team-building activities that are intelligently planned, carefully executed, and faithfully reinforced can go a long way toward closing the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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