What do Google, Spotify, Etsy and Lego have in common?
We’ll share the answer in a moment, but first a story.
A few weeks back a NYC tech company came on one of our unconventional museum tours. Most of the team arrived five or ten minutes early, and quickly fell into THE PATTERN. You’ve probably seen this before — the forced, repetitive small-talk that happens when loose acquaintances get together, “How was the meeting yesterday? Are you excited for this? etc.” The energy level would pop a little higher with every new arrival, but then quickly die off again.
And before you think we are hating on this team, we aren’t! They were great individuals — smart, friendly and unique. They just didn’t know how to communicate with each other outside of work.
Our two-hour tour brought this group on a shared adventure around the museum, including fun activities, games and more. By the end there was a total transformation, with happily bubbling team members chatting away and genuinely excited to be together. Success!
This success story brings us to what the four mega-companies mentioned above have in common — they all invest in team building. And “invest” is an important distinction, because the best companies know that it’s not “spending” hours or days working to improve group dynamics. Instead, these companies measure team growth and productivity in months and years and know that team bonding will help them with this goal.
But what if you don’t have years or even months to work together? What if you are a small team tasked with a short term project? By definition you have a deadline, and investing time away from the main work may seem wasteful. But actually, team building is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT for short-term projects
This article explains why, including specific examples of how you can infuse your next project with engaging activities.
2 Good Reasons & 1 Great Reason to do Activities
Twenty or thirty years ago, team bonding activities were a cutting edge thing that only the most innovative companies took part in. But increasingly, putting resources toward improving team dynamics and happiness has become an accepted “must have” for recruiting and retaining good people — right up there with benefits and vacation days.
And just like benefits and vacations days, some companies are great at it, while others are less so. But at least they are trying, because the potential rewards are large and relatively easy to capture.
Here are three reasons to invest in events and activities for your team:
Reason #1: Teams That Play Together, Stay Together
Employee happiness is one of the best indicators of how long that employee will stay with your company. And this is important — finding, onboarding, and training new people is expensive!
Some factors that influence employee happiness are in your control, like flexible work hours, respectful & fair management, etc. But one of the largest factors is the employee’s relationships and interactions with other employees. One grumpy team member can spoil the work day for everyone.
Fun bonding activities are a way for your team to interact in a low friction, high growth environment. When your team does activities together, they learn to communicate in new ways and they learn what makes each other tick. Basically, they become friends instead of just colleagues.
Fun Bonding Activities = Collaborative Team = Happy Employees = Employee Retention!
Reason #2: Team Building is Extremely High Leverage
Some meetings are twenty minutes. Others are thirty minutes, an hour or even longer. And often there is only one outcome, “what are we doing next?”
Adding a three minute exercise to the beginning of a meeting doubles the output, while only fractionally increasing the time investment.
Here’s an example. At the beginning of the meeting, do a quick circle where everyone answers a question in 20 seconds or less. This could be “your first job,” “something you knew was definitely a fad,” or anything else fun and easy. And it’s cool if these are off-the-cuff, no need to plan in advance.
Reason #3: You Can Manufacture Serendipity
The vast majority of successful businesses grow incrementally, i.e., week by week they become a little bit better until one day they are a big, profitable company.
But serendipity is like a magic button that lets you skip the line. Serendipity, “a fortunate surprise,” can provide deep insights and opportunities that 10x or even 100x your business.
The problem? Serendipity isn’t a scheduled part of the work day. It doesn’t come from staring at a computer screen a little longer or from attending weekly meetings. The only way to manufacture serendipity is indirect, i.e., by forcing yourself and your people into new environments and situations, you can increase the opportunity for serendipity to appear.
Your serendipitous moment may be a new solution that is sparked when two employees work out a difficult problem together. It may be a team member sharing an insight that they’ve been too shy to share at the office. But whatever your serendipity is, it has the potential for massive ROI for your business.
So how do you add fun activities to your schedule and capture all these benefits? The following section explains how you can integrate company bonding into a short term project.
Team Building For Short Term Projects
When you assemble a small team for a short term project, time is a scarce commodity. But you can still leverage the power of activities to supercharge your efforts.
At the beginning of the project, start with a longer activity — one or two hours where team members can get to know each other better while still working on creative problems. We recommend a productive tone instead of just fun for the sake of fun. Examples include those Harvard Business School exercises, “you are stuck in the desert, rank these 20 survival items in order of importance” or building Lego structures together with applied limitations, “You can only look at the blueprint for 30 seconds each.”
Each day, spend at least 10 minutes on activities. In Asia, it’s common for the work day to start with a quick dance routine or a “massage train,” with each person giving a quick shoulder massage to the person in front of them. You could also add a quick “get to know me” question at the beginning of each meeting, e.g., “what was your first job?” or “which movie did you watch over and over?” or “what’s something you believe to be true but can’t prove?” Give each person a quick 20 seconds to share their thoughts.
Each week or month, do a Team Trainage. A Trainage is a two hour get together where your team works on improving a skill together. At Museum Hack, we’ve hired a coach to teach us vocal training (to keep our voices healthy) and improv training (to think better on our feet). The key to a successful trainage is to choose a skill that is fun and active. We’ve written an extensive guide to trainages here.
At the end of the project, reward your team with another fun event, but this one out of the office. Let the team know before hand that a reward is coming when they reach their goal, but don’t get too specific about what the reward actually is. Research shows that people are more motivated throughout a process by an uncertain reward. And when the time comes that the project is complete, you can do an offsite event. Dinner is a popular choice. If you are feeling adventurous, come on a Museum Hack tour and we will show your team a great time at the museum!
That’s it, with this quick guide you should be able to start reaping the benefits of a happy, communicating team. The next step? Start scheduling!
Want to organize a Museum Hack activity for your company? We’d love to meet you! Send a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more info, and we will get right back to you. Or click directly to: Team Building Activities in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
You can learn about virtual team building for short term remote work projects too.