They used to be golf outings, rope challenges or cooperative team sports. Mostly exercises that emphasized competition, trust and the importance of winning. But these days, team-building exercises can be anything from scavenger hunts to group cooking lessons.
Why the change? Money's tighter and many companies can't afford the off-site, expensive outings that were thought necessary to build camaraderie and cooperation. Also, the work force is different and the ante is up on using team-building exercises to improve communication and productivity and to create innovative work ideas and new products. Here are the major driving factors:
• Four generations, each with a specific value system and each with different work place values, are working together.
• More women are part of the work force and women feel comfortable working in teams.
• Generation Y (people in their early 30s and late 20s) and Millennials (people in their late teens and early 20s) have been working on teams since they were in elementary school.
• More employers are recognizing the value of employee cooperation and giving employees a stake in the company's future.
• Team exercises can also be powerful and cost-effective employee motivation tools.
• Modern-day teams are motivated by giving back to others. They also enjoy taking part in team-building exercises influenced by TV or movies.
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Teams can really make an impact on a company's bottom line. One good example is the partnership of teams from Philips and Sony that resulted in the compact disc.
Here are a few popular and innovate team-building exercises:
Creating a TV commercial for the company. No secret what motivates this team. By coming up with a creative and effective ad they can learn more about the company they work for, help drive sales and cash flow, and improve their own salaries and career futures.
Shopping for, packaging and sending care packages to service personnel overseas. This exercise capitalizes on patriotism and compassion. The team works together to learn what soldiers and sailors want and need, they cooperate to ask for and collect donated items, and they learn how to pack the products properly so the items survive the long journey to deployment sites. In the meantime the team learns cooperation, improves communication and can possibly improve the company's packaging and shipping procedures.
Taking a cooking class, and shopping for the food, then cooking and enjoying a meal together. Who wouldn't be motivated by creating great food and then eating it? At first this team may be thinking about its collective appetite, but along the way participants learn something about good consumerism, budgeting, cooperation and perhaps new product development.
Building projects for charitable organizations. Motivated by altruism and TV shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition this exercise is focused on community spirit. As they build the bikes for needy kids, help erect a Habitat for Humanity home, or paint the dilapidated senior center, they bond. Along the way they also learn to cooperate, gain new skills, communicate better, improve their company's public image and take pride in a common accomplishment.
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Team building is one of the best ways to bring diverse personalities together, overcome conflict, encourage new ideas and help generate company loyalty. As Margaret Meade said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Marie Stempinski is founder and president of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in public relations, marketing, career and business trends, and employee motivation consulting. She can be reached at email@example.com.