How do we create strong teams where people feel a connection to each other and to the organization? Friends in our workplaces are important, but so too is the larger sense of cooperation. Team building retreats, workshops, and team building exercises have become the norm for organizations who are seeking to foster team spirit.
In Clifford Nass and Corina Yen’s book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: The New Research on Human Relationships, they outline the 4-step process of a common team building day. First, get people warmed up and having fun. This often means doing something silly to push individuals out of their everyday work roles. For example, everyone is assigned an animal, they act out their animal, and the group guesses what animal they are. Second, some kind of trust activity where participants need to believe in their co-worker’s desire and ability to look out for them. The ‘trust fall’ is a classic activity for this step. Third, a task that requires everyone to participate in order to be successful. When I took part in my first team building day, we were asked to create a bridge from random items and get everyone on the team across the imagined river. The last step is some kind of fun adventure or activity together. Perhaps laser tag, beer/wine art (sip and paint night), go-cart racing, or ziplining.
There are several problems with the above framework for team building. The reality is that some people like these type of activities, while others do not. Perhaps the biggest issue is that, in the long run, these activities do not change the interaction patterns between employees when they return back to work. According to Nass and Yen, forming teams does not need to take a long time, nor does it need to take large sums of money, but it does take consistent and continual reinforcement.
At ACHIEVE, we have found that connection increases by building on a sense of identification.
Identification is a principle in social psychology which dictates that we feel bonded to those who are similar to us in some dimension. The greater the number of identifying characteristics the group can find, the more powerful the identification.
Organized sports leagues get this concept. Look at a sports stadium and you will hear thousands of people shouting in unison and in solidarity, “We won! We are number one!” even though they really had nothing to do with the teams’ success – they did not play, they did not coach.
Here are three ideas to help as you work to create strong teams in your workplace.
- Have a rigorous interview process
Groucho Marx said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” That was his way of saying he wanted to be a part of an elite group. We all want to feel like we are part of a special group. To say I work for ACHIEVE should mean that I have become part of an exceptional organization that is filled with exceptional people. We should let our employees know that they have joined a team worth being a part of. They have been selected.
- Provide small visual markers
Dress codes can build a sense of identification. Casual Friday or the first Monday of every month is crazy shirt day are two such examples. However, T-shirts with the organization’s logo are not usually the best route – some will like them, and others will not. Instead, opt for smaller visual markers: coffee cups, clip boards, rings and watches to mark years of service are much better options. The idea is to have small enough identifiers that others in the organization may note, but they won’t be so visible that the employee is a walking advertisement.
- Focus on shared history
Talk about the history of the organization – where it came from, how it has grown, changed, and how it’s evolving. Who are the founders? Why did they start the organization? What makes the organization unique? What are we currently doing that is new and exciting? How are we looking to develop and grow? What exciting projects are on the horizon? Where are we struggling? Bind people together through shared experience.
Having strong teams is part of having a productive organization. Remember— we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
 Nass, Clifford, and Yen, Corina. The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships. US: Penguin Group, 2010.