The pros and cons of team building activities for SMEs

team building activities or socialising?There is considerable disagreement about the effectiveness of company team building activities, especially those that involve away-days for things like paintballing, go-karting, white water rafting and the like.

The question is whether team building activities away from the office will make a noticeable difference to your productivity, rather than simply to the bottom line of the businesses that offer such facilities.

According to Forbes Magazine, Kate Mercer, author of A Buzz in the Building: How to Build and Lead a Brilliant Organisation and a co-founder of the Leaders Lab consultancy, warns that such activities can actually damage your workplace because it takes a great deal of skill to bring out the learning points and to transfer them back to the workplace.

Not only that, she says, they can make some employees feel embarrassed and others feel patronised and too often they confuse socialising with actual team building activities.

Such exercises can also be expensive, particularly for a small business, and the American researcher Kenneth Stålsett argues in his doctoral thesis that while they may be fun – for some – they rarely alter established ties between colleagues or enhance communication and collaboration skills back in the workplace after the event.

Stålsett argues that team building should be tailored to the unique challenges that exist within each group, or business, and that team building should be a recurring exercise.

Do SMEs need team building activities?

There is a distinction between social and team-building events. During the planning, you need to be clear about the purpose and outcomes you want.

Of course, you want your business to function as efficiently and effectively as possible and therefore you want your employees to work well together.

This can be particularly crucial for an SME in today’s fast-paced economic environment where it is important to get new employees to fit in and become productive as quickly as possible.

There is no denying that your business productivity can benefit from a co-operative and well-knit team of employees and it is therefore important to encourage this.

This means your business environment needs to be comfortable, positive and welcoming, in the sense that everyone’s contribution is valued and where people are stimulated, challenged and recognised for doing their best.

Your team building activities need careful thought and design to encourage people to respect, trust and co-operate with each other and should be part of an ongoing process of building trust and reinforcing goals to ensure everybody is heading in the same direction and has a shared set of values.

So yes, your team building activities are important, but they are about a continuous process, not about expensive away-days.

Those should be seen as enjoyable social activities, perhaps as a reward or thank you for employees’ exceptional efforts. They should definitely not be compulsory.

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