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Ultimate Guide to Effective Team Building Activities

by jhon duncen
game changing team building events

The conventional, trust fall-based approach to team building is broken. And when I say “broken”, I mean “never worked in the first place”. Not only do team-building games feel contrived, they don’t translate into the work your team does or change how you work together. And games that involve revealing your innermost hopes, fears, and desires (eep!) often backfire by making people feel less comfortable. A game changing team building events for any company.

The only thing team building games do well is provide a shiny distraction from the difficult task of figuring out how to do great work together.

Jump down to the activities now, or read on to learn more about the purpose and effectiveness of team building.

Do team-building activities actually work?

Working well together is the ultimate goal of team building, and we believe in getting straight to it. That doesn’t mean team-building activities should be all serious and boring. There’s definitely room for fun! But if you lose sight of the work itself, you’ll essentially build a book club and might as well bring wine to the office. That’s why we recommend activities that help teammates build rapport and add practical value to their work as well.

To be sure, building meaningful connections is part of the equation. If you’re looking to help a newly-formed team bond or get a team’s groove back after a rough patch, your instincts are spot-on. Transitions are hard! If you’ve ever been on a team moving from a traditional work style to agile methodologies, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. While a week-long offsite in the tropics isn’t the answer, you can’t ignore the human factor either.

In days past, managers might seek to get their team over the hump by keeping them busy, busy, busy. But unrelenting efficiency comes at a cost. “We sell out,” says Dr. Jason Fox, a former researcher at Murdoch University and author of How to Lead a Quest. “We stop listening, we stop empathizing.” Which, in turn, means we’re blind to the needs of our customers and each other.

Now, leaders at Atlassian and other forward-looking organizations like CultureAmp and Impraise nurture morale by building trust and a sense of belonging, thanks in large part to research conducted at Google. Over a two-year period, Google studied 180 of its teams and interviewed 200+ employees. They found that above all else, team members need psychological safety.

Why is team building important?

The safer we feel taking risks and being vulnerable in the presence of our teammates, the more we will admit mistakes right away, ask the “stupid” (but necessary) questions, challenge assumptions, share information, and propose ideas that are so crazy they just might work – all of which are key ingredients for creating a high-performing team.

Fostering psychological safety is a full-team job, but it starts with managers. We coach our leaders at Atlassian to openly ask for help, try new approaches, and treat honest failures as opportunities to learn. They’re also free to share their hopes, fears, and struggles to whatever degree they’re comfortable, even when it has nothing to do with work. That sets the tone for the entire team.

Building trust and belonging is a sound investment. Just be prepared to play the long game. For the increasingly popular cross-functional team, it’s even harder. Team membership changes depending on the project, with members filling a variety of job roles. It’s an effective organizational model (one that Atlassian uses frequently), but there’s a catch: fewer shared skills and experiences means it takes longer to build trust between teammates.

Getting to know each other on a personal level takes more than a round of “two truths and a lie”. It happens gradually through casual banter at our desks, pick-up ball games at lunch, team dinners, etc. And, of course, by working together toward a common goal.

That means working on the right things at the right time and collaborating in the right way. But how do you do that, exactly?

Delivering great work is the ultimate team-builder

Atlassian teams are big on agile principles like continuous improvement and iteration, which drives us to experiment with different ways of working together. In 2013, our teams started writing down various collaboration hacks that were working well for them so teams throughout the company could take advantage. 

Teams all over the world – from ANZ Bank to Xero to Walmart – use the Team Playbook to build healthy working relationships between teammates and do the best work of their lives. I’ve selected 11 plays that will do the work of team building while you go about your daily work

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