Team building is a little like being back on the playground during recess, where you're forced to play with the kid who insulted you 10 minutes earlier.

While professional team facilitators swear by what they euphemistically describe as shared experiences that reinforce positive team skills, not everyone is so enthusiastic. And in the past few years, these office-oriented experiences have morphed from simple ice breakers and survival simulations to more adventurous activities designed to increase staff camaraderie and heart rates.

A few years ago, it was zorbing — the arguably horrifying experience of rolling downhill inside an inflatable ball. While adrenaline junkies may willingly get into giant transparent spheres, many employees hesitate to engage in an activity that has resulted in at least two deaths and countless scrapes and bruises.

Now, Chad Michael and his San Diego-based Adventure Games team — "catering to the tech-savvy millennial generation" — have come up with a "fresh style of team building" that has "employees and management eagerly looking forward to exciting team building events." 

"One way is to kidnap your boss," he said. 


Sure, it's a mock kidnapping, "followed by an elaborate, twisty, espionage-filled rescue of the missing executive by a team of co-workers." But will this really improve morale? Especially if you actually rescue the boss?

A few years ago, Google started Project Aristotle to learn what makes good teamwork. After interviewing hundreds of its employees, it concluded the secret is just being nice to people. As they say, happy workers make better workers, and the emerging workforce places high value on workplace satisfaction and good relationships with colleagues. But we decided to dig deeper.

The Question

What are the best ways to improve teamwork in the office, without kidnapping the boss?

The Answers

David Goldstein, CEO, TeamBonding

David GoldsteinAs the founder and CEO of TeamBonding​​, Goldstein creates programs that build stronger corporate teams and employee engagement. TeamBonding, a five time Inc. 5000 honoree, provides unique team-building activities to companies such as Google, Apple and Coca-Cola to improve learning, relationships and cohesion among their workers. Tweet to David Goldstein.

The biggest mistake companies make when designing a team building event is choosing something that does not engage individual team members directly, i.e. bringing in a motivational speaker or taking their team on an outing to a movie or a sporting event.

Research shows that when people just sit and listen to someone, they retain only 20 percent of what they hear. But participants involved in active learning (doing a real job, a simulation, a training game, etc.) retain 90 percent of the information. It's all about getting everyone involved and engaged.

Countless studies have shown that play is instrumental in building trust, promoting teamwork, enhancing problem solving skills and promoting self awareness in a low-risk environment. As children, some of our most formative experiences come through play. The power of play can be just as instrumental in helping us develop as adults, both individually and as teams.

We've found that when employees are able to find common ground they're able to form more meaningful bonds that aren't always possible through day-to-day workplace interactions. For example, seeing your manager on stage taking risks during an improv event can make them seem more human and relatable.

Neil Ryland, VP, Huddle

Neil Ryland A sales executive with abilities in new business development, account/relationship management and account penetration selling technology services/products to a broad range of verticals, Ryland joined Huddle in 2009. As EMEA VP, he has focused on building successful sales teams in San Francisco, New York and London. Before joining Huddle, he worked in data quality and management technology for financial services organizations and BPOs at Capscan (which was acquired by GB Group). Tweet to Neil Ryland.

The term ‘dream team’ is used as an aspirational statement and, if we are honest, overused to the point where most people would probably state they are on one.

Read any technology company’s "About Us" page, and you’ll see words such as “hard working, smart, driven, fun” — all of which give the impression of a dream team. But is that really what makes a dream team? To me, it's about doing the right things and having the discipline to do them even when no one is watching because team members are accountable to each other. 

Building this culture of accountability involves employee engagement; otherwise, you will end up at best as a team that operates well when the sun is shining, but quickly blames one another when the tides turn.

My three tips to becoming a dream team:

  1. Set up a session to ask the team members what they feel are the core values so you can set expectations
  2. Appoint “Guardians of the Culture” — people who support reinforcement of the expectations set and allow you as the manager to share their positive examples of addressing accountability concerns
  3. Lead by example and demonstrate your belief in the system and your expectations with your actions

Shawn Dunning, COO and Senior Facilitator, Adventure Associates

Shawn DunningA trainer, facilitator, mediator, leadership coach and public speaker, Dunning has helped thousands around the world to resolve conflict and develop their collaborative leadership skills. Now COO and a senior facilitator at Adventure Associates, his style is fueled by a blend of challenge and fun, and his passions for problem-solving, personal development and team development is grounded in his expertise in communication, psychology and conflict resolution. He is an expert in adventure-based conflict resolution. Tweet to Shawn Dunning.

The perfect formula involves a sense of adventure (i.e., not knowing what exactly will happen next, yet needing to work together to get there), as well as a relevant connection back to the real-world work environment.

What works really well are activities that engage everyone by nature of the activity rather than by asking everyone to participate.

Things that don’t work are strictly social events (going to a ballgame, company picnic, happy hours, etc.). It’s not that there is anything wrong with such attempts, they just don’t create any new dynamics with the group, since familiar friends typically just stick together.

For team building to be valuable, there must be noticeable changes after the program. Those changes might come in the form of colleagues feeling more comfortable approaching others at work, including leveraging newfound trust in order to have difficult conversations that they would have avoided in the past.

A stronger sense of unity towards shared identity and goals is another major outcome for many groups, especially those seeking to break down silos and inspire more collaboration between departments. On the skills level, effective collaboration is a huge area for development that virtually all of our clients seek. 

Groups often come into a program thinking that collaboration is about having everyone share ideas in order to choose the best one. The biggest breakthroughs often occur when they realize that, in fact, the best ideas and solutions are usually a result of a process of building off of each other’s ideas towards a solution that no single person can take credit for. This is extremely difficult to learn without actually doing it.