5 Tips to Better Team Building Activities

Sometimes team-building activities seem pointless, but they do not need to feel this way. If you approach them strategically, team building activities can improve a team’s productivity and efficiency. Here are 5 tips to strengthen your team building activities.

Tip # 1 – Understand what it means to build a team.

There’s more to this than hiring a skilled worker with an agreeable personality. Team relationships take thought, effort, communication, and compromise.

Conflict and frustration occur when the values important to one team member differ than those of another team member. For example, one team member may value deadlines and getting work done in a timely fashion, while another team member may value quality over speed and prefers to take more time to get work done right. When these differences aren’t acknowledged and addressed conflict is sure to ensue.

The purpose of team building is to get the members on a team to work well together. Team building teaches team members about one another, so their differences serve as a basis for collaboration and innovation instead of conflict and frustration.

An informal structure of a team building event allows team members to let their guard down and get to know their co-workers, but more structured activities will get you closer to your goal of improved collaboration.
But how do you know what activities are best for your team?

Tip # 2 – Take note of who the members are on the team.

Engage them in a task that brings out their individual work preferences, habits, values, and strengths. While you can invest in a professionally organized game in which behaviors are observed, you don’t need elaborate set ups to see your team in action.

You could have them create a fun informational poster about their team, discuss what superpower would be most beneficial to their job, plan a 10-minute tour of the workplace, or collectively role play a response to an upset customer. It is important that the activity is not their actual work. Using work itself for team building is like treating a performance for practice. It’s not conducive to getting to know other team members since the focus is on getting the work done and doing it well.

Tip #3 – Give purpose to team building activities.

When team members are engaged in a team building task, pay attention to the behavior of each person. What differences are at play? Has someone tried to do all the work themselves? Has anyone assumed the role of time tracker? Is someone delegating? Is anyone raising objections to what is being proposed or to what’s being done?

When the team building task is completed, you will have seen the behaviors of each team member. Now it’s time to ask each team member why they did what they did. Ask them what they learned about one another. Ask them to discuss how their differences could be beneficial or harmful to their work as a team.
After this discussion team members will get to know one another better and it may be time to discuss how they can use what they’ve learned to better understand and work with one another. It may be time to make some changes based on what you heard.

For example, if you noticed someone monitoring the team’s progress, this person may have under utilized project management skills. Perhaps they’d be good at keeping the team on track with various projects. You may have noticed someone who used creative thinking and problem solving skills you had no idea existed because their job duties don’t require those skills. Consider how those skills could be used with the team. What workflows would make the most sense given everyone’s strengths and weaknesses? What conflicts exist on the team and what ways they could be resolved?

Tip #4 – The best team building doesn’t come from upper management.

If you’re trying to force collaboration, you’ll get pushbacks and likely cause the team to function more poorly. If you want your team building to work put the team in charge of it. Let them plan their team building activities and decide how best to incorporate what they’ve learned. Give them the freedom to be creative and build up one another. Trust them and encourage them to trust one another. Team building must be a team effort.

Tip #5 – Assess the success of your team building initiatives.

Before, during, and after team building activities, you should be recording and analyzing metrics pertaining to team efficiency and productivity. Did the team meet its goals? What are the KPI’s that make sense for your team? Production, morale, and retention are good metrics to examine. Was the team able to get more work done in less time? Keep an eye on the numbers, account for other variables, and be willing to try new team building activities or rethink your team building strategies.

Remember, you are not just building any team, but the team you have. Your goal is to help the people on this team understand one another better. Begin by starting with what you already know about your team and brainstorm activities that will require their collaboration, communication, and compromise.

Contact AZ HR Hub today for help developing your team building program!

Book a FREE Consultation: https://calendly.com/linda-7921/15min

or Email us at: linda@azhrhub.com

The Rewards of Trust and How to Get Them

Why do team members stop trusting in one another? And what happens to a team when trust disappears? To answer these questions, let’s start with a story.

About a year ago, Abigail began her first day on a new job. She was a software engineer, new to the workforce, and eager to make a good impression on her colleagues. At the end of the day, she noticed a fine, jagged line on the floor of the office, stretching the length of the building. She examined it, puzzled. She was pretty sure she hadn’t noticed it earlier and almost as sure that it hadn’t been there when she’d arrived. For a moment she considered asking someone about it, but she didn’t feel comfortable inquiring about structural integrity on her first day.

Truth be told, she wasn’t the only employee who noticed the jagged line, and it had just appeared that day. But no one else had brought it up.

The next morning, the line had grown to an unmistakable crack. Javier, another software engineer, saw it straight away and thought about mentioning it to his supervisor, but the last time Javier spoke up about a problem, his supervisor had scolded him for not also presenting a solution. He had no solution, so he said nothing.

Dipendu thought he had an easy fix for the ugly crack, but he too was hesitant to speak up. The last time one of his designs hadn’t worked out as planned, the executive team was livid, and his manager threatened to demote him if his work ever failed again. Lupita, a senior designer, also had a solid idea for repairing the crack, but she’d seen too many of her good ideas stolen by others in the company, who received the credit for her ingenuity. Both Dipendu and Lupita kept quiet.

As the days passed, the crack expanded several inches. Everyone stepped over it as nonchalantly as they could so as not to acknowledge its existence. After a few weeks, the rift was several feet wide, and HR quietly updated job descriptions to say that the physical requirements of every job might entail some jumping.

Finally, after office supplies, a laptop, and Fred got lost in the rift, management decided to acknowledge the issue. But its message was inconsistent. In some instances, management seemed to take the gap seriously and promised it prompt attention. At other times, management seemed less committed. Only after an OSHA inspector showed up on an anonymous tip and summarily disappeared into the rift did company leadership clarify their position. Whatever the cause of the still-growing crack, employees were at fault for not speaking up sooner, and they’d just have to live with the consequences.

The consequences, however, were not sustainable. Valuable team members and intellectual property got lost in the abyss, electrical wires and phone lines got disconnected, and team meetings involved a lot of shouting over the gap. Soon everyone only communicated if they absolutely needed to, and oftentimes not even then.

What happened to this company may sound farfetched, but the rift is real. While you probably won’t find gaping holes in workplace floors, you will find trust destroyed by broken promises, lies, spin, retaliation, and inconsistency. And when trust is lost, relationships and teams break apart. In the workplace, people keep their distance from others, withhold information, refrain from identifying problems, and erect barriers to protect themselves. In short, they stop working together.

Benefits of Trust

The whole point of forming a team is to facilitate cooperation. Trust is the foundation of that cooperation. With trust, teams increase their productivity, improve their ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, act more creatively, delegate work more easily, and achieve greater financial success. Trust enables teams to accomplish what they’re designed to accomplish. Trust creates a sure footing for success. But without trust, cooperation cracks, shatters, and dies. People can’t act as a team. 

Building Trust

Trusting your employees and gaining their trust isn’t easy. As Wendy Dailey says, it takes time and effort. It’s work.

But trust is achievable. And worth it. We human beings are social animals, after all. It’s normal for us to trust one another. All of our social institutions require it. That’s one reason violations of trust feel so wrong and hurt so much. They cause rifts in friendships, romantic partnerships, families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, and other organizations. And yet those rifts are not the norm. They’re not what we typically expect. In the workplace, we expect to be able to trust our teammates, at least as far as work is concerned. So how do we get there? Let’s examine a few practical ways to build trust at work. 

Learn What Trustworthiness Means to Your Employees
Laurie Ruettimann, author of Betting on You and host of the Punk Rock HR podcast, advises organizations “to learn more about how their employees define, value and evaluate trustworthiness — and act on it.” What establishes and strengthens trust with one employee may be different than what builds trust with another. For one thing, every employee has their own reasons for being an employee of their organization and expectations for what that relationship entails. For another, everyone has their own experience with building and losing trust. All else being equal, gaining the trust of someone who’s had their trust in others betrayed will be more difficult than gaining the trust of someone who’s not experienced such devastating betrayals. It’s vital to understand these differences. 

Build Relationships on Authenticity, Logic, and Empathy
Executive coach Sarah Noll Wilson offers similar guidance. There is “a complexity to trust because what everyone values and what they need is going to be different based on every situation,” she writes. Her team recommends a framework they call the ‘Trust Triangle.’ We build high-trust relationships at work by being authentic about our values and impact, logical in how we’ve come to our conclusions, and empathetic in all our interactions. 

Give Employees Your Time and Attention
Consider this simple advice from HR author and speaker Steve Browne: show “a little respect.” Respect brings people together. It empowers people to trust. We show people respect in the workplace by “acknowledging that their efforts make an impact and meaningful difference to the success of the company.” For Browne, we engage people with respect by giving them two things: “our time and attention.” 

Acknowledge People’s Emotions
Researchers Alisa Yu, Julian Zlatev, and Justin Berg arrived at much the same place. Writing in Harvard Business Review, they explain that the best way to build trust at work is to acknowledge other people’s emotions. Acknowledging another’s emotions communicates that you “care enough to invest in that relationship.” Interestingly, the authors found that “acknowledging negative emotions boosts trust more than acknowledging positive emotions.” Why? Because most people “see acknowledging negative emotions as being more costly in terms of time, attention, and effort.” Acknowledging emotions can backfire, however, if “your coworkers believe your actions are motivated by selfish reasons.” 

Act with Transparency, Clarity, and Consistency
We trust others when we believe that they are worthy of that trust — when we believe that they are honest, good, reliable, faithful, compassionate, and fair. How do we inspire others to believe that we are trustworthy? By keeping our promises. By being transparent about our decisions, clear about our expectations, and consistent in our practices.

Believe in Your People
Trust can’t go just one way. Rifts in the workplace will form if trust isn’t reciprocal. That means that we also have to show employees that we trust them. This can be challenging because we’re often inclined, and not unreasonably, to perceive employees as costs, risks, and liabilities. And yes, they certainly can be, but they’re also any company’s greatest asset. If we treat employees only as a danger, we tell them loud and clear that we don’t trust them.

The alternative? Find strength in vulnerability. Acknowledge the rights of your employees and your responsibilities to them (the employee handbook is a convenient place to do this, but your overall attitude matters too). Invest in their growth and success. Celebrate their wins. Give them reasonable opportunities to mend mistakes and make up for failures. In sum, treat employees like you trust them to do good work. Will some betray that trust? Yes. But that’s on them. Believe in them, and you’ll inspire trust. Assume betrayal, and you’ll get something else.  

Trust enables people to work together. Pour everything you can into that foundation. You’ll build stronger and more productive relationships with your employees, notice and mend cracks more quickly, enhance the capabilities of your team, and achieve greater success. 

 Managing Your Managers

As business owners, executives, and supervisors are all aware, managing employees is one of the hardest parts of running a business. You must balance their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities, and their skill sets, all while trying to earn and maintain their loyalty. And then, like a marching band conductor, you must bring them all together so they’re working in unison for the success of your organization—each member playing the right note, at the right time, from the right location on the field.

Managing your managers is no different. They act as your section leaders, training and directing those in their departments, and providing coaching and encouragement as needed. But they still need direction from the highest level. You’ve still got to pick the music and write the drill.

The principal reason to manage your managers is to ensure that they operate as a team. Each of your managers has a distinct personality and approach to management that affects their leadership style. One may be deadline-driven, another prone to dawdle. One may focus on building their team’s strengths, another on correcting their team’s weaknesses. One may communicate a lot, another only a little.

These differences can work, but they can also cause trouble. Employees who report to or work with more than one manager may not know what is expected of them. Or they may find themselves overworked if managers don’t coordinate workloads. Cross-team efforts may be delayed or even ruined due to misunderstandings or failures to communicate (imagine the tubas and the piccolos trying to inhabit the same space on the field). The organization may be guided by several conflicting personalities instead of single, unified company culture.

To bring managers together, you need something to unite them around. This is your company culture—the personality of the organization, its mission, and values, working environment, policies, and practices. But a company culture can’t exist in the abstract. It needs flesh and bone. So have your management team develop a set of shared goals and priorities—and make sure they’re specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (aka SMART goals). Think of this as your musical score.

Of course, you won’t have much of a half-time show if everyone isn’t on the field, instruments in hand, and ready to play. Hold regular management meetings to ensure managers are working well together and that their teams are working well together. In other words, confirm everyone’s on the same page. These meetings should have clear objectives, provide managers a chance to work through conflicts, and give you an opportunity to coach them. This would also be an opportune time to ask managers what they need from you and from each other.

Even if your managers are talented and can be trusted to lead their teams, it still helps to direct their management efforts towards a singular purpose. Even a band with top notch section leaders will be improved by a skillful conductor. Likewise, to coax the best results out of your organization, ensure that you give your managers ample direction and the tools they need to lead their teams to success.

employee experience
8 ways to improve the employee experience in 2022

Who wants a better employee experience in 2022? Almost everyone, and especially HR professionals.

After a surreal employee experience in 2020 and an uncertain one in 2021, it’s time for a change. Time for an improvement in the employee experience. Time for stability.

More than 90% of employers plan to make enhancing the employee experience a top priority in 2022, according to research from Willis Towers Watson. That’s a good idea after many companies and their employees strived, but didn’t exactly thrive, since the pandemic.

“The role of the leader has changed and will continue to change,” says Jennifer Kraszewski, VP of Human Resources at Paycom. “As a manager in the current environment, it’s imperative to make an intentional effort to create a bond with your employees, allowing them to feel certainty, significance, connection and ultimately, empowerment.”

In the new workplace, employees won’t be looking for the perks that made some companies uber-attractive in the past decade – such as stocked break rooms, catered happy hours, on-site game rooms, and dry cleaning services.

Not now. An enhanced employee experience will take a more holistic approach this year. So here are eight ways you can make the employee experience better in 2022.

Show more empathy for improved employee experience.

Perhaps the best thing to do now is start from a place of empathy. When you approach the employee experience from their point of view, you’ll likely come up with impactful ways to engage them again.

“Leading with empathy means understanding and accepting that people are not always operating at their very best,” says Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO of TalenTrust. “Issues from home affect work lives. Working within and around that reality is the best way to create a place where people want to come to work.”

Quinn Votaw offers these tips for all leaders. So you’ll likely want to pass them along to your front-line managers, too.

  • Be authentic. Take extra steps to ask questions to show you care about and are interested in what will make employees’ experiences better.
  • Add a personal touch. Consistently communicate with a personal touch – specific employee praise, genuine concern for well-being – to build morale and increases engagement. 
  • Make time to connect. Give employees time and opportunities to connect personally at least weekly. Ask them to cultivate ideas for better experiences during the social time – and bring them to you.
  • Respect boundaries. Don’t assume everyone’s definition of a great employee experience involves experiencing everything with everyone! Find out where employees want the line drawn between life and work.

Go to the source

The reasons employees leave and the reasons employers think they leave don’t line up, according to a Joblist survey.

For instance, more than 70% of employees say their companies can prevent turnover by improving benefits. Yet, just 42% of employers thought benefits were an issue. Another disparity: Nearly 60% of employees would stay more loyal if the company offered unscheduled raises or promotions. Meanwhile, less than 40% of employers have done that.

You don’t necessarily have to serve up better benefits and pay to improve the employee experience. But you do want to find – through surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups, etc. – what would make employees’ experiences better. Then determine what’s possible – and explain what’s not and why.

Make value matter

The workplace isn’t that much different than any place employees do business. They talk about the stores and restaurants where they felt they were valued.

To improve the employee experience, you might consider – and treat – them as customers in 2022 and beyond.

“It can be something as simple as setting up consistent one-on-one time with employees and giving them the space to ask questions, discuss their development, and gauge progress,” says Kraszewski. “Let them lead the conversation. The key is to not only address professional topics but also to get a measure of how they are feeling personally.”

Improve engagement

Increasing engagement won’t just improve the experience in 2022.

“Highly engaged teams experience greater profitability, a reduction in absenteeism, and decreased turnover,” says Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at the Achievers Workforce Institute. “To foster an environment of engagement, start with creating a culture of recognition.”

The key nowadays: Give everyone opportunities and tools to recognize and reward others in the organization. If you just wait for scheduled ceremonies, leadership’s time, and big prizes to come in, you’ll miss organic chances to boost morale and improve culture.

“Consider developing a recognition strategy to provide employees with a dedicated channel to acknowledge one another, whether it’s through written kudos or physical rewards,” Baumgartner suggests. “This allows team members to give more frequent and meaningful feedback, even when physically distant.”

Maintain a remote option

Like it or not, many employees now expect their work experience to be not at work. Nearly 65% of employees say flexible scheduling and remote work options will improve their experience and loyalty, the Joblist survey also found.

While you might not be able to offer fully remote roles, can you offer more hybrid options?

To do that, you might work with front-line managers to:

  • separate roles that must be done on-site all the time (high-physical-touch duties)
  • find the duties in each role that can be done effectively while remote
  • determine the percentage of time people in each role need to be on-site versus remote to do the work (for instance, 25% remote and 75% on-site per week), and
  • offer employees hybrid options based on the ratios.

Offer more learning opportunities

Many employees cite opportunities to grow as a reason to stay at their job – or a reason to go after another. Of course, you want to be on the reason-to-stay end of that in 2022.

But just offering employees a splattering of learning opportunities won’t cut it. To improve the experience, you want to give them time and resources to learn in areas that will expand their careers.

The first step is to help employees establish a career path. When they have an idea of where they want to go, they can choose the training that will help them get there.

Then, lead them to self-directed learning, webinars, in-person events, schooling, and company training to stay on the path. Or head in a new direction if or when that happens.

Focus on employee experience in company culture

Look around. Are people happy to be with each other, engaged in their work, concerned about the company and its success? Those are critical factors in positive company culture.

The better a company’s culture, the better the employee experience. Often, the best way to improve company culture is to remove negative barriers to it.

You could watch for signs you have a negative workplace culture, but it would be better to survey employees to find out if these conditions exist (and affect their engagement):

  • gossip and social cliques
  • frequent miscommunication
  • aggressive and/or passive-aggressive behavior
  • dictatorial management techniques
  • excessive absenteeism
  • excessive employee complaints
  • imbalanced/favoritism management
  • employee exhaustion and lack of work/life balance
  • unrealistic workloads, and
  • high turnover.

Those are signs you likely need to make top-level decisions to reboot culture with employee input.

Increase the sense of belonging to improve employee experience.

People stay where they feel they belong. And if you aren’t in a position to increase pay, technology, or perks, you can almost always do something to help employees feel like they belong.

“With intentional inclusion initiatives, employees can maintain their initial feeling of inclusion throughout their career. Specific programs employees can implement include a mentorship program, company-wide employee resource groups, and scheduled check-ins to foster their sense of belonging,” says Baumgartner.

But you can’t stop there. HR pros and front-line leaders want to do a regular pulse check on all of their efforts to improve the employee experience.

“There is no finish line for this initiative; instead, it is an ongoing journey that will change with employees’ needs. It is going to take time and effort but when employees feel a sense of belonging they rarely think about looking for a new job, are more enthusiastic at work, have higher job satisfaction and are more engaged, making the work worth it,” Baumgartner says.

toxic workplace
Exploring Some Causes of Toxic Workplace Cultures

Describing a workplace as “toxic” has become almost cliché in recent years; although all offices have a negative element or two, there are some that are truly toxic. That is, the culture is so negative that it has negative impacts on the business. These impacts can range from poor morale and lowered productivity to employee disengagement and high turnover. Let’s look at what impact it has on the business and what causes it?

Toxic Cultures and the Turnover Tsunami

In an article for BBC Worklife, Katie Bishop tells us that about 20% of U.S. workers have left their jobs because of toxic environments and 64% of employees in the United Kingdom “said that experiencing problematic behaviors at work had negatively impacted their mental health.”

Of course, no one would argue that toxic workplaces are desirable, but they exist nonetheless. So what are some of the factors that contribute to toxic cultures, and how can those factors be mitigated?

Factors Contributing to Toxic Workplace

A toxic culture isn’t necessarily about the size or structure of the organization. “A common conception is that toxic behaviors are often found in large corporations where competition is fierce and accountability is low – and yet some workers report that the same damaging culture can just as easily be found in smaller, less hierarchical organizations,” says Bishop.

Instead, toxic cultures often thrive when one or both factors are present: resource constraints and weak leadership and culture. Looking first at resource constraints, it makes sense that employees in companies with less money to spend on staff or other resources will be stressed and struggle to keep up with their workload, and stress is always a potential source for negative attitudes, hostility, and general toxicity.

When Toxicity Is Pervasive and Ongoing

Negativity and unhealthy behavior can crop up in any organization. What sets truly toxic cultures apart, though, is that they take root and stick around. That’s where the second factor comes into play. Organizations that lack strong leaders to stamp out toxic behavior or strong cultures that make such behaviors unacceptable become fertile ground for toxicity to grow and thrive.

While some workers might casually throw around the term “toxic workplace,” there are some organizations that truly deserve the label. Companies that are resource-strapped and lack strong leaders and robust cultures are often ripe for toxicity to spread. Addressing these underlying factors may not only help address existing toxicity but also prevent it in the future.

If you’d like support developing a healthy company culture, we’d love to help. Reach out today!

psychological safety
How Leadership’s Understanding of “Psychological Safety” is More Important Than Ever

Whether you’ve been leading a remote workforce for decades, recently ventured into this space, are dabbling with hybrid models, or fully returning your staff to in-house status, one thing is certain: The concept of “workplace” has changed forever. And “psychological safety” has taken an elevated role. The hard, sacred work of nurturing company culture has gotten even more dynamic in the process.

We’ve all had a front row seat to “The Great Resignation” when the country and the job market opened back up. The perception of boundless options prevail (all while making the workplace and cultural undertaking even more fraught for leadership). The talented and the hopeful are not wrong – there is an opportunity boom. What remains is more important than ever! There is a primal need of feeling psychologically safe. No one’s accepting work, live, virtual or otherwise, if they don’t feel safe and included within the culture.

Therefore, inclusion and belonging have taken on a heightened level of importance within the workplace. Once buzzwords in the workplace, and often used only for PR purposes, these traits are now business imperatives. Talent is more intentional than ever about interviewing the company they will lend their skills to, rather than simply being interviewed by a potential employer. Value and career alignment, community, allyship and trust are dominating interview conversations more and more.

This war on talent is opening the eyes of global companies and leaders to rethink their strategy for attracting and retaining the world’s top talent. When employees leave an organization to take on other opportunities or resign without another offer in hand, there may be a true disconnect in value, career alignment or trust. Here are some immediate questions to consider:

  • Did the employee speak up about concerns prior to resigning? If no, why not? If yes, were there follow-up conversations and realignment on actions?
  • Did the manager have regular conversations with the employee on career goals and timing?
  • Did the organization make inclusion and belonging visible priorities and central business strategy?
  • How safe do your employees feel to share their frustrations or misalignments? On a scale of 1 to 10 (1= not safe at all, 10=extremely safe).
  • How inclusive is your leadership?

As I share often with other Diversity & Inclusion executive leaders, the role of psychological safety and trust continues to be the solution for regrettable attrition. Dr. Timothy Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, defines psychological safety as “an environment of rewarded vulnerability”. When we take this definition and use it to assess our current culture in many organizations, we see the missing ingredient. It is imperative that executive leaders, managers, and supervisors all rethink what workplace inclusion and trust look like. It means we sometimes have the uncomfortable conversations with staff, and ask questions like,“What are you hoping to get from your time in this role?” or “How do you see this opportunity playing into your overall career goals?” These basic questions create opportunities for alignment and realignment throughout their time in the organization.

We hear the statement all the time that people don’t quit companies, they quit bosses. And often when talent quits a boss, it is because somewhere along the journey, that talent lost trust in the boss’s ability to place the employee’s interest in mind.

“Do you have me and my career and my ability to excel in this role, in mind, when you’re leading? If you don’t, then I’ll go somewhere where I am celebrated and recognized for the value I add.”

So, take a moment. Step back. Reflect and ask yourself those questions.

Psychological safety is not simply something to “achieve” or a box to check. It’s something to embody. And it takes continuous work and improvement.

It’s also not something that any one person can achieve alone for an organization. It’s on each of us – from CEOs and tenured leaders to new hires experiencing their first day – to consistently work towards… Together.

With that, I encourage you to consider rethinking psychological safety in corporate culture.