Team building is universally accepted as a good and important thing to do if you want to create and sustain an effective, happy, co-operative team. Pulling together, aiming at the same goal or group of goals and celebrating success are all signs that a team is working well together, but how do you get there in the first place? How do you gather together lots of different people and persuade them to gel as a team?
A great way is to kick things off with some team building - a specific exercise, or set of activities designed to help people get to know each other, understand each other's personalities and priorities and to set the mood for cohesive, co-operative working back at base.
WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS?
Team building can happen anywhere and at any time. Simple things like going for a meal together locally to welcome a new member of staff, or celebrating success with drinks or cakes in the office contribute to building the team and bringing its members closer together. However, there are other ways to help a team to gel as well. Professionally organised team building sessions are available and have the great advantage of usually having an external facilitator to oversee proceedings, a different venue to stimulate creativity and a fun activity to put people at ease and remove any initial reluctance to engage with each other.
You can choose pretty much any activity to help build your team, so long as it involves mutual goals, is not too difficult for members to participate in and has some relevance to what you are trying to achieve. Stick to your budget too. There's no point spending so much of the departmental budget that your team then can't afford the resources to actually complete the work it has been employed to do...
UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
The whole point of planning a team building session is to bring a team closer together, and to encourage trust amongst its members. To do that, you must first understand the type of people you're dealing with. You can be as adventurous, or not, as you choose and team building activities can range from relatively calm ten tip bowling or crafts, to more exhilarating white water rafting or mountaineering.
However, there is no point in terrifying your team by pushing its members too far beyond their comfort zones before they have even started working together. Why not find out what people in the team enjoy doing in their spare time, and take it from there? A pre-event meeting, email survey or questionnaire could help canvas opinions early on. Not just about the type of activity preferred, but also about how it should be run and what it should achieve. How long do people want to take doing it, and how far from the office would they be willing (or able) to travel? What about meals? Feedback opportunities? Accommodation? A few well-placed questions at the very start of the planning process will stop people dreading what's to come, and ensure that they feel listened-to and catered-for instead.
Always be sensitive to the needs of your group, especially if there are any physical requirements that must be met. People with restricted mobility or physical or mental heath issues must be made to feel comfortable and able to participate as fully as they can or want to do so. Other aspects of inclusivity planning include looking after team members who are pregnant and those who have specific cultural, religious or dietary requirements. Remember that people will have differing financial resources available to them too, so if you are asking them to pay for some or all of the event, or to buy specialist equipment or clothing, make sure it is affordable first.
Finally, make the event's agenda, timings and logistical details available to attendees as soon as you can, so that they can work out how they are going to get to and from the venue and what they will need to pack, as well as any domestic/family concerns, such as babysitters, carers or overnight arrangements. The more detail you can provide, the better prepared everyone will be, and so will arrive in a more relaxed, approachable mood.