Team building activities should ideally be a vital and integral part of your employee orientation process. Here’s why—and it includes a significant impact you may not have thought about.
Every company has an onboarding process for new hires: get all the necessary forms signed, assign them a laptop, create their access badge, set up an email account, provide login credentials for the appropriate software systems, and so on.
Many corporate leaders have a general sense that team and relationship building are an essential part of that onboarding process as well, but may not be able to articulate precisely why.
Unfortunately, that can make it tempting to skip this step when budgets are tight, the department is short-staffed, or when a new manager comes on board. It’s easy to view team building as the “fun stuff” that can be skipped because there is “real work” to be done.
Here are four critical reasons to avoid that mistake and make sure team building is part of the new employee orientation process.
It Builds Trust
As business author Patrick Lencioni points out in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, trust is the foundational element of team effectiveness. Unless you have trust within a team, you won’t get constructive conversations, accountability, or the results you’re looking for.
Team-building at its core starts creating that element of trust through understanding each other and developing relationships. It does this by allowing the team to work together on a problem or challenge that is non-consequential in the sense that, if the group isn’t able to solve the problem, nothing’s at stake. It enables teams to “work out their bugs” without business risks.
And it gives team members the sense that they can rely on each other. Obviously, trust won’t be fully established during orientation, but a team building exercise is highly effective for laying the groundwork.
It Fosters Personal Connections
As workers return to the office post-COVID, many companies are dealing with significant employee turnover as well as bringing back staff who’ve been working remotely, possibly in a hybrid work arrangement.
That means, frequently, companies are not only onboarding new hires but also bringing in people hired within the past 18 months who’ve never physically met many of their coworkers.
Most employees, even those who enjoy the flexibility of remote work, are anxious to get back together in person. Company leaders can sense that people are getting worn down by the isolation, and things need to change.
When everyone is remote, there’s less connection. There’s less of the element of “We’re a team,” and a lot more of “This is a job,” and “We’re a workgroup, not a team.”
There’s a definite difference between a workgroup and a team. A team has energy. People feel like they have each other’s back. They talk about “we” and “us.” A workgroup is just a collection of individuals working on the same project. Both work groups and teams work on tasks, but they work on tasks in two very different ways.
In-person team building activities let workers see each other in full, three-dimensionally, head to toe, not just as a torso within a box on a Zoom screen. They can interact directly and enhance relationships that will lead to more of those informal, ad hoc hallway conversations that are difficult and awkward to manage virtually.
At in-person team-building events, participants get a different perspective; they see a completely different side of coworkers. Returning to the idea of trust, one of its foundations is showing some degree of vulnerability: that you can’t do it all, that you do need other people, that you have some challenges and weaknesses. Just showing that vulnerability in a team exercise where you do need to rely on other people can be incredibly valuable.
It Improves Team Dynamics
Often during a team-building activity, participants learn about each other’s communication do’s and don’ts, about what approaches resonate, and which ones drive a person crazy. When they’re working in a team environment, they can understand some of those aggravations. For example, if it’s analysis paralysis, they can see the frustration that creeps up—or they can see that pure enjoyment at areas of success.
When we understand and appreciate those value differences, pet peeves, communication styles, and what truly motivates people, we can really start to apply those into the work we have to do on a daily basis. Fundamentally, team-building exercises help with new employee orientation by establishing a foundation they can build upon as they start their journeys working together.
It Creates a Shared Experience
Establishing trust, connections, and communication may seem like obvious benefits of team building within the new employee orientation process. But a less apparent and easily overlooked bonus is the memorable, shared experience it creates.
The initial feedback from new employees after a team building exercise may focus on the fun, or the different perspective they got of coworkers, or the sense that the company cares enough about them to make sure they are engaged, that it’s not just “get straight to work.”
But when employees are asked about their overall orientation experience two, three, or more years later, the team building experience is what sticks. They may not recall much about the orientation videos they watched or the policy manuals they read. Still, they remember details from the team building program because of the emotional impact it had.
That makes the lessons learned in team building incredibly strong. People remember that it was a great way to get to know their coworkers and get started in their roles. For employees who went through that team building program together—and even coworkers who went through the same exercise, though not together—it’s a common, shared experience that creates a strong and valuable bond between them.
Team building activities can play a vital role in new employee orientation. They are as critical to setting up employees for success as getting them the right laptop with access to the right software systems.
By helping to establish trust, build connections, understand team dynamics, and create shared experiences, team-building prepares new employees to contribute productively to group efforts more quickly.
Part 2 of this series will showcase specific team-building programs that can be highly effective as part of the employee orientation process.