What Is Corporate Team Building and Why Is It Important for Your Team?

Four individuals fist-bumping over a business meeting table strewn with documents, electronic devices, and coffee cups.

Terms like “team building” and “team bonding” can have very different meanings in different contexts. But what is corporate team building? Corporate team building (a.k.a. business or professional team building) means something very specific. It is “fun with purpose,” an expertly facilitated activity designed to produce specific, measurable business goals.

Given the variety of results that can pop up in an online search for “team building”—as well as some of the misinformed writing about the topic—it’s important to understand exactly what corporate team building is, and what it is not.

What is Corporate Team Building?

As noted in our post providing an expert guide to team building activities that work, corporate team building programs have five distinct characteristics:

  1. They include the key pillars of team building:

All professional team building programs incorporate a consistent set of core pillars, including communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and relationship building. But yes, they are also fun.

  1. They are inclusive:

Activities like ropes courses and paintball are exciting for some people—but they are not team building. Business team building programs are carefully designed with different activities and roles so that everyone in the workplace can participate, regardless of age, physical ability, or other factors.

  1. They deliver measurable business results:

Conducting team building exercises regularly has been shown to measurably increase employee engagement, retention, and advocacy, while reducing absenteeism. Moreover, companies regularly named as best places to work (where team building is typically part of the culture) enjoy faster revenue growth, lower hiring costs, and greater overall business performance than their peers
There are numerous ways to measure the success of team building activities, from direct measures like surveys to indirect metrics such as employee retention, customer satisfaction, and financial performance.

  1. They support a culture of high performance:

In a study of how to build and maintain high-performing teams, Harvard Business Review reported that among the things high-performing work teams do differently are fostering connection, bonding over non-work topics, and giving/receiving recognition. All of these are components of corporate team building.

  1. They help address a wide range of common business challenges:

Team building helps with a broad variety of business issues and objectives: from increasing employee engagement, loyalty, and morale, to being a key part of new employee onboarding (and helping new workers quickly become more productive), to rebuilding trust and collaboration after layoffs or reorganizations.

What Are Other Types of Team Building?

An online search for “team building” or news stories about team building may bring up results about several other types of team building, which all have their place and value—but have nothing to do with corporate team building:

Church team building: Activities undertaken by small groups within a faith community designed to improve communication and help teams work together to accomplish ministry goals.

School team building: These can be done at any age but are common in the junior high grades (six through nine), to help improve communication, problem-solving, and academic skills as students make the transition from the primary grades to high school.

Sports team building: This is often used in the context of literally building a team; that is, assembling a roster. In college sports, teams are built through recruitment. In the pro leagues, it’s done through the draft and free agency.

Somewhat confusingly, college and professional sports teams can also engage in business team building-type activities designed to get players to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

But none of these or other contexts (for example, 4-H team building) are what corporate team building is.

Myths and Misconceptions About Corporate Team Building

As noted above, when done properly and professionally, corporate team building delivers a range of business benefits, from improving morale and retention to enhancing collaboration and problem-solving—and it’s fun!

But people may still have misgivings or concerns about the term “team building” either because of a bad experience with an unprofessional provider or due to belief in some myths or misconceptions about what business team building is, and isn’t.

A couple of misconceptions about what corporate team building is, identified in a recent article in The Conversation, are:

MYTH #1: You can invite whomever you like.

REALITY: Yes and no. Organizations can certainly limit attendance to company events based on hierarchy (e.g., a leadership retreat just for VP and C-level executives); function (e.g., events specifically for sales reps, the marketing team, accounting and finance, etc.); or job tenure (e.g., a training session only for employees hired within the past 90 days).

However, attendees may not be included or excluded based on any protected class category, such as age, race, disability, religion or gender.

MYTH #2: Normal rules of workplace behavior don’t apply to team building.

REALITY: False! They absolutely do. Harassment—sexual or otherwise—and other behavior prohibited in the workplace has no place at team building events either.

A couple more myths were highlighted by corporate HR executive Liz Ryan in Forbes:

MYTH #3: Team building exercises are uncomfortable and pointless.

REALITY: This is only true if you hire the wrong team building company. An experienced, professional team building facilitator is an expert at getting everyone involved and delivering an impactful event.

There’s no question that some employees have had bad experiences with team building; or, more accurately, experiences with bad team building. This may have been because the activity was inappropriate; the facilitator wasn’t properly trained; there were technical or weather-related issues; or even because the wrong goals were set (for example: don’t ask sales reps to collaborate, unless they are actually compensated on that basis—sales professionals are both naturally competitive and incentive-driven).

When team building is done right, it starts by matching a specific team building activity to a business goal, so the program fits the situation. The program is then delivered by a facilitator who knows how to start off with an icebreaker that gets everyone comfortable.

The result is anything but uncomfortable and pointless. As team building expert and Best Corporate Events managing partner Roy Charette noted in our post on remote work, “Even folks who weren’t initially excited about (a team building event) start enjoying themselves very quickly. I and all of our trainers have been approached, time and again, by people during the break or after the program saying, ‘I really didn’t want to be here. I didn’t think I would enjoy this. But this was a blast.’”

MYTH #4: Team building is the answer to every group dysfunction issue.

REALITY: Unfortunately not. Team building can help accomplish many different goals in a variety of business scenarios. But, by itself, it won’t magically fix bad leadership, bad strategy, excessive bureaucracy, bad business processes, or a fundamentally unhealthy workplace culture.

The best team building companies start by performing an assessment, which begins with understanding your business issues. They will then be very clear about what team building programs can and cannot accomplish.

Finally, this article from Forbes identifies unhelpful elements that can ruin team building, such as poor communication or a lack of clear goals, and highlights four more myths about team building programs:

MYTH #5: Team building should be highly competitive.

REALITY: No. Many team building programs include an element of fun competition because it brings out the best in people. But competition in team building should never be taken to unhealthy extremes, which causes more harm than good.

Part of the “art” of creating fun, healthy competition is in program design, and part is managed by the facilitator. No one should feel excluded. Actually, one of our most popular programs is called Competition to Collaboration®, in which teams initially compete, then switch goals and share information, collaborating to achieve the highest overall benchmark score.

MYTH #6: Team building is pretty much just another name for socializing.

REALITY: Definitely not. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with socializing, and there may be times when you just want to have a pizza party or take your team bowling. It’s relaxing and can help build relationships.

But team building, as noted in the opening above, is “fun with purpose.” Unlike a happy hour or an outing at Topgolf, corporate team building programs are designed specifically to improve communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, and to be inclusive.

MYTH #7: Personality profiles are useful for labeling people.

REALITY: Absolutely not! Personality profile assessments such as DiSC and Myers-Briggs are helpful for providing insights into their own style of behavior and communication as well as those of others. Used properly, they can make team dynamics and management coaching more effective.

But they should never be used to label others or put people into boxes. These tools are just broad indicators; we are all unique individuals.

MYTH #8: Team building events should be done on weekends and holidays.

REALITY: Definitely not! Although corporate team building activities are a fun break from the normal routine, they are still definitely a work function. Scheduling these programs during work hours sends a clear signal to employees that you respect their non-work time; that you view this as part of work (even though it’s fun and completely out of the ordinary); and that you are making an investment in improving their skills.

Last of all, corporate team building is definitely not this.

The Bottom Line on What Corporate Team Building Is

“Team building” is a broad term that can encompass many different types of groups, objectives, and activities. But “corporate team building” is a much more specific term referring to professionally designed and facilitated programs that incorporate core pillars, address specific business issues, and produce measurable results.

Lots of different vendors offer “fun” activities, from laser tag to live entertainment. All have their place, but should not be confused with team building, which can be defined as “fun with purpose.”

Over time, some less-than-professional vendors have delivered unpleasant experiences that have given rise to a number of myths and misconceptions about corporate team building. To be clear: it should never be uncomfortable, pointless, or excessively competitive, and should never exclude anyone.

When delivered by a professional, top-rated provider, corporate team building programs help achieve specific objectives and improve collaboration and communication—while also being fun. They typically end with a debriefing session to reflect upon and reinforce the key takeaways from the activity that participants can bring back into the workplace.

We wrote the book on Corporate Team Building
Your roadmap to successful corporate team building.

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