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How to Harness the 3 Dimensions of Team Events

There are three dimensions of any team building, but mapping virtual team buildings to these can be hard. Please let me know what you’ve seen work well or not in the comments. 3 Dimensions To Consider for Team Activities

  • Intimacy

  • Entertainment

  • Competition

Each event you plan or attend can be mapped along each of these axes, I imagine it as a 3d graph. Not all of the efforts you plan can be high in all 3 and nor should they. But, assuming “high” along each axis is “good” you want to maximize your schedule of team building events to cover all of these, in the combination that makes the most sense for your team.

Intimacy- I’ll take it as a given that psychological safety and trust are important elements of high functioning teams, and to get to a place where the team has an abundance of trust they need to feel comfortable being emotionally intimate with their teammates. Intimate team building activities are ones where people reveal true selves, showing vulnerability to their teammates and putting themselves out there. They might lead to the team being more honest, more kind or more cooperative. Examples are training such as Life Mapping, going through the story of your life and talking about the 3 highest and lowest points. Or activities that are somewhat frightening, like ropes courses (on the assumption that all people are equally afraid which is very much not true).

Other types of intimate training just put you outside of the work context in a way that can be a bit embarrassing, like “grueling” challenges, taking a tough workout class together or doing something scary like a trust fall. Or karaoke!

Different people and personalities find different activities more or less intimate and so it’s important to vary the types of intimacy, fear, sharing, personal stories, etc.. to accommodate different perceptions of what you are actually revealing about yourself. These events take a lot out of people emotionally and thus can’t happen all the time, but they can be revelatory for creating a unified team.

This quote from Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, really summed up the reason for intimate team building in my eyes. “When everyone on a team knows … that no one is going to hide his or her weaknesses or mistakes, they develop a deep and uncommon sense of trust. They speak more freely and fearlessly with one another and don’t waste time and energy putting on airs or pretending to be someone they’re not. … At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and their fear, to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team.”

Entertaining - How much entertainment value does this provide, is it better or worse than their day to day? Some activities are inherently more fun, cocktail making classes for example tend to be more fun than a behavior driver training. And that’s ok! Sometimes, having fun just for the sake of fun is absolutely necessary. It allows you to see a different side of everyone’s personality, can humanize senior leadership, and give introverts a way to comfortably put themselves out there. But there are also very worthy events that are less fun, which hopefully is correlated to direct business value. Working through a team’s Meyer’s-Briggs types might be medium fun, but might drive useful behavior in the workplace immediately. The same is true for different types of out of the box brainstorming or learning techniques, I wouldn’t expect them to be the highest echelons of fun but I’d expect clear business value.

Competition - It is great to drive some good old fashioned competition! You can be fighting against something else, e.g. the whole team is doing an escape room or fighting against each other individually or in teams, e.g. mini golf or paintballing. Having something to fight against can be great for bringing a team together and creating a sense of cohesion. This brings to mind the idea of parochial empathy, harnessing a feeling of otherness outside of your team to be more empathetic, and thus easier to work with This “other” can be concrete, or vague. You can construct towers out of pasta and marshmallows or you can throw axes at the wall with all your might. As long as there is someone or something on the other side of this competition, you are driving unity within the team. Some events have the added benefit of demanding teamwork, think escape rooms and the like, which can more overtly push a team to working with each other, but I don’t think it’s necessary for utilizing the competitive element.

Competition definitely opens up some interesting sides to people, for better and worse! But this is part of the benefit and often the fun. You want to see who your teammates truly are. What do they think it takes to win, how do they psych themselves up, what do they do when they lose?

Memories! One last metric I use to evaluate team building, which isn’t really the same type of dimension but more of a guiding light is, will this be memorable? Making fun or meaningful memories together is a huge part of what makes being on a team fun. They create inside jokes and shared moments that you can harken back to remind yourselves of your unity. It’s important to think of this when planning team events and strive for things that will be memorable when you can.

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Going through the three highest and lowest points of my life? With my work colleagues - are you crazy? Employers need to realise that for 90% of employees, this is just a job. Can people not just clock in, clock out, do what they’re contractually obliged to do, and go home? Very few people will actually enjoy this type of thing.

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