Connection is the glue that keeps relationships, projects, and organizations together, which is why leaders and teams often look for opportunities to strengthen bonds in the form of internal events and outside activities. Research supports that teams who play together have a better chance of staying together.
Experiencing the person behind the position leads to deeper understanding which translates to more effective communication and collaboration back on the job. These occasions might resemble simple pot luck lunches in the breakroom to elaborate off-site, trust-building rope courses. However, the best of intentions to create a sense of community can backfire when organizers fail to fully consider the impact of their choices and actions on others.
For example, many companies or teams still celebrate a finished project or the achievement of a sales goal by gathering at a local bar following the workday. Having participated in more than a few happy hours throughout my career, I’m well aware of the value of showing up. Time together outside of the office creates space for finding common ground and exploring interests. As individuals relax, conversations flow and information gets shared. This environment can provide face time with a supervisor who otherwise is too busy. This proximity power allows you to share your accomplishments or goals with those who have the platform or persuasiveness to get your ideas or agenda acted upon.
Even though I’ve personally benefited from and leveraged a few relationships and conversations as a result of these gatherings, they’re not inclusive and therein lies the problem. When a supervisor suggests going out for a drink with the team as a way to connect, they haven’t taken into account team members who have obligations outside of the workday, colleagues who refrain from drinking alcohol, or individuals who prefer not to put themselves in an uncomfortable situation given how alcohol can affect behavior. Add to that list introverts who prefer not to make small talk and need downtime to re-energize or individuals from other cultures who show up but remain on the outside as those with more in common congregate at one end of the bar.
A more effective way to support positive workplace culture is to create a space and place for everyone to feel included and contribute. This might come in the form of taking time away from work to volunteer together at a non-profit event or tweaking the pot luck lunch to include sharing the history behind or fun story about the chosen dish.
Here are three things to consider when planning your next team event:
1. Create a diverse planning committee. When you include and solicit input from a variety of ages, genders, cultures and personality-types, you automatically increase the likelihood your activity will be more inclusive and innovative. If that’s not feasible, make time to individually gather team members insight, ideas and interests.
2. Have a clearly defined goal. Individuals prefer not to waste precious work or personal time on contrived activities or icebreakers without a strong purpose or takeaway.
3. Seek an activity with structure. Coming together and accomplishing something as a team can be a powerful experience with lingering effects. For example, a company who brought me in to speak collectively builds a Habitat for Humanity home every summer. These activities can build genuine, long-lasting connections and teams often find themselves reflecting together on the experience. As one person told me, “After pounding nails and sharing a few laughs with Jon that day, I’ll never hesitate picking up the phone and calling him the next time I need support from his department.” Now that’s connection in action.