What is Team Building? How to Build Stronger, Cohesive Teams in 2023

Feli Oliveros

Strong teams don’t happen by accident. And with the rise of remote and hybrid work, the need to build cohesive teams that overcome geographical distances and cultural differences has become even more important today. 

No matter the distance between its members, a successful team hits business goals and keeps the work going smoothly. But without a team-building strategy that takes into account your employees and their work arrangements, your hard-won team dynamic may crumble at the first sign of conflict.

Strengthen the bonds between your workers with a team development approach that engages employees and connects them—no matter where they are in the world. To do that, here’s what you need to know about team building in 2023 and beyond . . .

What is team building?

Team building, also known as team development, is the process of turning a group of people into an effective team. In the workplace, this initiative typically focuses on strengthening the bonds between team members so they work as a cohesive unit, communicate effectively, and accomplish common goals together.

Although it’s easy to assume that team building happens in company retreats and other group activities, team development also takes place in the organic everyday activities and interactions that bring employees closer together. 

Together, these experiences enable teams to perform at a higher level than individual members can on their own. 

Why is team building so important for businesses?

Investing in your teams is really just another way of investing in your company’s success. To drive home our point, here are four specific benefits of team building for businesses. 

Develops important skills

Employees are the building blocks of a great team. Help them hone their skills, and watch as your team’s performance improves. 

Not all businesses have the luxury of hiring their top candidates, meaning that new employees hired for their potential may need training to bring their skill sets up to speed. According to one recent survey, 39% of businesses hired candidates they normally wouldn’t have in order to fill an open position. However, 63% of those respondents also admitted they overlooked a gap in the candidate’s hard or soft skills to do so. 

A different survey also found that 77% of hiring leaders prefer to develop current employees for open roles instead of hiring outside the organization—a practice that inspires greater loyalty in a company’s workforce.

Overall, the research suggests that setting your employees up for success in their career is a win-win for them and for your business.  

Improves collaboration and trust

Team development exercises foster collaboration, camaraderie, and trust between group members, which ultimately helps them work better together. 

During these activities, employees—and sometimes managers and company leaders too—are encouraged to work together to solve a problem or achieve a goal. In doing so, participants often learn more about their teammates’ strengths, weaknesses, preferred communication styles, and other quirks. 

And as an added bonus, these activities often create inside jokes, memories, and shared experiences for teammates to bond over long after the exercise ends. 

Encourages creative problem-solving

By regularly engaging your employees’ creative thinking and problem-solving skills through team-building activities, you prime them to perform well in real-world situations that require those skills—even when under pressure. 

They’ll feel empowered to draw on these skills regularly, and ultimately help your business find innovative ways to solve problems and fine-tune your offerings. 

Increases employee engagement and satisfaction

Employees who enjoy working with their colleagues and managers tend to be more productive, engaged, and satisfied with their work experience than those who don’t.

And when done right, incorporating team-building activities into your employee engagement strategy shows you care about your people, their work environment, and their work relationships. It’s great for business too, according to one report: LinkedIn found that employees who feel cared for at work are over three times more likely to be happy at work and nearly four times more likely to recommend working for the company to others. 

Five types of team building activities to do in your organization

While all team development activities help participants strengthen their teamwork and collaboration skills, many of them also target other qualities or abilities needed for your organization to run smoothly. 

Choose a variety of exercises from the categories below to fully engage your workforce and ensure they develop the skills needed for your business to flourish. 

Communication exercises

Strong communication skills are crucial to the success of any team—and even more so with remote and hybrid ones. So, it’s little wonder that exercises that improve employee communication skills are a key part of team building. 

Include activities that allow employees to develop and strengthen their communication skills in a low-pressure environment, then give them opportunities to practice these skills with their colleagues in the workplace. 

After all, research suggests companies that promote open communication and dialogue reap the benefits: A PwC report showed that 65% of employees have talked about social and political issues with colleagues at work—with surprising results. Many respondents said that these discussions: 

  • Allowed them to understand their colleagues (41%)
  • Created a more open and inclusive workplace (34%)
  • Made them more confident to share their own views (31%)

Problem-solving activities 

Every role in your company comes with its own set of challenges. Building up your team’s problem-solving skills empowers them to confidently tackle these issues with minimal oversight from management. 

Problem-solving activities tend to focus on building analytical skills, creative thinking, decision-making, and adaptability—abilities employees need to work effectively with their teammates and discover creative solutions to organizational problems. These exercises also help workers easily resolve issues with their teammates and move on from conflicts. 

For inspiration, take a look at this list of 35 team-building activities—many of them offer opportunities for employees to strengthen their problem-solving skills. 

Skills-based activities

With the landscape of work constantly changing, it’s important to keep employees up to date on the latest industry developments and skills needed to excel in their roles. 

Without continuous education, your employees—and your business—may get left behind. A 2023 LinkedIn report revealed that the skills needed to excel in jobs have changed by about 25% since 2015—a number that’s only expected to double by 2027. 

Depending on what your employees need, you may decide to focus on hard skills like sales or negotiation or soft skills like leadership and conflict resolution. Consider hosting regular workshops or one-off training sessions to keep your team’s skills and knowledge up to par with industry standards. 

Value-based activities

Including value-based exercises in your team-building strategy shows employees that you’re serious about your company mission and values, while also enabling them to make an impact in their local communities.

This is especially important today, as more and more people want to work for a mission-driven company with values that align with theirs. 

One survey found that 58% of employees would take a pay cut to work at a company with values similar to theirs—a clear testament to the importance of aligned values for today’s workforce. This sentiment is especially prevalent in younger workers, as 70% of Gen Z job seekers say they attend career fairs to confirm whether a company’s roles and responsibilities align with their values and interests.

In practice, celebrating your beliefs can be as simple as setting up a day for employees to volunteer at a local nonprofit. Not only does this reinforce your employer brand and company culture, it also gives your team an opportunity to bond with each other outside the workplace. 

Team bonding

Sometimes, your people just need an opportunity to spend time together without work hanging over their heads. 

The benefits are well worth the downtime, as employees who are able to create and maintain friendships at work are almost three times as likely to be their most productive selves. And for remote workers in particular, team bonding activities can often help with the isolation that comes from working apart from the rest of the group. 

Teams with locally-based employees might go out for a meal together, or plan a day around a fun activity like a scavenger hunt or escape room. Meanwhile, hybrid and remote teams can host virtual team-building events like wine tasting, game socials, or cooking classes. And don’t forget about informal opportunities for team bonding—think icebreakers before team meetings or scheduled one-on-one Zoom meetings for remote colleagues to interact with each other. 

Keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to build a particular skill. It’s to give employees space to have fun and create stronger bonds that they can then take back to the workplace. 

Three tips and best practices for effective team building

Choose the right activities for your team

To make the most of your team building efforts, it’s important to be thoughtful and strategic about the activities you choose. Remember that different activities focus on strengthening different aspects of your team dynamic. 

So first, you’ll want to think about the goals you want to achieve, or the skills you want your team to build. Then consider your team culture and demographics, as well as each member’s personality, needs, interests, and limitations. 

For instance, physically fit teams might enjoy more demanding outdoor team building activities like obstacle courses or beach volleyball. On the other hand, teams with fewer resources might choose a series of affordable indoor activities to do in the office. If you have team members who work remotely, make an effort to include virtual team building activities that get the entire group involved. 

By providing a supportive environment and activities that take your team members into account, you’ll see more active participation and involvement from all your employees. 

Conduct team building activities on a regular basis

Team development should be done on a regular basis to ensure your team gets the most out of it, but the timing and frequency of these activities is up to your discretion.

If your team has worked well together for years, you might plan for one or two team building activities every quarter to keep teammates engaged and relationships strong. If the group is relatively new, on the other hand, you might hold a series of smaller team building games more often to build up their bonds and camaraderie. 

Team building exercises are also helpful for changes in team dynamics, such as the arrival of a new hire. Even minute changes to a team can dramatically impact the way it collaborates and interacts with other departments, so thoughtfully-chosen activities can bring your new team closer during these transitions. 

Consider working with an external facilitator

Many team building exercises don’t need any specialized training or experience to lead successfully. In many cases, having a team leader oversee the activity is enough. 

But sometimes, you might want to work with an external facilitator who specializes in this type of training. This is especially true if you feel your team has deep-seated issues that require an objective eye, or if you have specific goals but don’t have the expertise or bandwidth to manage them internally. 

The biggest benefit of working with a facilitator lies in their expertise, particularly if you’re planning a larger event or team retreat. Someone with extensive team development experience will be better equipped to guide your employees and deliver results than, say, a supervisor who volunteers to lead a one-off exercise. 

Not only can they put together a customized agenda that fully addresses the needs of your team, they can also provide additional tools and resources to ensure your team retains the skills they’ve learned. And by outsourcing this work to a professional, it’ll allow your managers to focus their efforts on goals and projects that are in their wheelhouse. 

How to improve your team building strategy

Whether your team building efforts are successful ultimately depends on your employees. Failure to get them involved will result in a team that remains disconnected from their goals and from each other. 

So, make an effort to explain to your team what you want to accomplish with your initiative and how they can help make it successful. Then, regularly ask them about the impact of your team building efforts and if they have any suggestions on improving the program. Understanding their sentiments, collecting feedback, and measuring the impact of your initiative will allow you to adjust your approach if you need to. 

Consider using a variety of metrics to get a holistic look at the impact of your team building strategy. Although employee surveys are the gold standard in measuring employee engagement, it’s important to get a broader understanding of your employee experience initiatives with other metrics and measurement tools.

Luckily, with an HR platform like Gusto’s, this task becomes much easier. Easily send out employee surveys to your entire team, then analyze the data it gathers to help you identify trends and areas of concern so you can act preemptively and make smarter business decisions. Create your account today to try it out yourself. 

Feli Oliveros Feli Oliveros is a freelance finance and business writer with experience covering personal and small business finance. In 2015 she graduated from UCLA, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and minored in Anthropology.
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