When Google undertook a major initiative to study the inner workings of teams, they named the initiative Project Aristotle as a nod to the philosopher’s statement that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Sure enough, they found that a group of people with average skills who work well together will outperform a group of exceptional individuals who don’t.

The Google study found that the most important characteristic for an effective team is psychological safety. That is, teammates trust each other, and therefore feel safe making both suggestions and mistakes. When teammates can trust each other, they innovate faster, spot mistakes sooner, and collaborate more to find better solutions to problems as they arise.

Some teams are able to find their way to that point on their own if given enough time, but it shouldn’t be left to chance. While informal social activities help people get to know each other, the most effective way to build relationships and trust amongst corporate teams is through strategic and relevant team-building initiatives. Team members need a safe environment in which to develop an understanding and appreciation for one another’s unique perspectives. This allows them to build the trust necessary to maximize each person’s relative strengths while compensating for relative weaknesses.

A great way to create fun, yet relevant and effective team-building opportunities for your teams is through experiential activities. Here’s how it works: participants are encouraged to fully immerse themselves into an activity while simultaneously working for a common goal, collaborating, and becoming a stronger team. The activity is deliberately themed to mask any resemblance to everyday tasks so that participants work outside of the perceived restrictions of job titles, seniority, or age. After the activity, a skilled facilitator leads a debrief that makes connections between the challenge and the day-to-day realities of the organization.

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The Benefits of Experiential Team Building

Fosters respect and trust

When teams go through an activity together, it creates an opportunity for bonding over a shared experience. Everyone gets the chance to learn from one another in a non-threatening and fun environment, and perhaps see a side of each other that they might not have seen in the course of a normal day at work.

Builds communication and collaboration

The task that is presented is challenging, and requires everyone to participate if the team is to succeed. There are plenty of surprises and “ah-ha moments” that reveal both people’s strengths, and areas where people need someone to jump in and lend a hand. This leads to better communication and collaboration skills within that group dynamic that can be taken back to the workplace.

Improves group problem-solving

When teams are given a challenge to complete that is not constrained by formalities or job descriptions, it lends an opportunity for true abilities and talents of individual team members to shine through. With the help of both friendly competition and time pressure, participants are pushed to take a few risks, which either improve results or lead to yet another new approach. When people see how their approaches and unique solutions work in concert with those of their teammates, they see how working through challenges together leads to stronger solutions.

Activities are highly engaging and motivating

Experiential team-building activities are designed to be fun! Between working within a theme, being in competition with other teams, and being enticed by the challenge, experiential activities feel like games and keep people excited and motivated. Unlike activities with the potential to provoke anxiety in some participants, these activities are enjoyable and draw people in. This keeps participants interested so they reap the full benefit of the experience.

Experiential Activities Build Stronger Teams

Effective team building is about building understanding, appreciation, and ultimately, trust. When individuals work together to overcome a challenge in a risk-free, fun environment, the can often surprise one another. By bringing their full capabilities to the table, individuals may see skills and perspectives they did not realize existed within their teams, and generally develop a better understanding of one another. This understanding creates a feeling of unity, reinforces the value of having fun together, and demonstrates the startling results you can achieve when working as a strong team.

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