When many people hear the phrase “team building,” they picture a yearly off-site outing meant to foster group bonding—or something along those lines. But contrary to popular practice, savvy leaders see everyday opportunities to foster important relationships between employees. When team members feel like relative strangers within a company, an organization falls short of reaping the full benefits of a truly collaborative culture. Plus, employees tend to feel more isolated in their roles, potentially affecting their job satisfaction.
Is your organization currently using meetings as miniature opportunities for team building? If not, you’re missing out. In the U.S. alone there are 25 million meetings every day. The amount of time spent in meetings collectively has risen every year since 2008, and currently hovers around 15 percent. The point is: Companies tend to have many meetings. Why not incorporate team building right into these sessions to get the most from each one?
Here are a few tips for doing so successfully.
Lead by Example
Meeting attendees naturally look to whoever is running the meeting for cues. With this power comes a certain amount of responsibility for the overall mood and communication style of the session. As one Harvard Business Review contributor points out, body language—like gestures, posture and facial expressions—tends to speak just as loudly as actual words do.
Make sure managers, team leaders and presenters are prepared to foster a communicative environment in which people feel comfortable speaking up, asking questions, offering feedback and chatting with coworkers. For example, let’s say a manager walks into a conference room containing a handful of people all sitting in silence. Oftentimes, all colleagues need is a prompt to start the conversation. The manager could take the plunge, asking someone about their weekend or posing an oddball question to the group—in addition to fostering an overall welcoming environment throughout the duration of the meeting.
When people running meetings lead by example, they give participants an incentive to really listen, contribute and engage with other team members.
Break the Ice with a Thoughtful Question
There are the tried-and-true icebreaker questions of yesteryear, like “Say your name and something you like beginning with the same letter.” But activities like these have a downfall: While others are presenting, people tend to be rehearsing their own contributions. The potential for missing or forgetting notable information is high in this regard.
And then there are genuinely thoughtful, quirky and memorable meeting icebreaker questions of today delivered in a format that’s ideal for really kicking off a meaningful conversation. Using real-time polling technology means the answers pop up on the overhead screen immediately as they roll in, giving participants time to absorb the answers and incorporate them into a lively discussion. People can also take a much-needed moment to think about their answer before using their smartphone, tablet or laptop to contribute. These icebreaker activities can take the form of a multiple-choice poll or a word cloud.
Incorporate Breakout Sessions
Sometimes team building is merely a matter of giving a group of people who have never worked together before the chance to do so. Incorporating breakout sessions into larger meetings gives people a chance to work with colleagues with whom they don’t usually interact so closely. As The Balance Small Business writes, “Breakout sessions offer [attendees] another opportunity to discuss, reflect or act upon [themes] in a more intimate or specialized setting.”
The key to making breakout sessions count is splitting up people according to their role within the company. If the entire marketing team groups up for a breakout session, it will likely be less impactful than, say, a group made of IT personnel, copywriters, a sales lead and an HR specialist.
Every meeting presents a fresh opportunity for working in some degree of team building.