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This New Research Will Make You Rethink Your Hatred of Team-Building Exercises

September 01, 2017 by Josh Hrala

Team-building exercises are the worst. They’re awkward, forced, and generally dread-inducing for everyone involved.

Whoever thought that putting a bunch of people who barely know one another together to have forced-fun and experiences had it wrong, right? This can’t actually work when everyone involved seems to shrug it off.

Creative business team putting hands together at the office.jpeg

But that’s actually wrong.

New research suggests that team-building exercises – despite the fact that they are generally hated – work wonders for business. That is, if they are performed the proper way.

According to the study, which reviewed over 1,400 previously published papers, a joint-team of researchers from the University of East Anglia, Essex, Reading, and Sheffield found that team-building exercises work when everyone is involved and the programs last over a period of time.

Most of the exercises that worked happened over the course of multiple sessions with some lasting over a year in total. This suggests that one-off team-building is the problem because nothing seems to be accomplished in one go.

“Good social relations between workers and between workers and management are amongst the most important factors for well-being at work, resilience and engagement,” said lead researcher Kevin Daniels.

“The research shows that, with the right intent, it can be quite straightforward to improve social relations at work.”

So, what type of team-building are we talking about here?

Well, unlike many programs, the researchers found that it doesn’t really matter what the individuals are doing. There doesn’t need to be a big, overly-thought-out game or challenge. Instead, by simply having co-workers share projects for an extended period of time can do the trick.

“The study found that it doesn’t have to be a big or complex activity to bring benefits. Simply spending time on a shared project, like mentoring programmes, action planning groups, social events or workshops, all were shown to have positive effects,” the University of East Anglia said in a statement.

This is good news to those of us who hate feeling pushed into team-building workshops that seem gimmicky and awkward. After all, the best way to build a team is have them perform a task as a team. It stands to reason.

With that said, the benefits of a strong team are vast. Research has found that people who feel like they are part of a team perform better at work and tend to stick around longer those who feel kept apart.

“This research backs up our other evidence: people stay in, and go back to, jobs they like with people they like. We are recommending that organisations carry out activities that boost social relations at work, and evaluate their impact,” Nancy Hey, Director of the What Works Center for Wellbeing, told the university.

So, the takeaway here is that you don’t have to overthink your team-building. The best way, according to the combined result of 1,400 scientific papers, is to simply make a team and have them work.

The team’s article was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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