How the Right Team-Building Experience Can Build Stronger Bonds

New research found that team-bonding activities improved creativity, productivity, and employee retention. But when planning them, you may want to opt for volunteer days instead of ice breakers and workshops.

Team bonding can help employees be more creative, more productive, and less likely to leave for another organization, but new research finds that the frequency and type of activities your association uses can determine whether it reaps those benefits.

The research from Nulab, which surveyed 1,000 full-time employees, looked at the best frequency for team bonding, as well as which activities were most valued and effective. Researchers found that most employees favored regular team-bonding experiences, with 31.4 percent preferring quarterly activities and 36.5 percent preferring monthly activities. The types of activities mattered, too, with things like ice breakers and workshops faring poorly.

“The main takeaway from this report is just to be aware of how frequent the team-bonding activities occur, and what activities you decide to set up for team bonding,” said Anja Solum, project manager for Nulab. “Keep a good balance to maintain morale.”

Frequency and timing of team-bonding activities will depend on the nature of the organization and the industry too. For example, in education, bonding happened prior to the start of a school year, before educators were busy.

Overall, the study found that team-bonding experiences improved relationships with colleagues, creativity, open dialogue, workplace satisfaction, job retention, and productivity.

When researchers asked employees which activities were effective, valuable, or enjoyable, the bonding experiences that fared best were volunteer days, company retreats, and work-sponsored events where alcohol was served.

“Volunteer days are a way for people to give back to their communities,” Solum said. “It’s one of these things that makes you feel really good.”

She noted that volunteer days tended to include activities done in person as a group. “I can give you a couple of examples: soup kitchens, volunteer beach cleanups, [and] right now we’re seeing a lot of businesses host drives for supplies to send to the Bahamas,” Solum said. “I would say volunteer days include any activity where employees have a chance to give back to the community together.”

The association industry no stranger to these type of volunteer days. For instance, close to 200 staff members from five associations dedicated to improving health, including the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Physician Assistant Education Association, teamed up last year to volunteer at local DC nonprofits. And Association Management Center staffers packed 10,000 lunches for Kids Around the World during its team-building week.

While events with alcohol were popular, Solum notes that employers should have policies in place regarding drinking in the workplace that follow best practices and address liability concerns. Company retreats, which researchers defined as bonding activities that took place outside the office–whether 20 minutes or several hours away—were also well-liked.

Ice breakers and workshops were among the least liked and least valued activities. “Some of the weaker things like ice breakers were where you are being forced to put yourself out there, which is something not everyone feels comfortable with,” Solum said.

While workshops weren’t enjoyed for team bonding, they are still valuable when it comes to professional development. “Workshops were more along the lines of bringing employees together to learn something, not to bond,” Solum said.

Even though employees felt an overall positive impact from team-bonding experiences, it did produce anxiety in some, with introverts twice as likely to feel anxiety. Solum suggested a strategy to get introverts into the mix. “I would say that employers can balance this by offering both mandatory and optional team-building events; [introverts] don’t have to participate when it’s optional.” she said. “Team bonding does help increase productivity [and] creativity. We want to make sure everyone gets a chance to feel the effects of team bonding.”

What team-building activities have you enjoyed or found most effective? Tell us about them in the comments.


(vitranc/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!