Team Bonding v Team Building – This Is What You Need to Know


Every company knows the importance of creating an environment that facilitates employee productivity. Paramount to fostering that environment is the happiness and satisfaction of staff members. People need to feel valued on both a professional and personal basis in order to succeed. The strongest foundations on which to build such a culture is to focus on the relationships between colleagues.

Indeed, positive relationships have long been proven to be the cornerstone of human happiness, be it in the workplace or in our personal lives. The Harvard Study of Adult Development found that close relationships have the biggest impact on human health and happiness, leading to longer and more fulfilling lives.

However, in the context of a workplace, sometimes relationships need to be explicitly fostered between colleagues. After all, a work environment is often comprised of people from diverse backgrounds, with a variety of interests and personality traits. Sometimes the only thing they have in common is to share the same office space.

So, how does a company bring its workforce together, facilitate inclusion and participation, and help strengthen relationships? There are two main strategies, which can be used independently or in conjunction with each other: team bonding and team building. While there are crossovers between team bonding and building, there are some clear distinctions. Here’s what you need to know:

Team Bonding and Team Building Defined

Bonding refers to situations or moments that help to create organic relationships between colleagues. They are, typically, naturally occurring scenarios, like sharing a coffee break with a co-worker or meeting for drinks after work where conversations can easily flow. Team bonding is not planned or structured, and instead occurs as a result of the environment put in place within a company.

Team building refers to planned and structured activities that bring colleagues together. There is usually a specific objective in mind behind each team building exercise, such as improving communication, working as a team under pressure, or leadership training. Team building is often conducted by external trainers and organizations.

Ways to Encourage Team Bonding

While team bonding tends to be an organic approach to developing healthy relationships among co-workers, companies can put in place the framework that allows those connections to flourish.

Host Social Events. Social events can be deemed team building exercises, but in reality, they fall more into team bonding. There is no structure in place or objective that is trying to be achieved. Instead, social events allow employees to unwind, get to know each other outside of the office, and connect in nonwork-related ways.

Create Psychological Safety. Ensuring the mental wellbeing of staff should be a top priority. Not only does it foster employee happiness—which in turn leads to greater productivity—but it creates an environment where colleagues can be open and honest with each other. By establishing company dynamics based on inclusion and in the absence of judgement, people will be more inclined to share thoughts and concerns without fear of judgement or reprisal.

Provide Shared Spaces. Team bonding can be challenging if the design of the office is not conducive to interaction. If a company is largely made up of cubicles and offices, creating a shared space where staff can chat and socialize can go a long way to strengthen team bonding.

At present with most people working remotely, a shared office space may not be possible physically, but there are many online tools which facilitate virtual interaction. Slack has plenty of features that encourage interaction. The donut app will randomly introduce colleagues who haven’t interacted with before and encourage them to meet for a virtual donut/coffee/lunch. There are also digital quizzes and trivia apps that can encourage social interaction beyond just work talk.

Effective Team Building Exercises

Team building exercises can be very effective. It’s why they’ve been used by companies for decades. However, choosing the right exercises is key because some exercises can make people uncomfortable. Here are three exercises that are both useful and inclusive.

Campfire Stories. Colleagues sit in a circle and share their favorite workplace experiences. This can be anything, from a major accomplishment to a funny anecdote. Give people some prior warning so they are not put on the spot when it comes time to share their story. This is a great way to encourage colleagues to relive old memories and share experiences.

Shark Tank. Modeled on the popular TV show, teams conceptualize a product or service and pitch it to a panel of ‘investors.’ This is a great exercise as it encourages teamwork while allowing individuals to play to their strengths. A shy person need not conduct the pitch but can instead be involved in the development and idea process.

Office Trivia. Each member of the team, creates a specified number of multiple-choice questions about themselves. These questions are then gathered and put together in a larger quiz. Office trivia will get people engaged with one another and offers the opportunity to learn more about other colleagues. It can be played in person or online.

Bonding and Building Are Best Used in Conjunction

While team bonding and team building are not necessarily the same thing, both thrive most effectively when combined. Team bonding is best encouraged by creating an environment that allows it to flourish. However, team bonding scenarios can certainly be helped along with formal ice-breaking team building exercises.

Likewise, team building activities will prove much more effective if they take place within an environment where team bonding is encouraged. Finding the right balance between the two will strengthen relationships between co-workers and lead to a happier workplace.

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