This is a guest post from Lindsay Moroney, The Muse's Vice President of Strategy and Operations.
When I joined The Muse, we were a startup of 18 people. It was easy to get to know everyone and feel connected to each other and to our mission. Team-building activities didn't take much planning beyond someone shooting an email saying, "Hey, everyone want to go to happy hour on Thursday?"
Now that the team is 135 (and growing!), we still enjoy happy hours together. But it takes more thought to make sure that our team outings actually include people who enjoy all types of activities and strengthen team bonds.
Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, ex-McKinsey analysts and authors of Primed to Perform, write that teams are driven by three positive motivators: play, purpose, and potential.
These drivers are in line with data from Google as well. Lazlo Bock, ex-head of the People Operations team, writes in his book Work Rules! to allow employees to find fun in their work (play), give them a clear mission (purpose), and help each team member learn and develop by giving them a good coach (potential).
These are exactly the motivators we think about when it comes to team building activities at The Muse. Getting everyone out of the office together isn't just about relieving tension at the end of a long week (although we do work hard, so it helps that, too).
Here's how we relate those activities back to employee engagement and retention:
Yes, team building programs should be fun, but it's not just about playing a game (or throwing back beers) together.
As Doshi and McGregor write in Primed to Perform: "Play at work should not be confused with your people playing Ping-Pong or foosball in the break room. For your people to feel play at work, the motive must be fueled by the work itself, not the distraction."
Think about important skills related to the job, and plan activities accordingly. If creative problem solving is a big part of your work, you might take your team off site for an event like Museum Hack or Escape the Room.
People have great stories to talk about after these outings. They also work together better after having fun together outside of the office, and they carry that back to their jobs.
Another idea: One Harvard Business Review study recommends bonding over creating and eating meals together. Using firefighters as a case study, skills like "cooperative behavior, for example, was considerably greater--about twice as high--among team members who ate with one another than among those who didn't."
Sounds like a delicious activity!
A 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey--one of many recent reports on Millennials at work--proves how important it is for employees to have higher purpose in their work.
You can always relate your team's work--and out-of-office activities--to your company's mission or values. At The Muse, for example, we regularly invite our users to tell us their job search success stories, a tradition that reminds us why we do what we do.
A group of employees also recently hosted a clothing drive for an organization that provides interview clothing to job hunters. That related strongly to our mission of helping professionals achieve their career dreams--a great thing to bond over as a team.
If you're not sure what activities might help your employees relate to a higher purpose, a great first step would be to ask them. Both of the ideas above came from Muse employees, not our leadership team.
Potential is the idea that the work we do eventually drives us to our future goals. Internal training and learning opportunities can also be ways to unite teams across the organization.
Recently, we Musers received the results of our Myers-Briggs type indicator tests. Then, our director of HR led a program where we met up with others in our Myers-Briggs group and designed our ideal companies--everything from the mission and core values to the office environment to the types of perks offered.
It mixed us with others in the company beyond our functional teams and helped us find a different type of tribe we could bond with. Plus, it continues to be a growth opportunity as we talk about our types with our co-workers both formally and informally to learn about each other's similarities and differences in how we learn and work in a respectful way.
Play, purpose, and potential--not only drivers of work, but also drivers of team building that give us a "why" beyond just sharing a drink. It's helped us to make sure we enjoy working together, find purpose in what we do, and keep developing our skills--getting together beyond just enjoying each other's company.
Although, we still get together for that sometimes, too--all 135 of us!