Behind every successful leader is a supportive team that helps to bring a great vision to fruition. Organizations led by such leaders most often have a culture of trust, camaraderie, and authenticity. But, this is a difficult environment to construct if a leader makes assumptions about what motivates and inspires his or her employees.

Knowing more about your team members will give you helpful tools to build the culture that is so important to your company's success. For instance, reward systems built upon each individual's motivators will have far more impact than a designated bonus amount or the occasional gift card. Many people value things like personal and flex time, community contribution, public recognition, and educational opportunities over a few extra dollars on their paycheck.

Not everyone opens up easily, so introducing fun and creative activities is a great way to inspire your team members to share a few in-depth details about themselves. People who know, like, and trust one another work well together and have more fun at work, so try out some of these ideas at the office.

1. Take the bucket list quiz.

Invite your employees to create an anonymous bucket list consisting of ten things. Put each list a plain white envelope and number them. Bring in lunch and read each list to your team. Have everyone write down their best guess of who created what list. You can have a little prize for the person who gets them all right. 

Hold on to these lists because they can give you great clues and ideas on how to show appreciation to your individual employees. You may not be able to gift someone with an Mt. Everest excursion, but you can give them a gift certificate to an indoor rock-climbing event or a pair of half-finger climbing gloves.

2. Host a monthly talent event.

Each month invite an employee to share a talent that their coworkers may not know about. Anything goes, from a musical gift to a juggling act or an ability to make weird faces or noises. Your most quiet employee may surprise you with an extraordinary talent, like a standup act that leaves everyone smiling for the rest of the day. 

3. Introduce a bring your pet to work day.

You may not want the office occupied by dogs, cats, and gerbils on a regular basis, but what if you offered a one-time opportunity for each employee to bring their prized pet to work with them? Did you know that pet owners are 60% more likely than non-pet owners to get to know new people in their neighborhoods? Pets are wonderful ice-breakers and watching someone interact with their pet is very revealing. For people who have an exotic pet, it's an opportunity to teach others about its habitat, nutritional needs, and other interesting pet facts. Give a snake owner a box of frozen mice at the holiday white elephant event and they'll be your friend forever! Seriously though, personalized gifts go a very long way.

4. Play getting to know you games.

Put a selection of questions in a coffee mug and have one or two employees answer one at a meeting or during a team lunch. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
  • How would you spend one million dollars?
  • If you could have any superpower what would it be?
  • If you hosted a talk show, who would be your first guest and why?
  • What is one personal fact that no one would ever guess about you?
  • What would your 15-minutes of fame be all about?
  • If you had a time machine what time period, past or future, would you travel to?
  • If you had unlimited funds to build a not-for-profit foundation who would it serve and how?
  • What was your best, or worst, on the job experience?
  • What is your dream vacation?

5. Create an office dream board.

You want your employees to be innovative and creative, so set the pace by dedicating a wall space for everyone (yourself included) to pin images that reflect their hopes, goals, and wishes for the company. This can include things like their dream job in the future of the company, a cool and trendy office space, free food, travel, working from home or personal things that a hefty paycheck will someday allow them. This will give you great insight into your employees' wants and needs as the company grows. 

6. Take a walk.

It's common to sit around a table to brainstorm but sitting doesn't exactly inspire creativity. Instead, invite one or two employees to take a walk with you and mix in a little social chat while you generate ideas together. Many bosses invite employees to lunch but that can be a stressful experience for some people. The outdoors is mutual territory and nature, fresh air, and exercise reduce stress and free the brain to problem-solve and think creatively.

Another valuable benefit to knowing more about your team members is that you can give them more of what they need to remain happy and productive. Someone who demonstrates a desire for daring adventure, for instance, will most likely need to be challenged in their job. A person who prefers stability and security may not want to take chances or be exposed to an ever-changing environment. Listen between the lines as your employees participate in these activities and you'll have what you need to build a powerful, loyal team.

Published on: Mar 11, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.