In a world where groundbreaking technological developments are becoming the norm, more and more employees are drifting apart despite being under one roof. To combat this, Natasha Ganesan dismantles the secrets to building strong and cohesive teams through a variety of team-bonding strategies.
Author of books on brain power, Tom Wujec, conducted a TED Talk in 2010 called “Build a tower, build a team”, where he cited Peter Skillman’s simple team-building exercise from several years ago – using common ingredients such as dry spaghetti and a marshmallow for teams to build the tallest tower.
While his point was about the mindfulness that team members must bring to the table, the simple activity proved that team building plays an immense role in building a miniature tower, as much as it does in getting organisations to hit the bottom line.
Janet Man, vice-president of talent management at Schneider Electric, breaks down the challenges that line managers face in building teams in today’s complex environment.
“With globalisation, we work more virtual than ever, and virtual teams create a number of challenges.” Essentially the three main obstacles HR directors encounter when building teams are time difference, language barriers and contrasts in working styles, Man says.
Hurdling past these challenges are three companies: a hospitality organisation which shares its accommodating team structuring strategies; a biotech company that prescribes the right pill to foster camaraderie; and a provider of corporate events that rows team building troubles away through dragon boating.
A hospitable environment: Ramada and Days Hotels Singapore at Zhongshan Park
Happy associates mean happy guests. This is the motivation that channels Ramada and Days Hotels Singapore at Zhongshan Park to support people development and create a great working environment, shares director of human resources and quality, Josephine Chua.
Starting from the recruitment phase, the Hotels hires for fit ensuring that newcomers are both technically competent and aligned to the company culture. This includes conducting holistic reference checks on aspects such as personality and attitude.
This process is enhanced through psychometric assessments of managerial-level staff . “Using our employee engagement survey results, we took to enhance the interdepartmental working relationship by investing in Emergenetics profiling and workshops for our senior management team in a full-day strategic “meeting of the minds” workshop,” Chua says.
Having this shared team profile led to better overall appreciation of fellow team members and leveraged on their respective thinking and behavioural preferences to reinforce their team dynamic.
In addition, leaders are coached on how to conduct career and development dialogue with their staff , as well as attend learning programmes on the importance of teamwork.
For leaders to build their teams well, they need to know how to communicate both as an individual and a supervisor, Chua says.
Further along the team building spectrum, the Hotels sets aside a budget for interdepartmental bonding activities.
One that is unique to it is the “Roaring Day Out” where associates are empowered to plan and execute their programmes without having to seek out the management team. The only criteria is for at least two departments to be involved in each outing.
This way, while having fun, different departments can foster a sense of team spirit.
“We link the programmes with our culture, vision and mission, interest of our associates as well as making sure the implementation and administration processes are a breeze,” she says.
Associates are encouraged to spot favourable behaviours and reward them, thereby boosting morale, improving productivity and inculcating a sense of mutual appreciation amongst each other.
- Josephine Chua, director of human resources and quality, Ramada and Days Hotels Singapore at Zhongshan Park
One of such programmes is the “Count on Me! Championship”. This rewards programme was introduced to reinforce the organisation’s Count on Me! culture which is being responsive, respectful and delivering a great experience.
“Associates are encouraged to spot favourable behaviours and reward them, thereby boosting morale, improving productivity and inculcating a sense of mutual appreciation amongst each other,” she says.
She also cites the “Count on Me! Spot, Snap and Share” competition which encourages associates to take photos of commendable actions they witness around the Hotels, offering recognition where needed.
“We also have a quarterly town hall – “State of Nation” – that is used as a platform to showcase public recognition for our associates and celebrate successes together as an organisation.”
Appreciation may also come in the form of thank you cards, which enable associates to show their appreciation to each other at any time. “There is no need to wait for any special occasion or specific time and this initiative is without any boundaries.”
The recreation team at the Hotels, known as “actions that reach others”, led by associates, organises fun activities such as futsal and bowling. It also creates a bilateral, informal and candid feedback channel on employee engagement.
What about the costs behind these activities?
“Besides Hotels’ budget, where appropriate, we tap on funding and grants provided by both government and relevant organisations for projects and development courses which enhance communication and inter-personal relationships,” she says.
In fact, Workforce Singapore shared the financial weight for one initiative, funding 90% of the total cost.
To cultivate company culture, in Chua’s view, first there needs to be an open system without hierarchical differences.
“Having an open and approachable culture allows us to understand the associates better and be able to offer a listening ear to the problems they face, iron out differences, if any, and ensure they feel involved and valued in the organisation,” she says, about the need to build support systems in the organisation.
For companies looking to initiate team-building activities, she suggests: “They should start small, but be bold to explore new ideas. Involve both leaders and associates, and reward and recognise staff .”
Practising what it preaches, the organisation has seen a 16% increase in teamwork and a 20% increase in associate engagement, as measured in the company survey. Through such activities, the work-life balance for the Hotels’ associates has also increased by 20%.
Helping others before helping oneself: Roche Singapore
“If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.” – Steve Trevor (Wonder Woman)
Biotech firm Roche Singapore went for the latter through an annual employee-driven campaign known as the Roche Children’s Walk.
“While providing children suffering from fatal illness with critical services that they need, the event also offers an added benefit of bringing everyone together for fun and for a great cause,” says Goh Chor Lim, head of HR for Asia Pacific at Roche Diagnostics.
During this year’s walk, the event started on a high note, with employees raising a total of S$130,000 for Singapore charities and children in need in developing countries.
“Employees from all of our sites across the island gathered and each affiliate announced how much they raised individually, along with their top fundraisers before the walk began,” she says.
Being the 14th year since it took flight, the Children’s Walk has become an anticipated event in the Roche activity calendar for employees to look forward to, making it easier for them to se0t aside time to partake in the event.
Team morale was high on the day and our staff have been talking about the walk since the morning of the event.
- Goh Chor Lim, head of HR for Asia Pacific at Roche Diagnostics
“The walk is a great opportunity for employees to take some time out of work while getting involved in a good cause and bonding with their colleagues.”
So how did the employees manage to raise such a huge sum of money? She explains that communications and planning begin at least two months before the walk to raise awareness of the purpose and the charities.
"Our staff also organise their own fundraising activities early and this year they came up with some very creative and unique ideas, including hampers, car washes and pledges.”
In fact, a collaborative effort played a huge role in the organisation of the event, bringing together volunteers across all sites and departments of the company.
“This ground-up approach means our employees really own the event and are inspired to make it a success. Organising a large-scale company event will always require multiple co-ordination points.”
With a seamless collaboration among co-ordinating teams, and a pinch of collective enthusiasm of its Singapore colleagues, Roche’s Walk ran very smoothly.
Charity begins at home, and by organising an event to help children in need, Roche has also helped its employees, providing them with opportunities to foster camaraderie.
“Team morale was high on the day and our staff have been talking about the walk since the morning of the event.” With more than 270 employees joining this campaign, their eagerness was reflected in their enthusiasm to organise their own fundraising initiatives going forward.
This is a testament that team-building activities need not be extravagant or costly; they can be as simple as bringing staff together for a good cause.
Even lone wolf superhero Batman needs his Justice League. Likewise, employees scattered across an organisation need to work together to achieve magic, and it is up to the HR function to unite the different units of the organisation.
Michele Sereno, head of HR and COO at web-design firm ArtisArk, shares a nugget of advice: “Team building plays an important role indirectly to the ROI of the business, and hence, it is key to have at least a minimum of one such team building idea to be implemented.” In short, build teams to build business.
Teams that row together, stay together
While co-workers are becoming more connected in the digital world, to identify ways they can connect on an interpersonal level, we spoke to Gavin Chian, co-owner at Dragon Boat Innovate (DBI).
Q How can programmes from team building providers help build stronger bonds?
We believe that team building is more than just fun and games – it’s about creating shared experiences for people. The memory of doing something together other than work, and the ability to talk about something outside of the daily job scope, are the little things at work that builds strong and cohesive teams.
At DBI, we provide this shared experience of working together as a team in a dragon boat, shouting commands as one, and working towards a common goal in the form of a race towards the end of the session. They learn about alignment, which is a big part of our sport, and how this is so important in the work that they do every day. Eventually, they also get to celebrate success as a team.
The camaraderie and bonds forged throughout the impactful paddling session transcends beyond languages, cultures and geographical distances.
Q In selecting a team building training provider, what dos and don’ts do you recommend to corporate decision makers?
- Do identify a provider that demonstrates a good understanding of your objectives and possesses the right tools to help you achieve them.
- Do allow bonding to occur organically. That is why we keep debriefs succinct, preferring to let clients talk about their shared experiences freely over a buffet right after paddling on the waters.
- Do pick an activity that puts people just a little out of their comfort zone, thereby encouraging them to bond in new ways.
- Don’t make decisions based on budget concerns alone.
- Don’t oversell the corporate stuff by overstating the event’s lessons to the employees.
- Don’t go with the common (and easy to plan) activities.