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The ingredients of a great team building event

During the pandemic, every HR department around the world had to scratch their head and figure out questions for a situation that had never happened before. Yes, telecommuting has been around, but with Silicon valley leaders driving the standard of office perks, it had fallen a bit out of fashion. COVID took everyone by surprise, but for those lucky enough to keep their job, full time work from home became the only option for all these office jobs.

As the situation extended from a month to 6 months, then to a year, HR teams had to figure out new ways to attract and retain talent. That included throwing in a variety of virtual events, happy hours and the likes to keep a semblance of cohesion and culture. For the most part, we all missed the face to face interaction from the pre-pandemic days. However I know from my 20+ years in the corporate tech world that this is no guarantee for success.

What's the recipe for a successful team building event?

The first ingredient is interactivity. It acts as a catalyst -- "sourdough starter" comes naturally as an analogy -- : involving active participation of all team members is key. This can be accomplished remotely with hands-on learning, quizzes and trivia.

Second on my list is collaboration between team members. This is the backbone, or foundation of the formula -- the "flour" to continue on the bread analogy -- That means a team building event should have a durable impact on the employees, including when they get back to work the next day. Collaboration in an informal setting will help foster a culture of trust, especially among employees who may not be used to working together on a regular basis.

The third ingredient is indeed "Fun and entertaining". This is the spice, or the salt and pepper of a successful event. Yes, a team building event by essence should lead to good shared memories. However, it doesn't have to involve "superhero" physical skills like the rope ladder below. In fact, the best event should also be inclusive, so that everyone can complete the activities, regardless of abilities.

The last one is Impact. This is really how your HR department, assuming they are the sponsor, would measure the effectiveness of an event. In other words, was the time and money investment worth it? In order to illustrate this point, let's take the (random) example of a team building event organized around sourdough bread making.

For most companies (outside of bakeries), baking sourdough is a new learning experience for their employees. However there are many applicable lessons to the work environment: the ability to follow rules, listening, resilience, health benefits, sharing and creativity.

  • Ability to follow rules: just like any cooking recipe, you need to follow directions. In particular, sourdough bakers use precise measurements and electronic scales.

  • Listening skills: the instructor will provide pieces of information that will be used during the event for answering trivia questions, as well as preparing the bread starter itself.

  • Resilience: fermentation is slow by nature. This slow process is what gives sourdough bread this complex and delicious taste. A starter takes between 7 to 10 days before it can be used for baking. The actual bread making process happens over 2 and a half days. Even when the bread is out of the oven, you still need to wait at least one hour to eat it! That skill might be the most difficult for some :)

  • Sharing: one of the key component of food, and bread in particular, is sharing with others. Not only sharing the bread, but the bread making process itself. Team building is all about collaboration so that should come naturally.

  • Health Benefits: Eating fermented food on a regular basis has many benefits beyond the office. From a nutritional and health standpoint, it can help with improved digestion and lower the stress level. For the employer, it would be contributing to a healthier workforce, and increased productivity.

  • Creativity: It might not be obvious, but bread making sharpens your creative mindset: there are almost an infinite combination of shapes, ingredients and patterns.

For technology companies, it can be easy to draw the analogy with a science-based approach: reading the starter and the dough involves observation and experimentation.

Sourdough bread making is very sensitive to environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. This leads to the constant need to adjust other parameters such as time to get the desired outcome. As such it is conducive to an iterative approach, just like in the software development "agile methodology".

If you are interested to discuss more about this topic, or to organize your next team building event, contact me.

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