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It's Not Suppose To Be Fun - It's Work, Right?

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Hello beautiful humans!

What makes team building events and activities successful? How do you get your employees to want to participate? Is it really worth the time and expense? What activities work the best?

So before we get started on this topic I wanted to pull some research information in to set as a foundation. According to an article by Aditya Shukla of Cognition Today (cited below) there are several reasons having fun increases learning. It creates a stress-free and safe environment, enhanced mood increases cognitive flexibility and "Having fun and being excited about learning increases brain-activity of neurons that use Oxytocin (pleasure hormone), Dopamine (reward, motivation, learning, senses, thinking hormone), and Norepinephrine (energizing, attention hormone) which improve learning and memory." There is a lot more information in this article and I would definitely recommend the read. Another great resource is The Neuroscience of Joyful Education in Psychology Today by Judy Willis (cited below)

When our brains are stimulated on so many different levels, it increases not just the retention of what is learned, but also traits such as creativity and excitement. Let's face it, would you rather sit and listen to someone with a dull, monotone mannerism give a 4 hour speech on why being part of the team is important or would you rather be laughing and sharing the fun with team members as you learn to trust and build a bond? I think most people would choose the latter.

What Makes Team Building Events and Activities Successful?

Aside from the above, they create an open and safe environment. When people are having a good time, they are more receptive and willing to participate. By hosting an event, you can take this a step farther and create activities that no longer feel like work or learning and yet by having a quick recap of the activity with the team, you can re-enforce the learning element that was introduced.

Take a simple game of Tug-O-War. Modify it several times by putting the smaller people on one side and the larger on the other, put two people on one side and 6 on the other, divide everyone equally, etc. Make as many different variations as possible. Then ask the team what they learned. Was it fair when work distributed unevenly? How well did everyone work together when it was equal? How much harder do less people have to work to make up for the difference and so on. 6 months later, 5 years later (maybe even more) you will be able to say, 'remember when we played Tug-O-War'. Your team will remember and be able to pull on what they learned from that activity.

How Do You Get Your Teams To Want To Participate?

There will always be those who will refuse to participate or complain the whole time. Don't force fun! Forcing someone to have fun defeats the purpose and just brings everyone else down. If it's an event such as a workshop, it's ok to require their attendance, but if they only want to watch, fine! They will still learn by observing. It also warrants mentioning that often times seeing others have fun or having other team members encourage the participation of observers is usually more effective than trying to require someone to participate who doesn't really want to. You also have to consider things like unknown medical conditions or past traumas of the individual. I know these seem unlikely circumstances to some, but they exist.

About 15 years ago I organized a company picnic. Our office contained about 350 individuals at that time and the picnic was open to all employees and family members. I was a bit disappointed when only about 50 total (family members included showed up). It did not deter us from holding a second picnic the following year. To our surprise, over 300 employees and family members attended the second picnic. Why? A couple of reasons. First, word of mouth from those that had attended the previous picnic. Second, we made sure to include games, activities and food to appeal to all types of people and third, we took lots of pictures and posted them on a "brag wall" in the office break room so everyone could see what kind of fun we had. Although this event was not solely for team building purposes, most of our employee only activities did center around that theme.

Here are a few other tips that help employees to 'want' to participate:

  1. Friendly competition, just don't let it get out of hand

  2. Create a space where team members can communicate easily

  3. Add excitement, humor and drama, be entertaining on multiple levels

  4. Physical activities

  5. Use props

  6. Involve the employees in the planning and execution

  7. Host activities that the employees are interested in and find a way to apply a team building lesson

  8. Use prizes and recognitions

  9. Brag about the fun through your newsletter, bulletin boards, emails and pictures

  10. Make it ok to have fun


Is It Really Worth The Time And Expense?

If you are going to whisk your employees away to some tropical paradise where they learn the Haka war dance and run some obstacle course, then no, it isn't worth the thousands of dollars you are spending. There is no reason to invest so much money for offsite events that may succeed in making people feel close for a short time, but does little to create the lasting bonds needed in true team building.

Likewise, spending money to rent a venue, escape room, bowling alley or even pay for a dinner night is not advantageous. These aren't really team building exercises and I think somewhere along the way, people have confused the two. Meeting after work for a little socializing or a holiday party, while fun, should be reserved for awards, honorariums and recognitions of jobs well done, or just plain socializing but they are not for team building

Investing time, energy and a little money can be beneficial if done correctly. Team activities allow team members to better understand each other, learn each other's personalities and how to work together. They help to build trust, communication and collaboration skills as well as learning the personal boundaries, strengths and weaknesses of fellow team members.

Team building activities don't have to be big, extravagant affairs. In fact, I've found that the more money you spend the more resentment you cultivate with your employees. They begin to develop the, "Sure glad the company has money to burn" (add sarcasm here) mentality.

What Activities Work Best?

This is the key, right here! If you want to know what type of activity works for your employees, pay attention to what your employees need or better yet, ask them. What sort of challenges does your team face? Is there a problem with the team and leadership working together? Are there team members not pulling their share of the load? Is there a lack of trust or communication? Don't be afraid to let your employees know that this is not only an investment for the company, but an investment in their potential growth as well.

Once you know what you want to address, you will need to find a way to address it. Does it need to be a thought provoking activity or physical? How do your employees learn best? Will they need incentives to participate and how can you make it fun?

*Side Note ~ If you're looking for professional team building services, Holly Main Coaching and many other executive coaching and consulting companies offer services that can help you isolate the challenges of your teams and find the right activities to help them move into a more efficient and productive arena without breaking the bank of your business and maximizing the potential learning and engagement of your teams.

Finally, regardless of what activities or events you decide to do, don't abandon it. It needs to be revisited once in awhile to remind the team members of what they learned. This can be as easy as sending out a flash email with a couple of trivia questions about the original exercise or a pop-quiz during a team meeting.


Talk to your teams and see what challenges they may be facing and allow them to help you decide if team building activities can help promote a more efficient team.

Morals of the Story:

  1. There is science behind learning and retention when adding elements of fun.

  2. Learning from the activity is only half of the work. Discuss what was learned and how it can be applied with the team.

  3. Don't force fun! If team members don't want to participate, then have them observe. They will either eventually join in or at the very least learn from watching.

  4. Investing in vacations, retreats and other off-site activities can be a waste of time and resources. Team building activities don't have to be expensive or time consuming to be effective.

  5. Make sure the activities you select are tailored to the needs of your team.

  6. Have re-enforcement activities as follow-up.


Aditya Shukla ~ Why Fun, Curiosity & Engagement Improves Learning: Mood, Senses, Neurons, Arousal, Cognition,which%20improve%20learning%20and%20memory.

Judy Willis ~ The Neuroscience of Joyful Education

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