Team building creates stronger workplace

Friday, July 20, 2007

By Ilene Davis

Business Today

The trust fall forces participants to rely on others as one member of a group teeters back toward a drop off, squeezes their eyes tightly shut, takes a deep breath and falls. Relief comes as the combined strength of the group breaks the fall and brings the person back to an upright position.

The trust fall teaches reliance on others and strength in numbers. It is just one example of many team-building activities some organizations participate in to unite their employees.

For the past several years, the directors of Sylvan Learning Center in Cape Girardeau have packed their bags and headed off to Arkansas for an annual team-building retreat. Removing the employees from the typical office setting provides the opportunity for closer personal relationships to form. On the docket this year are several team oriented games, a trust relay course, and the presentation of awards. The retreats usually last four days, with each day filled with some type of professional development themed exercise.

"I like to put little notes in balloons, then you blow them up and pop them and you have the note," said Brian Gerau, the learning center director. Some notes ask about first dates, some ask what the person likes about work. It is just a good way to get to know a little something about the person. Plus, it's fun, he said.

The purpose of the retreats is to build teamwork and develop trust among colleagues. "When you put everyone in an atmosphere that isn't the normal day to day, we can improve what goes on with surrounding team members in the work setting," Gerau said.

Recently the management employees of SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence had a "Day of Pampering" where the ladies got together at Styles Stop in Jackson, enjoyed lunch at Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, and then hit the outlet mall.

"Management staff needed the respite and it was a good day of sharing and caring," said director Miki Gudermuth.

The staff is going on a "weekend bonding" rafting trip later this summer. Gudermuth also considers the SADI fundraising events to be part of the team-building effort. Putting on such an in-depth event requires employees to work closely together to achieve an overall goal.

Since SADI's main focus is people helping people, the alliance puts a big emphasis on their group activities.

"Not-for-profits would not make it if it were not for team building. We depend on each other to be a success for us and the people we serve," Gudermuth said.

Employees of United Way also take part in an annual retreat, usually held at a bed-and-breakfast. "Our work is nonprofit, and we are all here because we like to give back, though it can be high pressure," said Holly Lintner, director of development.

Retreats offer time to relax, enjoy each other without the daily stress of the work day, and build support within the team. It helps team members see the best qualities in each other, she said. The retreat, like many others, consists of fun, simple games that help to bring together the staff members. This year, the group wrote short notes to each other pointing out good qualities, appreciation, and thanks for the other coworkers.

"We brought those back with us and still leave each other notes," Lintner said.

In addition to annual retreats and biweekly staff meetings, some Fridays they bring in a massage therapist with their own funds. Working in such a high paced environment, the massage chair is great for a nice, relaxing Friday afternoon, said Lintner.

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