Jill’s Blog

Build a Team, Nurture the Culture

My website and all my promotional stuff states that I do team building.   That’s a lie.  I don’t do team building.   I do culture building.   And there’s a HUGE difference. 

Let’s see what old Mr. Webster has to say about team building:

noun: team building; noun: teambuilding

  1. the action or process of causing a group of people to work together effectively as a team, especially by means of activities and events designed to increase motivation and promote cooperation.

Ugh.  There is so much wrong with that definition I don’t even know where to start.  I just can’t with the “designed to increase motivation” phrase.     You can’t increase motivation silly; you are either motivated to do something or you are not.   Whatever.  Let’s move past the dictionary and talk about the real deal. 

Most organizations look at team building as an event, a scheduled team encounter that they may do quarterly or annually to improve collaboration and overall team morale.    This morning, I went to the Google machine and I typed in “Team Building Maine” and what I got wasn’t entirely surprising.  The first five results were website aggregators that listed potential team building companies and activities, most of which were not based in Maine.   The second ten listings, stretching into page 2 of the search (who goes to page 2 of the search?) were local event companies that offered things like ropes courses, scavenger hunts, escape rooms and cooking challenges.  Most of what I saw offered was relatively standard team building stuff, very game focused.    My reaction…. meh.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater, you know me, I believe FUN is the best thing to have.   These types of exercises are a great way to get the team out of the work environment and blow off some steam and have some laughs.    Throw in a cookout or a happy hour after and you have the makings of a great employee appreciation event.    Believe me, I am a fan!    But I to be honest, the impact of these types of activities can be relatively short lived in my experience and I think we can do better.  

Let’s face it, team building can be expensive.  And I am not talking about what you pay for the venue, the facilitator, the food and beverage, the transportation etc.  I’m talking about the investment in taking your team out of the work environment and losing a half or full day of productive task-based work.    Let’s say you are a company of 25 people and the average hourly wage of your team is $18/hour.    A full day event is going to be almost $4000 in wages.     Add in the other costs and the whole shebang could end up being between $5000 and $10000 bucks.  That’s not chump change, the ROI had damn well better be solid.  

If you ask business owners why they do team building, you may get a whole host of reasons but most common are things like improving team cohesion or developing stronger work relationships.  A very noble endeavor but I think it misses the point.   The purpose of team building in my humble opinion is to develop a company culture that makes great employees want to be part of this team for many years to come.   When I talk about ROI on team and culture building, I talk about two key things, employee engagement and employee retention.

Now I could throw a crap ton of data at you from the folks at Gartner, Harvard and the like, but y’all already know, engaged employees perform better and they don’t leave.  And that’s what business owners want.     So, let’s flip the script on Team Building and say rather than a “one and done” event, it should be part of broader culture building strategy.   In my mind, the events themselves are the jumping off point and can be regular nurturing points of a strong company culture.    I recommend a cycle of events and initiatives around team and culture building to have biggest bang for your buck.  

1.      Start with a half day or full day team building session to kick things off.     Incorporate a bunch of ice breakers and games to build trust and camaraderie but include activities that involve the entire team in identifying and articulating the company culture and aspirations for team mission and vision.

2.    Create action items from the event to further build on ideas and learnings.  Form committees to tackle various aspects of culture such as communication, recognition, professional development etc.  

3.     Schedule quarterly or monthly update meetings for the entire team to ensure that key initiatives are nurtured and not left to die on the vine.

4.     Schedule regular mini team building activities in the office to keep the culture consistently top of mind.

5.     Communicate, communicate, communicate.     

Rinse and repeat the cycle often, I say a good rule of thumb is once or twice per year.   

Before I leave you, let’s go back to our return on investment using our previous example of the firm of 25 employees and an approximate event cost, including lost productivity of $8,000 an event or $16,000 per year.    According to the Work Institute in 2018, 1 in 4 employees left their jobs to pursue other opportunities, so in a team of 25 you have the potential to lose 4 to 5 employees per year.     With an average hiring cost $4K to $5K, it will cost you at least $20,000 to replace them.  What if they didn’t leave?    I’m no math wizard but that feels like it’s worth it, We haven’t even factored in the positive impact on engagement on overall productivity. Bottom line, it’s a no brainer. 


Want some help with your culture building efforts?   Let me help, it’s what I do.   And please, as always, enjoy this week’s addition to the inspireal playlist.  As you can imagine, I am listening to the entire Culture Club collection on Spotify today….it just feels right.    


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Jill Parker