Andrew Ellenberg is president of Rise Integrated Marketing, a management consulting firm. email@example.com. Learn more! Click here.
If you’ve ever been forced to fall back into a coworker’s awkward embrace, you too have been the victim of stupid team building exercises.
Coming up with a fun fact or imagining an animal that starts with the same letter as your name are invented attempts by companies around the world to build stronger teams. These activities are not only uncomfortable; they are ineffective. You can’t build a team with summer camp games for kids.
If you’re looking for ways to really build a team, the NFL is a great case study.
Focus on shared drivers.
The corporate landscape is not drastically different from the National Football League. Both involve many groups with members with different skills working towards climbing the ladder and winning. In the case of the NFL, it’s the Super Bowl trophy; for you, it can bring in bigger customers, create more important contracts or capture the hearts and minds of consumers.
Regardless of the goal, there seems to be one motivation that everyone can agree on: pay. Thanks to the NFLs Collective agreement, each member of the winning team will take home a ring and a $150,000 cash bonus. If you can accommodate it, rewarding employees as a team is a great way to motivate them. If employees feel that a company’s success is shared—rather than just benefiting the CEO or shareholders—they will be more motivated to do a great job.
Lead effectively through trust and collaboration.
Excellent leadership can make or break a team, and there are few leaders more famous in recent history than Tom Brady. This champion quarterback has an impressive seven Super Bowl rings and most recently, the Tampa Bay led Buccaneers to their first trophy in nearly 20 years.
In an interview in 2019Brady was asked if he was ever concerned about losing his job due to the competitive nature. He replied, “[W]When a team trusts you to be a quarterback and they put the ball in your hands, it’s a great show of confidence that they have in you, and I think you have to earn it every day.”
This is a great example of how leaders can foster success as a team by remembering that everyone’s work serves the greater purpose. If you want your team to be passionate about working under you, you owe it to them to maintain a work environment that helps your team grow, learn and have a sense of purpose. This is especially vital because millennials and Gen-Z workers are asking for it collaborative environments with trusted leaders.
Improve your active listening skills.
Veteran Offensive Tackle Ryan Harris said that, over 10 years and three NFL teams, the most incredible team building skill is simple: listening. He stressed that it is vital, whatever your status. “Tom Brady doesn’t need to relearn a playbook, yet he’s practicing this crucial skill in his 20th season. Likewise, the best running backs don’t need to relearn football. Still, they practice listening by showing up for meetings every day and devoted themselves to the craft in every exercise,” Harris explained.
If you want engagement, you have to get involved first. Your example builds trust and appreciation. It sets the tone for everyone else at the table to expect full engagement. So listen is a skill that you need to practice constantly. For example, if you are in meetings, you must be an active listener. Put down your phone, stop checking the time or flipping through tabs on your laptop and start asking questions and showing that you’re engaged in the conversation. Keep eye contact and read the subtle nuances that make interpersonal connections meaningful. (Fortunately, new AI transcription services allow us to hone our conversations without the distraction of taking elaborate notes.)
Promote a culture of collaboration and respect.
Harris also said that to promote team cohesion, you need to stand up for yourself and encourage others to do the same. “You make your team stronger when you stand up for yourself. It creates a stronger foundation for your team because they know you have integrity. They know you stand up for yourself, and people who stand up for themselves will stand up for others.” he said.
The best ideas will never see the light of day unless leaders encourage every team member to think along, so build trust by listening with an open, impartial ear to the needs of your employees and teams. It is also important that your people feel safe enough to disagree without fear of retaliation for deviating from the status quo. Teammates trust teammates who know their values, set clear boundaries and command respect.
Instead of forcing your employees to answer trivia or draw on each other’s backs, lead by example to build strong teams. If you listen and encourage your people, like the pros, you will find success at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.