A company's success is measured by more than just a balance sheet and profits. It’s a unified culture that makes it successful long-term, and that culture is formed by both the leaders and the employees.
We need only look to the alarming statistics of our post-pandemic era to see what harm disunity can bring. A Gallup poll conducted in late 2021 of more than 50,000 found that only 34% felt engaged with their company, while a staggering 16% of respondents stated that they felt actively disengaged with their employer. Not only do these numbers reflect the lowest levels of engagement in more than a decade, but they also constitute a significant decline from the first half of 2021, when engagement levels were found to be at 36%, a number that had not changed from the tumultuous year of 2020.
This substantial and sudden decline in employee engagement may well have helped galvanize the flight of American workers during this era of the Great Resignation. In other words, millions of employees today are feeling stuck, disenfranchised, and disaffected. It’s perhaps little wonder, then, that they’re leaving their jobs in droves.
Your employees are your business. Scatter them to the far corners of the globe and your company can still exist and thrive if aligned with a vision and purpose. Gather them all into a shared office space and, unless they’re unified as a team, the business could struggle and eventually fail. Measuring the health and well-being of a company’s culture is subtle, and often forgotten as a high priority.
In other words, a strong, cohesive team can perform almost anywhere and under any condition. But where there are challenges with unity, the team struggles and productivity drops because there is little to anchor your employees to their colleagues, their work, and the higher purpose of the company.
There is a way to reconnect your employees to their work, their colleagues, and the company. Now, more than ever, the answer lies in teambuilding, helping your people see and experience themselves as an integral and valuable part of something bigger than themselves. Indeed, the power of a sense of belonging, respect, value, and care to drive engagement and support retention was perhaps best illustrated by Chen et al.’s (2021) study of frontline nurses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers found that nurses who received substantial psychosocial support from their managers and colleagues through the cultivation of this sense of belonging, value, and care, were far more likely to remain engaged with their work committed to their employer and profession, despite the unprecedented public health crisis they faced (1).
Effective team building, though, involves far more than group activities, “trust falls,” or even the occasional happy hour with management. Rather, to build a strong, cohesive team in these challenging times, you need to go beyond the superficial by creating experiences with deeper intention and connection. Using the four techniques we describe below, you can provide your employees with shared experiences that will both enrich them as individuals and unify them as a team.
When you’re striving to cultivate unity among your employees, it can be tempting to allow relationships to evolve organically. As a manager, you may feel reluctant to yield too heavy a hand, fearing that a more prescriptive approach may well lead to resistance.
The reality, however, is that leaving team relationships to evolve organically often fails to fulfill the potential that the team dynamic may hold and, at worst, may actually undermine relationships among team members. Consider, for example, the message you are telegraphing to team members who are also caregivers and who simply cannot go out for dinner or drinks with their colleagues after work. If these are the types of informal interactions you are primarily relying on to foster a sense of team unity, then you are likely already undermining those efforts by unwittingly marginalizing and excluding some members of your team.
A more intentional approach, though it does indeed necessitate a more top-down strategy for team building, not only ensures greater inclusivity but it can also increase the efficacy of your efforts. In essence, you are bringing mindfulness to your team-building efforts. The goal is to have a clear vision for what you want to achieve as you bring your team together to engage with you and with one another.
At the same time, you also have a definitive strategy for how to bring that vision to
fruition. For instance, in a study of the use of scaffolding techniques for enhancing collaboration and team-building among STEM students, Fuller et al. (2021) found that leaders/educators who designed team building activities in highly purposive and structured ways were far more effective in achieving team cohesion than when groups were brought together in a more ad hoc fashion, with no clear vision, an end goal, or operating strategy in mind (2).
Purpose, not surprisingly, is aligned with intention. As we have already seen, engagement is very much a function of a sense of belonging. The intention of team-building, no matter what the specific context, is almost always rooted in the effort to integrate team members, to infuse individuals with a sense of place and value in the collective.
Purpose is a powerful component of this. Every company, and every team in that company, needs a mission, aligned with a sense of purpose. Without this, all you have is a bunch of people working for the same entity but to cross-purposes, serving their own interests only rather than the larger vision. A vast and growing body of research has found that employee engagement is strongly linked to a sense of corporate purpose (3).
Recent studies also have found that companies offering volunteering or community engagement opportunities not only saw greater levels of employee engagement, but that employees also reported feeling more supported and valued by their coworkers (4, 5). The result was that employees felt that their work enabled them to utilize their “whole selves” in meaningful ways while at the same time contributing to and being valued by the team. In other words, the studies confirm the unique psychosocial rewards of working with others toward a shared purpose, the rare pleasure that arises when you and your team find yourselves pulling in the same direction for a collective goal.
One of the best ways to build a cohesive team is also the most fun. It’s to share an adventure. Whether you take your team out in nature for a muddy hike into a waterfall, or you surprise your team with a fun outing to an escape room (6), you can use these novel experiences to help your team bond. The adventure itself will be a unique memory that only the team shares and research shows that the unifying effects of a shared adventure go beyond the making of collective memories. In novel environments, team members must learn to rely on one another, to harness each individual’s unique strengths for the good of the team and each person in it (6).
In this way, you are simulating the bonding-through-adversity phenomenon studied by Bastian et al. (2018) (7). To be sure, the risks your employees may face while on their shared adventure may be simulated, but the challenges are real. So, too, will be the need to collaborate, rely on one another, and creatively (and collectively) problem-solve to see the adventure through.
Given that adventuring can have such powerful effects on team cohesion, it’s perhaps going to come as no surprise that we recommend play as the fourth key strategy for team building. The evidence demonstrating the profound cognitive, performative, and psychosocial benefits of play is immense. Studies have shown that play helps improve cognitive function and reduces cognitive decline in adults (8). The research also suggests that adult play can relieve stress and increase the production of “feel good” hormones, such as endorphins, dopamine, and even oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone. This is especially true for the “sociality” effects of group play (9, 10).
What this means, ultimately, is that the team that plays together stays together. When you enable your employees to bond through fun and adventure, then that creates connection, and a team, that’s likely going to last for quite a while!
How Casa Alternavida Can Help
At Casa Alternavida, we are team building specialists, offering an array of retreat packages for groups and leaders wanting to learn more about how best to engage their teams. We can help you design a retreat package uniquely suited to fostering team-building through adventure and play. If you are a leader looking to get away, our themed retreat packages, such as our popular “Where the Wild Things Are” retreat, allow groups to experience the magic, the wonder, the fun, and adventure of Casa Alternavida’s magnificent location, nestled between the warm, crystalline waters of the Atlantic ocean and the splendors of our magnificent El Yunque National Rainforest. If you simply want to shower your employees with the gift of time, rest, and leisure, we have a range of luxurious amenities to make that happen, including on-site massage therapists and breathwork practitioners. We are also proud to offer opportunities to design your own group retreat, enabling you to personalize your team’s shared adventure story! Contact us today to discuss all that Casa Alternavida has to offer you, your company, and your team.
Casa Alternavida was founded on the principle that there are healthier, “alternative” ways to balance life and work. This alternative is to stop the unconscious addiction to stress, overwhelm, and struggle to focus on a healthy, balanced lifestyle that yields better results. Our practitioners are trained to support you with unraveling those unconscious commitments so you can actively create the lifestyle you want to be living, take charge of your well-being, and reset bad habits. We are experts at creating playful experiences in nature that inspire deep personal insight and long-term positive behavior change. Teams walk away from our facility with new excitement for their projects, practices to work smarter, and a deep appreciation of their companies. If you are a business that cares about your employees and wants to enhance your workplace culture, we are dedicated to providing alternative ways of building resilient leaders and teams.
Chen, S. H., Liu, J. E., Bai, X. Y., Yue, P., & Luo, S. X. (2021). Providing targeted psychological support to frontline nurses involved in the management of COVID-19: An action research. Journal of nursing management, 29(5), 1169–1179. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.13255
Full, R. J., Bhatti, H. A., Jennings, P., Ruopp, R., Jafar, T., Matsui, J., Flores, L. A., & Estrada, M. (2021). Eyes Toward Tomorrow Program Enhancing Collaboration, Connections, and Community Using Bioinspired Design. Integrative and comparative biology, 61(5), 1966–1980. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icab187
van Tuin, L., Schaufeli, W. B., Van den Broeck, A., & van Rhenen, W. (2020). A Corporate Purpose as an Antecedent to Employee Motivation and Work Engagement. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 572343. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.572343
Boštjančič, E., Antolović, S., & Erčulj, V. (2018). Corporate Volunteering: Relationship to Job Resources and Work Engagement. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 1884. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01884
Glavas A. (2016). Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Engagement: Enabling Employees to Employ More of Their Whole Selves at Work. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 796. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00796
Zhang, X. C., Lee, H., Rodriguez, C., Rudner, J., Chan, T. M., & Papanagnou, D. (2018). Trapped as a Group, Escape as a Team: Applying Gamification to Incorporate Team-building Skills Through an 'Escape Room' Experience. Cureus, 10(3), e2256. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.2256
Bastian, B., Jetten, J., Thai, H. A., & Steffens, N. K. (2018). Shared Adversity Increases Team Creativity Through Fostering Supportive Interaction. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2309. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02309
Sokolov, A. A., Collignon, A., & Bieler-Aeschlimann, M. (2020). Serious video games and virtual reality for prevention and neurorehabilitation of cognitive decline because of aging and neurodegeneration. Current opinion in neurology, 33(2), 239–248. https://doi.org/10.1097/WCO.0000000000000791
Pearce, E., Wlodarski, R., Machin, A., & Dunbar, R. (2017). Variation in the β-endorphin, oxytocin, and dopamine receptor genes is associated with different dimensions of human sociality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(20), 5300–5305. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1700712114
Borland, J. M., Grantham, K. N., Aiani, L. M., Frantz, K. J., & Albers, H. E. (2018). Role of oxytocin in the ventral tegmental area in social reinforcement. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 95, 128–137. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.05.028