Team-building on a shoestring budget

Still think of ‘trust falls’ when you hear the term ‘team-building’? It’s time to move on. When executed well, team-building is a critical contributor to high-performance cultures. 

The knowledge economy is dependent on teamwork. High-performing teams have proven more effective at solving complex problems, boosting morale, building skills and enhancing creativity. But how do you foster them? Not through forced fun or participation, that’s for sure. In a team, you have a complex mix of personalities, caregiving responsibilities, hobbies, and preferences that make even ‘drinks at the pub’ a potential exercise in exclusion. 

The ‘I’ in team stands for investment 

Until AI takes all our jobs, we’ll rely on good old-fashioned HI (Human Intelligence). 😉 This means your people are your biggest asset expense. Savvy leaders recognise the benefits of creating the right conditions for groups of people to perform at their best – especially during tight economic times. When we stop investing in them, teams can quickly resemble little more than a collection of individuals – and, as one of our beloved mentors says: one plus one must equal three. So, we need to get creative when budgets are slashed and people are stretched. 

Whether you’re managing a team or a member of one, we’ve rounded up simple, affordable ways to build trust and relationships while making sure everyone has a good time:  

Bottoms up! 

Traditionally team building activities are usually a top-down directive. What a missed opportunity! Why not task your team with deciding what they need? Come up with a list of activities and ask your team to vote, or specify a budget and let your people decide what to do with it. Either way, keep inclusivity top of mind (think school hours, cultures, physical barriers).

It doesn’t always matter what you do. What does matter is giving your team opportunities to discover mutual interests and bond over them. Back at Hatch, we created a culture of team-led team-building. Welcome to Jog Squad, Booty Camp, Game Night and Sourdough Society. Yes, we liked to brand things; no, we didn’t force people to join anything.

Working on the business

Asking your team for their honest thoughts can give leaders a fright, but it also uncovers some very easy wins. It takes guts, but co-creation leads to sticky practices, a shared sense of purpose and high trust.

Is your organisational culture on shaky ground? After tripling the size of the Hatch team, we faced the challenge head-on. With a facilitator, two hours, and the entire team, we embarked on a mission to shake up our values. The outcome? Our people added a fourth value: Balance. We also unleashed a wave of simple actions to support it, like rules for weekend Slack and email, and celebrating flexible work for those afternoon yoga classes.

Many of us have heard of hackathons, but have you ever tried a design jam? Consider taking an afternoon to tackle a work-related challenge – It’s how our iconic Hatch tees got created. It doesn’t matter what problem you tackle – it could be a quick passion project or a pain point – design jams are about bringing people together to collaboratively problem-solve. Whether you’re hacking or jamming, these sessions aren’t just for technical experts. Everyone has a role, and it’s a good opportunity to learn new skills and build empathy by trying other jobs on for size.

You are what you eat

Make learning a habit! A monthly ‘lunch and learn’ is an ideal forum to hear inspirational stories, learn new skills, and kick-start conversations – and this one can be fully remote. Your LinkedIn network is a valuable pool of experts ready and willing to share their knowledge in exchange for a free coffee or a plug for their business. All you need to do is find great people, lock in a time, and let the learning roll.

We know we promised not to be cheesy, but who doesn’t love a bit of fromage? Ok, a lot of people. But! We don’t celebrate success enough and should make a point of it. Fans of The Office will know that every great workplace does ‘Employee of the Month’. For the cost of some pastries and a desk plant (or plastic crown for Nat #highmaintenance), gather the team, highlight work and life triumphs, and celebrate each other. Embrace the cheese – it’s ok not to take yourselves too seriously. Remember to ask for successes in advance so you don’t miss any.

Speed dating may feel cringe in sterile community halls, but it can be a fun way to get to know the people outside your immediate team. Ask for volunteers, match participants and leave it to them to lock in a 30-minute video call, coffee or walk.

We know the term ‘shared lunch’ often translates to ‘more work’, but on occasion, they’re a great way to connect. Celebrate diversity – ask your team to bring (and introduce) a dish that typifies their childhood fare. You’ll enjoy some delicacies from Mumbai to Samoa, and learn a little about the people you spend your day with. Bon Appetit! 

30 second action:

Do a trust fall. Joking!!! Find out what budget (time and money) you have available for team-building. Bonus points if you ask your team for ideas about how best to use it.

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