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March 5, 2020
Kate Marshall

Team building for startups: our picks for unusual team building activities

Team building for startups is vital. If you're establishing anything larger than a sole proprietorship (meaning a business that will be scalable), you need a team.

Some entrepreneurs don't like to admit it, but behind every mastermind is a powerful, motivated, and cohesive team. Companies that have executed a significant initial public offering are never built by just one person.

Of course, it can be difficult to consciously develop your company culture through unique team building activities while you're in the middle of launching your business. But, the culture you create during the first few formative years can have long-term ramifications.

There’s a myth in America that says entrepreneurs and their dedicated team members must sacrifice sleep and their personal lives if they want their startup to make it. 

In reality, such deprivation sabotages entrepreneurs' efforts and is often a significant factor in eventual failure.

To give your business the best chance of being that one in 10 that makes it, you need to take care of the individuals you hire and work hard to mold them into a high-functioning team.

You’ll want to create a lasting company culture through both employee rewards packages and team building activities. 

There are countless team building activities to choose from. However, they should follow five guidelines:

  • Make them happen outside. You spend all day in the office. Get your team outside if the weather allows it.
  • Make them alcohol-free. Long gone are the days where getting smashed with coworkers was the only team building option—it can be fun, but for those who cannot or do not drink alcohol, it can be isolating (and potentially cause serious issues).
  • Make them engaging for everybody. The worst team building activities leave some team members feeling alienated. Our podcast guest Catie Case is familiar with this—hear her insights on creating activities that appeal to different interests.
  • Make them hierarchy-free. Don't bring office power dynamics into your team building activities. After all, you’re doing these things to get out of work mode—not to drill further into it.
  • Make them require collaboration. The idea is to get your team working together, so choose activities where that actually happens. Improv is a good start!

Why team building for startups is important

According to a study published in the Journal of Management, about 60% of startup failures stem from poorly constituted teams. That's more than five out of 10 startups kicking the bucket because their teams weren't cohesive and well-built.

As John C. Maxwell says, "Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team".

Of course, the importance of team building is well established beyond inspirational quotes. 

Research reveals that team building for startups is an essential investment for three primary reasons:

  1. They improve communication. It's estimated that more than a billion dollars is lost every year due to poor communication.
  2. They increase engagement. Companies with engaged employees earn 2.5 times more than those with disengaged staff.
  3. They reduce infighting. Improved communication means less conflict between members who are better able to solve problems together. This also helps with hiring top talent and retention.

3 unique team building activities for startups

Once you wrap your head around the importance of team building activities, you have to decide which ones to invest in. 

The most effective type for your startup depends on several factors:

  • Budget: Even though it's a worthwhile investment, you need to track the amount you can spend on team building activities and perks. Outback Team Building & Training shares some resources for budgeting (and team building logistics in general).
  • Business location: Sometimes, there’s an obvious choice for activities based on where you’re located. If your office is near a national park, nature tours may be a great fit as a unique team building activity.
  • Weather: When you're trying to get outside, the weather is always a factor. It’s never a bad idea to have a plan B so your employees don’t lose their much-anticipated team building time if the weather isn’t on your side.
  • Number of team members: Some activities are better suited for small teams and become unwieldy for larger groups. If your activity isn’t quite perfect for your team size, no worries—there are ways to make them work by inviting friends & family for bigger needs or breaking teams into smaller groups for the opposite.
  • Who your team members are: Keep any disabilities or general preferences in mind to avoid excluding anyone from your chosen activity.

Being mindful of these factors, here are our picks for the best unique team building activities:

1. Community service projects

Getting your whole team on board with a community service project is one of the best types of unique team building activities. 

It’s particularly effective for three reasons:

  • It's not awkward or obvious as a team building activity.
  • It works toward the greater good, giving employees an increased sense of purpose.
  • It requires teamwork and interface with the community.

A community service project can be anything from teaming up with a service organization (such as your local Rotary Club), planting trees, or helping out at a local soup kitchen.

And it goes without saying—try to avoid any charity projects that are associated with religious or political groups.

Overall, your goal is to get everyone working together toward a tangible result that betters your community. The bonus that comes with doing this type of team building activity is that it's also good PR for your organization. Just don't ask team members to join the fun on their own time!

2. Bob Ross painting

Who doesn't love Bob Ross?

Helping your team to tap into their artistic side is a huge win, especially if they aren't used to using the creative side of their brain. 

The first step is to create an environment that’s relaxed and fun—you don't want employees to feel judged. Try rotating canvases throughout the painting process. By the end, everyone has helped to create every painting—it's all about teamwork.

Ideally, you're able to set up canvases and paints outside and listen to the soothing voice of Bob Ross as he talks your team through painting a landscape.

If you have the budget, you can even provide Bob Ross wigs for everyone to wear and really get into the spirit of this unique team building activity!

3. Stargazing

For as long as humans have existed, they’ve found inspiration in the stars. A stargazing activity can give your team similar creative insights.

Due to light pollution and other factors, it's become increasingly difficult for people to glance at the night sky and know what they're looking at.

A stargazing activity (which should definitely include snacks and beverages), opens your team members' eyes to things out of this world. Try to find a trained astronomer to guide the experience and provide telescopes for folks to witness celestial objects that are invisible to the naked eye.

If the activity is run well, your team members will walk away from the event knowing how to spot distant planets, gas cloud nebulae, global clusters, and prominent constellations. 

Who doesn’t enjoy learning a new skill?

Final thoughts—team building for startups: our picks for unusual team building activities

The bottom line is that team building for startups plays a fundamental role in developing a strong company culture and gives your business the best chance at success.

By pairing unique team building activities for startups with dynamic employee rewards packages, you can create a positive, productive work culture that enhances performance and increases your talent retention rate.

The key to the success of these packages and team building activities is to create them with enough flexibility and adaptability that they increase engagement with ALL employees.

Zestful: recognize and reward your employees—minus the admin work.

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