Write on a piece of paper your top three priorities for this year. I'll wait. Now let me guess. Is it a combination of "funding, growth, and hiring"?
All of these assume the most significant challenges to your company are external. The fundraising comes from external sources. Users and customers are the ones your company is serving. Potential employees don't know you yet. In reality, all of these goals will be achieved by your team. With your company's growth, you must also consider the importance of team building to achieve those goals.
But is team building that important?
Startup team building is cheaper than startup recruitment
In the early days of your startup, your team is often close as there usually is some prior acquaintance, but sooner than later, the available talent pool in your network will be dry. You’ll need to recruit using headhunters, job boards, ads, college events, meetups, social media, and your existing employees. You’ll spend a lot of time, energy, and money in the process, so when you finally hire someone good - you should go out of your skin to make sure they stay. Now, of course, there are many factors to making sure your employees are happy, but providing a solid sense of belonging will go a long way in reducing your employees’ turnover. So, while many managers look at team building as “that thing that HR requires we do,” as the startup CEO, you should embrace and lead team building, as it will not only make your organization more efficient, but it will be leaner to finance.
Team building will make your startup more agile
While you are holding the company’s vision, a startup is searching for the organization by definition. The way to achieve the vision is seldom known, and it requires a lot of searching and fumbling in the darkness. Since the whole company executes the search process, the entire company needs to adapt fast to changes. Think about what is required to change directions on a dime in an efficient manner.
- A clear understanding of the vision (check out our V2MOM article)
- A clear understanding of the current “search fields.”
- Known and clear channels of communication
While the first two are relatively easy to structure and even communicate, the last two are much softer, and no single strategy session can nail them. You have to be very deliberate in creating those and be aware that these take a long time to develop, propagate, and maintain. So how do you do that? All of these are are benefits of team building.
Make the team building a company priority
It doesn’t have to be a top priority, but unless you, as the CEO, push to make sure it happens, the chances are it would fade out and not grow bottom-up. Discuss team-building plans in management reviews and verify that your leadership team has some KPIs to reflect it.
Create a team building calendar
Like your content marketing calendar and your release schedule, you need to create a team-building calendar. It should reflect activities both for small teams and the whole company to make sure that you are continually holding the ball in the air.
Don’t skim on team building budget
Many CEOs are all too aware that allocating time for team building comes at the expense of “real work.” As that is the case, they’ll budget only the “loss” of productivity as the team building’s cost. For example, if the team comprises ten employees with a daily salary of $500, and the activity takes half a day - they would budget it at $2500. But that is the alternative cost. What about the cost of the actual activity? Food? Beverage” Entertainment? Think about what would make your team feel special and happy.
Team building can make your startup culture, but it can also destroy it
Team building is a huge opportunity to pour some of the startup culture into the mix. Unfortunately, it can also have a negative effect, so with every activity you plan, think about the underlying message you’re sending to your employees. For example, you hire a top chef to set up a special gathering. You might be aiming to communicate to your employees that you care about them and cherish them so much that they only get the best. But they might receive a very different message. That you are so anxious and insecure in them staying around, you are trying to “bribe” them.
Think about the pros and cons of cost, luxury (perceived cost), social, and brand implications.
Remote team building ideas
With teams being more and more diversified and distributed, new challenges arise. Not all your team members get to meet each other every day, and some don’t meet any other team members during most days. This reality makes the importance of team building even higher but also creates a challenge. Here are some ideas from teams who cooperate remotely.
Schedule a Virtual Happy Hour on Zoom
Don’t even compare it to the experience you had when all the office people went to the corner bar for a happy hour. That is a very different experience, but it can still serve your team. Invite members to get a drink or any other substance that would make them giddy enough but still communicative. Organize games. Hold contests—just hang out. Remember the only rule of “Virtual Happy Hour on Zoom” - no work talk.
That is a common approach for many employees. They love to join team-building activities, but they don’t initiate them, nor are they willing to take an active part in creating content for it. As you have a team building calendar, you could split the company into groups, and assign each group to a week on the calendar to own ALL team building activities, focused on the entertainment part. They need to decide what would be the right content, and they need to deliver it. It can be a story, a lecture, a game. It doesn’t matter. What matters is ownership, liability, and fun. Moreover, if the groups consist of people from different departments, you get formal cross-functional communication that directly impacts work communication.
A table for two?
Send invites to formal dates to two people in the organization. They can and should be from different functions that don’t interact regularly. The goal is to build a network and trust within the company. As it can be very awkward and uncomfortable, you can also send a list of discussion subjects. Again - the rule is the same. Meet. Talk. Don’t discuss work at this slot, but just get to know the other person.
Let FedEx help you keep in touch
Being remote creates opportunities that can move your employees more than you can imagine. You can send them boxed sets of candies, coffee, alcohol, t-shirts. You can have them custom-made per employee, and you open them together during a zoom happy hour. The reactions and effects can be kept longer if a physical item stays present. A quirky branded coffee mug can go a long way, especially if it has funny quotes from previous team-building activities.
Online games to the rescue
"Join me in a fun round of COD MW2. You need to be level 50 and above."
While a large proportion of your employees might be of the gamers genre, forcing everybody into a MOBA tournament is a sure way to lose the non-gamers. As that is the case, think about games to play at work online that are inclusive, easy, and with a low barrier to entry. If you have to spend more than a few minutes digesting the rules, look for another game. Scribble, Kahoot, Charades, etc., are simple examples that can be made very creative if you involve your company's culture. For example, scribble in teams for nicknames people had in their middle school or Kahoot for major company failures.
Startups are stronger than corporates
Keep in mind that large corporates have considerable budgets. They can rent a stadium and bring in flocks of producers and organizers to produce the best event ever. You can’t compete with the extravagance, nor should you even try. But those events, while being extremely fun, are shallow and seldom engaging. The corporations know it. But with the inability to move people causes them to spend even more to create a bigger bang.
Startup team building is different. It is more engaging, more intimate, more fun, and, ultimately, more memorable. And these are just the side-effects. With trust-building and better communication, your company will be more resilient, efficient, and competitive. That is why the importance of team building in a startup is so high and why you need to schedule some time for it.