5 reasons team building is important for development teams

Peter Simic

Software development companies want to have teams that thrive in their environment.

After all, teams that work together well and show a positive attitude toward their work are far more likely to produce high-quality software than those that don’t.

That’s why it’s important to make sure your team is able to bond, have fun, and understand what each person brings to the table—and it all starts with good, old-fashioned team building.

In this article, you’ll find five great reasons why it’s worth the effort to include team-building activities in your team’s workflow, along with some ideas for how to make it happen.

Improves communication among team members

In 2012, The Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT conducted a study to determine what separates top-performing teams from average ones.

After researchers analyzed the data, they discovered something truly astonishing:

“With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success.”

That is no surprise considering that Fierce’s survey found that 86% of employees think a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication is responsible for workplace failures.

Source: Shake 

There are many ways to improve communication between teams, but one of the most effective methods is definitely through team-building activities.

However, simply gathering your developers and giving them a few games to play, such as tug of war or egg and spoon race, isn’t going to achieve the desired results.

Employees, especially developers, find this kind of activity boring and can even be detrimental to their morale.

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In fact, only 14% of employees think that games like these improve their communication with managers and their coworkers.

However, that doesn’t mean you should give up on team-building when it comes to enhancing communication.

Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO at O2E Brands, can’t stress enough its importance. He says:

“Despite its reputation for being, well, lame, team building is the most important investment you can make for your people. It builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration.”

However, he continues, what we should do is to get rid of the company picnics and choose something slightly more off the beaten path that will encourage employees to get out of their comfort zones and communicate more.

Source: Shake 

In other words, if you really want to improve communication among your developers, you need to find something that will get them excited about participating in team-building activities.

Brian also shows us how he managed to do this with his team.

When he heard that one of their coworkers was afraid of heights and had always wanted to beat this fear, the team decided to visit the longest zipline in the country.

After they were all dropped in a remote location 600 feet above Whistler, they all bonded quickly and in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

And we’re pretty sure that this adventurous team-building trip enabled them to open up and communicate more.

The fact that this team building was so successful isn’t surprising if we consider one more point.

According to Research at the Kenexa Research Institute, 50% of workplace-related communication improvements can be credited to social interaction outside work.

Therefore, in order to get the best results, try to choose team-building activities that are fun, engaging, relevant, and preferably conducted outside.

Develops problem-solving skills

According to McKinsey, soft skills are in high demand today, and HR professionals repeatedly cite that problem-solving tops the list of skills people lack.

In fact, 37% report that employees today have problems with problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity.

Source: McKinsey

And that can be a huge problem in the development world, where problem-solving skills are essential, unlike many other industries.

Therefore, team-building activities such as escape rooms or any other mentally challenging games can be a great way to boost your team’s ability to think on their feet.

They force employees to work together, solve complicated puzzles and come up with solutions quickly and efficiently, as shown in the picture below.

Source: Twitter

Luckily, there is a myriad of great escape room themes that you can play with your team, with Sherlock Holmes, prison escape, and finding the antidote being among the most popular ones.

And if you and your developers don’t have time for a full-day escape room challenge, you can try the virtual version of the game instead.

It has all the same fun and excitement without needing to leave your office.

The picture below shows the Jordan and Skala Engineers team having all the fun in the world virtually saving ghosts.

Source: Twitter

Games like this are truly a great opportunity to get developers’ minds working and help them think outside the box.

This is exactly what Rue Dooley, an HR knowledge advisor at SHRM, thinks when he states that these games allow us to develop important skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and imagination.

They encourage us to work together and solve problems under pressure but in a fun and exciting way.

“These activities force us to use critical thinking, to be creative and innovative and to use our imaginations. They force us to communicate with one another and to do it under pressure—though the pressure is contrived and the consequences are benign.”

As you can see, when you give your team a challenging task, you may be surprised by the problem-solving abilities that emerge.

Your developers will work together to come up with new approaches and strategies they might haven’t considered before.

That can later help them be more successful in their complex and challenging tasks.

Improves workplace performance

According to the Gallup study, only 36% of employees are engaged at work.

By engaged, we mean – the ones involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace.

Engagement is a strong predictor of business performance, and research shows that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their competition by an impressive 202%.

Source: Shake 

When employees feel engaged in their work, they’re more productive, committed, and loyal. They view their work as a meaningful part of their lives rather than a means to an end.

As they’re willing to go the extra mile when it comes to their projects, they’re able to carry out tasks more efficiently.

Therefore, it’s clear that if you want your team to be at the peak of its performance, you need to make time for team-building activities.

At least, that’s what Arvind Raichur, CEO and co-founder of MrOwl, thinks when he states that team-building activities are essential because they pay off in the form of increased productivity, engagement, and morale.

Source: Shake 

Moreover, he goes on to say that teamwork established by team-building activities makes everyone feel like they’re contributing and being recognized for their efforts.

And this can make a huge difference in how a team performs.

However, not all team-building activities will reap the same positive results.

As Brian Scudamore, who we already mentioned earlier, sees it, the best team-building activities are not necessarily the ones that make employees think about how to do their jobs better.

He points out:

“The most successful, memorable team-building events are ones that don’t feel like a day at the office. Activities that overtly aim to draw in leadership lessons or practical takeaways are less powerful. Spending time together, sharing an experience or working towards a common goal allows bonding to happen more organically and far more effectively.”

At Zappos, a shoe retailer famous for its unique corporate culture, they understand this very well, so they enroll their employees in some exciting team-building challenges.

Although they host a lot of regular team-building events, they take team building to a whole new level by having their employees hike 40 miles together each year, and here’s a video that shows what this looks like.

Source: Zappos Stories on YouTube

When you think about it, these activities don’t really make sense for a shoe retailer, but that doesn’t matter because they’re extremely effective at creating an environment where people feel connected and a part of the team.

Chris Peake, the Zappos team’s captain, shared his excitement about the whole experience with words that paint a clear picture of the effect that proper team building can have on performance:

“We all got each other’s back, and we all push each other to do incredible things. I’ve made great friends over the years and become close to people just because of this event.”

So, if you’re looking to build a culture of teamwork and performance in your organization, find an activity that encourages everyone to do incredible things together.

Creates a positive work environment

A positive work environment is essential to the success of any business, so it’s important that you take advantage of opportunities for team building.

Team building activities can help build team spirit and camaraderie among co-workers, which can later translate to the office environment.

In other words, developers who have had fun together outside of work are more likely to work better together and build a stronger team dynamic.

And the benefits of this can be significant, as Frances Geoghegan, founder and managing director of Healing Holidays, suggests–the mood in the office is greatly improved, and the stress and strains on employees and managers are alleviated.

Source: Shake 

However, when choosing the best team-building activities, you need to remember that not all of them are created equal.

According to SHRM, while games such as scavenger hunts or ax throwing are fun, they tend to have a short-term and sometimes even the opposite effect than intended.

Or as Andy Kraus, executive vice president of operations at Team Builders Plus, amusingly puts it:

“They’re light and fun, but it’s like going to a family wedding—everyone is going to act all nice to one another but still hate each other at the end.”

Therefore, it would be advisable to pick the activities that create a long-lasting and meaningful impression on your developers.

You want the positive atmosphere developers get from the activity to linger long after the event. And you want them to be able to take that positive energy with them into their daily work.

The answer to this could be engaging your team in volunteering activities, as Madison Logic’s team did in the picture below.

Source: Twitter

Helping out at a local shelter or giving back to the environment with eco-friendly initiatives will help your developers create a strong bond with each other and their community, which is an important part of creating a positive work environment.

Ted Baker, a co-founder and CEO of Qalo, also recommends different outdoor activities, such as Olympics between departments, because “stuff like that really brings out the humanity in people and makes them more confident in their jobs.”

When developers engage in relevant and engaging team-building activities, they’re able to build stronger bonds with one another.

This will ultimately result in a more positive work culture where everyone feels comfortable collaborating and sharing ideas.

Builds trust within the team

According to Paul J. Zak, a renowned neuroeconomist, people who work in high-trust companies tend to be more productive, energetic at work, and collaborative with their colleagues.

They also suffer less stress and are happier with their lives, which makes them more productive in the workplace.

Source: Shake 

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of having a high-trust workplace.

It goes without saying that trust is one of the most important factors in building an effective company culture and attracting top talent.

Therefore, any team-building activity that can help you foster trust between your developers is worth its weight in gold.

You can start with small but meaningful activities such as, for example, the Kudo wall.

In the Kudo wall game, everyone writes down a small kudo (a compliment) for all the other team members, which will be later posted on the wall or whiteboard.

Source: Medium

The developers can then go up to the wall and read through all the kudos given to them by their peers.

This way, everyone feels appreciated and valued—and it helps build trust within your team.

If you want to encourage trust further, you can also arrange team-building activities such as a company-wide hackathon or a weekend getaway.

This will allow your developers to get to know each other better, which will help them feel more comfortable with one another and facilitate greater trust down the road.

And if your team members have to travel, for instance, to a developer conference, instead of in a hotel, you can put them in an Airbnb together.

That’s at least what Heather Blease, founder and CEO of SaviLinx, suggests, and she has noticed great results. Let’s see what she has to say on that topic:

“Our team travels a lot, and instead of using hotels we put people in an Airbnb together. We’ve ended up in all sorts of places: a giant house on a river in Mississippi, a flat in Manhattan. We’ll grocery shop together, sit around a bonfire, or watch football games.”

Source: Twitter

From Heather’s example, it’s clear that the best way to build trust is by enabling the employees to casually have fun and connect outside work premises.

They’ll be able to understand each other better, get to know their strengths and weaknesses, and, as a result, be more willing to help each other out.

And that will do miracles for creating a more trusting environment in the office.

Conclusion

We’ve come to the end of this article, and, hopefully, you’ve gained some insight into why team building is important for software development teams.

Team building is an effective way to enhance communication between team members, increase trust among them, and help them better understand each other’s roles and strengths and weaknesses.

With these in mind, you can now create a team-building event to help your software development team grow together and become more effective.