Experiential team building helps rebuild psychological safety in each team returning to the office by focusing on communication and empathy in any in-person interaction
As Google joined other big tech companies (Amazon, Facebook, Lyft) to push office reopening to early 2022 due to the recent coronavirus Delta variant spread, others, including Apple, Microsoft, and Uber, will reopen this October.
For everyone who witnessed them, COVID times will be a memorable journey for decades. Returning to the office in a new hybrid work culture after over 19 months of virtual and remote interactions is another experience we won’t forget.
Office reopening is an experience
As B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore theorized in a milestone Harvard Business Review article about the experience economy, “experiences are memorable.”
Teammates will have to bond again in a new habitat. They will be forging new real connections, likely based on emotional conversations about the times of absence from the office and the feeling of being back. Managers will have to work on rebuilding the psychological safety in each team, minding communication and empathy in any interaction.
To make the back-to-work experience smooth and memorable, employees may need some team-building, which has to be experiential too.
What is experiential team building?
Experiential team-building events provide hands-on, inclusive interactions that bring a team together to create a unique experience through which teammates grow professionally and make memories together.
During experiential team-building activities, team members discover teamwork skills and values while overcoming a challenge that requires cooperation and collaborative problem-solving in fun, either competitive or non-competitive ways. Along with the facilitator, the team will collaboratively debrief the experiential team-building activity and put the benefits of that impactful experience into the work-related context.
The challenge of office reopening
A recent, exhaustive study by Microsoft WorkLab about hybrid work readiness presents current issues for those who are returning to their office after a while:
- Flexible work is here to stay.
We will work from different places — multiple offices, coworking spaces, homes — at different times of the day.
How can we enhance team collaboration in this new work habitat?
- Authenticity spurs productivity and wellbeing.
With children, dogs, and cats appearing on Zoom in our living rooms, work became more human.
How do we keep that motivating emotional space at the office and in the hybrid work zone?
- Leaders are out of touch with employees, and teams have become more siloed. How do we spark in-person networking opportunities in a new realm of still socially distanced hallway conversations, chance encounters, and small talk over a coffee while, likely, still wearing masks?
- Digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat.
Gen Z employees feel isolated, lack motivation, and stopped bringing new ideas and innovation to the table.
How do we build purpose and creativity in the shift to in-person office life and hybrid work?
How experiential team building can help
The core value of reopening an office is improving productivity, work strategies, and professional synergies using the physical space to reconnect talents physically. To put it in psychological terms, reopening an office is a physical and emotional act.
Cognitive and behavioral sciences discover that the body is the most powerful social and emotional organ humans have. Therefore, team building for office reopening has to involve physical and emotional experiences.
If you think of the office after reopening as a new habitat with old but changed inhabitants that need to set new norms and interactions, there are at least three topics of post-reopening work-life an experiential team building could help with:
- Reconnecting with the “sense” of team collaboration and embodying conversational turn-taking.
- Experiencing the impact of a compelling purpose (or an idea) as individuals and as a team.
- Managing high-quality networking in minimal time windows and newly designed shared spaces.
Three experiential team building activities for office reopening
At Embodied Learning, we design and facilitate experiential team-building activities for this crucial phase in the life of teams, businesses, and organizations.
In addition to the physical and emotional impact in teams’ life, we want our team-building events to be fun, simple, and fully accessible by anyone – without extreme or cringe-worthy activities that would make everyone uncomfortable.
Experiential team building activity for conversational turn-taking
To boost in-person communication and conversational turn-taking after thousands of Zoom meetings, we use sticks (or broomsticks!).
Try to have a conversation while passing sticks back and forth between your interlocutor and yourself. This activity is a wake-up call for everyone’s listening and processing abilities, and it’s not a competition.
The activity is about improving physical presence and managing high-quality conversations. Teammates learn to pay attention to critical details, both in body language and content, they missed in almost two years of video meetings.
Experiential team building activity for bringing new ideas in meetings
To help teammates, especially the youngest (Gen Z), bring great ideas to the table in the new office habitat, we use another out-of-the-box material: paper. Imagine that your idea looks like a large sheet of paper. Put the sheet on your chest, and carry it around. Ask your teammates to grab some paper and do the same.
Have fun with your team “moving” that idea across the meeting room and ask for feedback while boosting everybody’s empathetic and critical thinking.
Experiential team building activity to boost collaboration in-person
Leaders and managers can provide as many feet of rope as needed to build a parachute-like construction that helps every teammate physically weigh the impact of their work within the team’s performance.
May your return to the office be a collectively successful and unforgettable experience!
About the Author
Tommaso Lana is an award-winning trainer, performance artist, and consultant, founder of Embodied Learning.
Embodied Learning is a multidisciplinary experiential training program for people of all ages that enhances communication and collaboration skills through sensory play, movement, and imagination.
With his Embodied Learning projects, coaching, and professional development training sessions, Tommaso has been serving teams, managers, and administrators at Caltech, Google, WeWork, The Smithsonian Institution, NAEYC, Los Angeles Public Library, New York Public Library, and more.
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