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Online Team Activities – Building or Bonding?

Running an online team activity seems an obvious path for organizations to travel these days. Why? For many, it’s obvious because it’s the only real option if people are working from home. Even for those who nowadays spend some time in the office, but other times from home. Getting everyone together in person remains dificult – and relatively expensive, of course. People have become used to online team meetings using the likes of Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom or GoToMeeting. Adding a team activity to a regularly scheduled online meeting seems easy enough to do. So people do just that.

But maybe they are missing a trick or two in taking this obvious path.

Definitions

People often confuse team building with team bonding. Ignore the word “team” in those two pairs of words and perhaps you can see what we mean. The definitions of “building” and “bonding” are very different. The Oxford Dictionary defines this type of “building” as “The creation or development of something over a period of time” on their Lexicon site. The same site defines “bonding” as “The establishment of a relationship or link with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences”.

Put the word “team” back in the mix for each of them and you can see that the outcomes of these two different approaches to an activity. “Team Bonding” is clearly about offering a shared experience for team members. There’s no requirement that shared experience is something that everyone enjoys or that delivers team performance. Whereas “Team Building” is clearly focused on team development. This implies that the team gets something out of it, though again there’s no requirement that the process is an enjoyable one.

Fun

Just to be clear, we’re very much on the side of delivering activities that team members enjoy. That are fun for everyone. Yet people are different and one team member’s idea of fun could be very different to another’s. Team bonding activities tend to be one dimensional. What we mean by that is that they largely have a single focus on something in particular. For example “Chocolate tasting” or “cookery” of some kind. Some people in the team will adore that focus. Others will be happy enough to give it a try, even if it wouldn’t really be their choice. And others still would rather go to the dentist.

One dimensional team activities can actually split a team instead of bringing it closer together

It doesn’t matter why that third group hate the idea. And it doesn’t matter what sort of percentage of the whole group are in it. If just one person in the group will find the activity their idea of purgatory, the activity will fail to achieve whole group bonding. Indeed, it may actually achieve the reverse – you may end up creating cliques of those who like whatever it was you were doing and those who didn’t enjoy it at all.

Teamwork

Teamwork is surely about harnessing the differences in the team members to the team’s benefit. It certainly shouldn’t be about turning those differences into something that is detrimental to team performance.

We feel that proper online team building activities should be different. They should offer sufficient variety to ensure there’s something in them that enables everyone to participate fully. They should also provide a platform for the team to learn something that helps it be more effective at work afterwards. Or at least provide that opportunity even if the team is actually just looking for something that is fun for all.

If you fancy loooking in more detail at an activity that fits the bill in this regard, check out our MiniScavenge activity. We think it’s definitely a proper online team building activity!

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