Have you ever been to Chick-fil-A? How about Trader Joe’s? If you have, you know exactly what these two businesses have in common. If you haven’t, let me explain.
Anytime you walk into either of these places, you’ll immediately see something you don’t see all that often in your run-of-the-mill fast food joint or supermarket: teamwork at its finest.
There’s just something about the cohesiveness of the teams at these places that stands out above most other eateries and grocery stores.
And it’s that certain something which makes their customers’ experiences just that much better.
“It’s not the fastest runners that win a relay race; the one that wins is the team that gets the baton around the track first.” – Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A
In this article, I’ll explain how you can emulate the success of these companies by implementing team-building games and activities within your company to massively boost employee engagement and overall cohesiveness within your team.
But, before we do, let’s talk a bit about why team building is so important.
The Importance of Building a Cohesive Team
Let’s take a look at the importance of team building through two lenses: one facing your employees and one facing your customers.
Employee-Facing Benefits of Team Building
If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of working within a disjointed team of any kind, you know all too well why team building is important.
First and foremost, a cohesive team makes all members feel comfortable. Because the team as a whole is constantly working toward a common goal, there’s a much higher level of trust that there is in teams in which individual members are “out for themselves.”
This, in turn, makes communication between all team members easy and non-combative; with no animosity between teammates, everyone feels comfortable communicating with one another.
Additionally, members of great teams truly live the creed “together everyone achieves more.” They never think, “that’s not my job,” or “shouldn’t someone have taken care of this earlier?” If they see something that needs to be done, or if a colleague asks for some quick assistance, they take it upon themselves to go the extra mile – knowing it will benefit the team as a whole in the long run.
Combining all of these aspects, members of great teams are also more free to be creative and innovative, as well. Because they’re focused on moving the team forward, these employees will work to discover new solutions to common problems – and will feel comfortable bouncing these ideas off their colleagues.
Customer-Facing Benefits of Team Building
Of course, all of the team-building work behind the scenes is done so that your customers will have an incredibly pleasurable experience whenever they engage with your company.
Strong teams are laser-focused on customer success and will work together tirelessly to ensure customers get what they paid for. This requires everything from implementing the unique and innovative solutions mentioned above to a seamless handing off of the baton to make sure customers never run into a snag.
If they do encounter a hangup due to lackadaisical teamwork, it can be incredibly detrimental to the company as a whole. According to a 2011 survey by American Express, 78% of customers will leave a store empty handed due to a poor customer service experience. Furthermore, 59% of customers would try a new brand if it meant receiving a better service experience.
And, according to a 2010 report by Harris Interactive and RightNow, the top two reasons customers churn are poor treatment by staff members and a failure on the team’s part to solve the customer’s problem in a timely manner (both of which have to do with employees’ ability to work together as a team).
On the other hand, 70% of customers are willing to spend more for excellent customer service, and 78% of customers report that a positive experience with a brand stems from working with competent service representatives.
A strong team of employees will ultimately be able to provide their customers with the best experience possible – and keep them onboard far into the future.
7 Team-Building Exercises To Improve Employee Unity
Now, we’ll discuss some rather simple activities you can work through with your employees to increase their ability to work together and communicate with a team and to provide a positive experience for their customers.
Note: Many of the following activities were adapted from 50 Activities for Achieving Excellent Customer Service, created by Darryl S. Doane and Rose D. Sloat.
Communication and Teamwork Activities
This activity should be done at the beginning of a workshop in which other tasks will need to be performed (such as note-taking, paper passing, etc.).
The purpose of this activity is to work together to accomplish a certain task – and to understand the importance of working together in the first place. It will also provide an opportunity for team members to collaborate and delegate tasks democratically.
Begin by instructing your employees to line up in order of the number of years they’ve been with the company (which they will have to communicate to figure out). Then, have them count off by the number of groups you’d like to create (4-6 is fine). Then, ask them to sit at the table labeled with their number.
Once they’ve had a chance to greet the other members of their group, discuss the reasons for dividing them as you did. For example, your employees may notice that each team is made up of members with varying years of service – which likely means each member has a rather unique set of experiences.
Explain that at the count of three, everyone will point at the person they believe to be the most responsible of their teammates. Whoever gets the majority of “points” takes the role of the team leader who will delegate further tasks (such as the ones mentioned above) to their teammates.
Before moving on to the next activity or task, discuss the importance of assigning and adapting to different roles, delegating tasks, and living up to your assigned role within a team.
Also, stress the benefits of going the extra mile for teammates whenever possible; even something as simple as helping them pick up a pile of papers they had dropped will benefit the team as a whole.
To further drive home the purpose of this activity, discuss what would happen if a single team member decided not to fulfill their duties, and the detrimental effect this would have on everyone involved.
Active and Passive Communication
The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate and understand the difference between one-way and two-way communication. Participants will also come to understand that certain circumstances will determine which communication method will result in the best outcome.
To begin, choose three employees from your team. In a moment, you will ask them to wait outside the room where they cannot hear or see what’s happening inside.
Explain to the whole group the difference between active and passive communication. (Active communication involves listening and speaking, while passive communication just involves listening.)
Now ask the individuals you chose earlier to leave the room. Explain to the rest of the group that you’ll be reading a story aloud, and that they can only listen. Call one of the three employees back into the room, and explain again that they cannot talk or ask questions while you read the story.
After you’ve finished telling the story, ask the first employee to retell it, including a beginning, middle, and end.
Call the second employee back into the room. Now, have the first person tell the second person the story from memory. The second person must only listen.
Call the third person back in. Ask the second person to retell the story to the third person (from memory), but this time allow the third person to interact with the storyteller. They can ask questions, discuss the story, and do whatever else they need to get the story down pat.
Then, have the third person retell the story to the entire group. As a group, discuss the differences between each person’s retelling. More than likely, the final retelling will be the most accurate, as the third individual was able to interact with the storyteller and take an active role in their retelling.
Steer the discussion toward how active communication can help your employees better understand the customers they interact with, in turn allowing them to more efficiently provide for their needs.
Check Out Your Work Environment
The purpose of this activity is to increase your team’s ability to be resourceful – and to begin seeing the team as a resource, itself.
Begin by opening a discussion about how wait-time caused by misplaced resources can lead to a poor experience for everyone involved. For example, imagine a situation in which a waiter brings a party their check, only to realize he didn’t bring them a pen. He’ll have to rush to go get one, the party will have to wait for him to come back, and his other patrons will be put off by his delay.
After a few examples and ample discussion, place your employees in teams of about four or five. Ask each team to make a list of resources they might need throughout a given day on the job, as well as potential scenarios that might arise requiring the use of these resources.
Before they get started, remind them of two things:
- No item is too small or insignificant to not list
- In addition to physical items, think of “intangible” resources, as well
Once they’ve had time to create their lists, bring the group back together and create a single master list on a whiteboard or flip chart at the front of the room. Celebrate instances of outside-the-box thinking (such as listing “a sense of humor” as a resource) and attention to detail (listing less-noticeable resources or those which are often taken for granted).
For further discussion, describe various scenarios in which a certain resource might be useful – making sure to discuss the multiple ways in which you might use a single item.
Again, refer back to “teamwork” and “cohesiveness” as an intangible resource that detracts from your customer’s experience when missing, and improves it when present.
Transformations and Their Impact
The purpose of this team-building activity is to shift your employees’ focus away from providing customers with a service and focus more on providing them with a solution.
Split your employees into teams of four or five, then provide the following prompt:
What changes or transformations has our organization faced in the last five years?
Give them about five minutes to discuss any changes – major and minor – the company has experienced, asking a member of each group to take notes.
After five minutes, provide another prompt:
What changes or transformations have our customers experienced in the last five years?
Again, give the teams five minutes to discuss and take notes.
Then, bring the group all back together and discuss the changes they listed for each question. Point out the implications that each change has had on customers, the company, and the industry as a whole.
Stress the idea that your industry (no matter which) is constantly evolving – as are the needs of your clientele. Discuss with the group the notion that your team must work tirelessly to help your customers solve their problems and overcome adversity – especially as new challenges arise in the future.
Wrap up the exercise with a discussion about how to anticipate future challenges (both internal and customer-facing) that could come about as time goes on. Reiterate and further discuss how your employees can shift away from being service providers, and move toward becoming problem solvers.
When You Were a Customer
This activity will put your employees in the shoes of your customers, allowing them to recognize the importance and impact of the service they (as employees) provide.
First, divide your employees into teams of about five people, ensuring you end up with an even amount of teams.
Give half of the teams the following prompt:
As a customer, when have you not been treated as you believed you should have been? How did it make you feel?
Give the other half the following prompt:
As a customer, when have you been treated more than fairly? How did it make you feel?
Ask each team to first make a quick list of adjectives regarding how either situation made them feel. Give them about five minutes to do so.
Then, allow them time to dive deeper into the situation that came to mind. Have them explain what the employee or team did to make them feel either valued or unvalued. Ask them to discuss what happened next (e.g., Did they make a purchase? Did they walk away?).
Come back together as a group and choose volunteers to describe their story. Discuss ways in which negative situations could have ended on a positive note, or positive situations could have taken a turn for the worse.
After ample discussion, reinforce the fact that customers who have a poor experience with a company are much more likely to share their negative experience with their peers than those who have a positive experience. This means that providing a poor experience to one customer could potentially erase the efforts you’ve put into providing a positive experience to numerous others.
Real-World Customer Encounters
Piggybacking off the last activity, this one will allow your employees to hone their customer service skills with regard to treating “difficult” customers equally and fairly, dealing with their problems in a proactive and patient manner.
This activity is a bit more in-depth than most of the others on this list, so make sure you block off a good amount of time to complete it.
First, split your employees into groups of four or five. Explain to each group that they’ll be creating scenarios for the following customer “characters”:
- The “Normal” Customer
- The Upset Customer
- The Irate Customer
- The Rushed Customer
- The Socializer
For each character, have the groups come up with scenarios that include:
- A problem
- A description of how the problem arose
- An explanation of what the customer wants
Once the scenarios are created, the groups will act them out, with one employee playing the customer and one assuming the role of employee. As each scenario is completed, teammates will rotate their roles, ensuring everyone has a chance to play both parts.
Those who are on the side will observe the roleplay and take note of any time the “employee” exhibits language or body language that is:
After each roleplay scenario, have the group discuss any instances of the above-mentioned language or behavior. Make sure everyone understands that this isn’t a “gotcha” game; it’s meant to point out actions that an individual may not even be aware of doing that could offend or otherwise turn a customer off.
The Platinum Rule
We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule, but the Platinum Rule doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should.
This rule states that you should treat others, not as you’d like to be treated, but as they would.
Begin by reading the following story to the team:
Discuss the story with the group, with the overarching message being that each of your customers deserves the absolute best from your company and its employees. Hone in on the notion that being lax in this initiative could end up being incredibly detrimental to the company as a whole (again referring to the idea that customers tend to share negative experiences frequently).
Then, place your employees into groups of about five. Have the groups discuss and list the facets of excellent customer service from the customer’s perspective.
After they’ve had time to create this list, have them brainstorm a new list of behaviors, phrases, courtesies, and actions they could take that would reflect the proper treatment of their customers.
Bring the whole team back together and merge each group’s ideas into one master list to be referred back to over time.
Wrap the activity up by reiterating the importance of the Platinum Rule: even during the most difficult of times, it’s essential that your employees always treat their customers the way the customer wants to be treated.
Each of the activities listed above serves not only to illuminate a specific aspect of customer service, but also to improve the ways in which your employees work together as a team.
With an added focus on teamwork and camaraderie, your employees will be in prime position to provide your customers with the best experience possible each time they engage with your brand.