Are “team-building” exercises worth it?

Many team-building exercises aim to expose and address interpersonal problems within the group

Many people have participated in “team-building” exercises—but do they work?

Let’s start by defining what we mean by team building. According to Wikipedia, it is a collective term for various types of activities used to enhance social relations and define roles within teams often involving collaborative tasks. 1 Many team-building exercises aim to expose and address interpersonal problems within the group.

Developing the veterinary team requires developing each individual employee, as well as helping people learn to work together constructively.2

That’s the definition. However, it doesn’t address the question of, “Why do it?”

According to author and veterinarian, Carin A. Smith, DVM, good team development contributes to employee and client satisfaction. Happy people stick around and do a good job. Staff retention increases productivity and reduces expenses.2 Seems like a good reason to do it—teamwork is a worthy goal!

Certainly, the general goals consist of getting to know your coworkers better, increasing team spirit, fostering innovation and creativity, enhancing communication, supporting each other, and the list continues. But is there more? Are team-building exercises worth it? 

What is your team-building ROI?

To properly measure the success of a team-building session, you need to have a plan and baseline metrics. Team building is an investment, and measuring its effectiveness allows you to put a price tag on just how much of a return you are getting. You should never get involved in a team-building program without a clear objective in mind, which includes measuring the financial returns your company achieves.3

Tangible metrics

As a practice manager, it’s your job to identify the target area you want to improve. Some suggestions are attendance, helpfulness, efficiency, initiative, and quality.4 Quantify where you currently are (i.e. your starting point) and where you want to be (meaning, your measurable end point). While this might not be the easiest thing to do, it’s this measurement tool (whatever it looks like) that will determine your progress.

To track your return on investment (ROI) for team building, you must have some prework done before you conduct the activity. One way is to poll your team using questions specifically designed to determine employee engagement. This will lead you to your starting point. Be specific with your questions by focusing on the areas of engagement you want to improve upon
(e.g. attendance, efficiency, and creativity).

Once this is established, you can jump into the appropriate team-building exercises that will move you toward the end goals. You’ll want to repeat your original poll approximately every three months to gain perspective on your team’s level of engagement and how well the exercises are moving you in the desired direction.

Your time is precious! Should you really invest that time in playing games, laughing, learning, and connecting with your team through structured team-building activities?

The answer to this question is a resounding, yes!

Current state of the workforce

Gallup’s State of The American Workplace Report states: “The American workforce has more than 100 million full-time employees. One-third of those employees are what Gallup calls engaged at work. They love their jobs and make their organization and America better every day. At the other end, 16 percent of employees are actively disengaged—they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51 percent of employees are not engaged—they’re just there.”5

You might be wondering why it is so important to have a team that is engaged in their work. Well, engaged employees are emotionally and psychologically tied to their work and workplace. Their individual performance grows, which leads their team and organization to have higher levels of productivity, safety, and quality.

Types of team building

The two main types of team building are those activities that happen inside the practice during office hours and outside activities done when the hospital is closed. Both have their benefits and drawbacks.

Inside activities often take place during team meetings or in the form of in-house workshops. These activities are affordable and take a shorter time commitment. Challenges with in-house activities are often related to the proximity of the activity to your work and a high probability of distractions.

Outside activities eliminate distractions and are often more intense in nature, leading to a larger ROI. However, the time and financial commitment also is bigger. It often requires team members to pull from their personal time or be paid overtime. Plus, there is usually more prep time required to schedule a facility and organize the event.

The “how to”

Creating team-building activities doesn’t have to involve hours and hours of your time and extensive budgets. Team building can be easy to plan and fun to create.

Setting up a successful activity starts with evaluating your team weaknesses. Is there a need to revive training in a select area (i.e. basic need)? Or maybe your team is struggling with communication (i.e. individual needs)? Your established mission, vision, and values also can help guide you in selecting a focus for your activity.

Once you have selected your focus, you can pick an activity meeting that need within the space, budget, and time frame you have available. Don’t feel like you must reinvent the wheel when doing team-building activities. There are books, websites, and blogs filled with ideas for the taking.

Examples of inside team-building ideas:

  • three truths and a lie;
  • The Amazing Race (a version of this also can be done outside);
  • party games;
  • walk-up music;
  • spaghetti tower;
  • trust games;
  • memory wall; and
  • one problem, many solutions.

Examples of outside team-building ideas:

  • escape room;
  • laser tag;
  • game nights; and
  • ropes course.

Show progress

When conducting any team-building activity, you must bring together the highlights of the activity with team feedback and center it on the purpose of the event. Games should be fun and interactive; however, if you don’t tie your actions to a purpose, the time spent will lose its value.

To connect your team’s ideas and impressions of the team-building activity, you will need to ask questions, not just tell them why they played the game. Show them the progress being made in the polling. Visually track the results and tie everyday improvements back to the team-building exercises.

Share the responsibility

When conducted by the same person each time, activity-like team building can become challenging or lack variety. There is no rule that states the team leader must always conduct the activity. Giving your team guidelines and expectations on team building, and then allowing them to conduct the activities, will not only free up your time and add variety, it will allow your team to experience personal growth themselves.

After all, creating a sense of buy in and personal responsibility for exercises will lead to individual employee development. As mentioned, this is required in developing the veterinary team. It also leads to increased job satisfaction, retention, and productivity. That seems like a good ROI for playing “games!”

Rebecca Rose, CVT, director of possibilities at CATALYST Veterinary Practice Consultants, has a diverse background in the veterinary community, working in and managing clinics, collaborating with industry partners, and facilitating engaging team workshops. Denise Mikita, MS, CVT, CATALYST’s manager of possibilities, brings extensive knowledge in practical clinic experience, organizational management, and team dynamics. Combined, the authors have more than 50 years’ experience in elevating veterinary teams. In addition, they have sat on veterinary councils, led state and national professional organizations, and have volunteered for animal welfare groups. Rose and Mikita can be reached via


1 Wikipedia.

2 Team Satisfaction Pays. Organizational Development for Practice Success. Dr. Carin A. Smith. Smith Veterinary Consulting. 2008 Chapter 2: Develop the Team.

3 How do I Measure the Effectiveness of Team Building?

4 5 Effective Metrics for Measuring Team Member Performance. Jan 25, 2018.

5 State of the American Workplace Report, Gallup, 2017


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