We all need human connection to thrive, and the workplace is no exception. That’s why when leaders prioritize team bonding, they can boost employee satisfaction and engagement, build trust, and improve productivity.
Unfortunately, the state of connections in the workplace doesn’t look promising. Research from BetterUp Labs shows that 43% of employees don’t feel connected to their colleagues. Further, 38% of employees don’t trust their co-workers. We’re on the brink of a connection crisis — and the results impact everything from engagement to employee well-being.
Remote work has made team bonding especially challenging. But even if employees go into the office, it can be tough to encourage them to form real connections. That can lead to high turnover rates, a worse employee experience, and lower team morale.
By contrast, studies have shown that having friends at work is a key performance indicator. That’s because strong relationships can make employees feel more fulfilled, engaged, and motivated. As a result, they will contribute more and even be less likely to look for a new job.
The best part is that team bonding doesn’t have to be complicated. With a bit of intentional effort, you can help employees start building meaningful connections today.
Let’s dive into what team bonding is, why it’s so important, and 8 activities to help your team build better relationships.
What is team bonding?
Team bonding is the process of strengthening relationships between team members. By participating in fun activities together, employees can begin to understand each other on a more personal level. As a result, they build trust and improve communication.
Team bonding is also about building social capital — in other words, creating strong social relationships that help employees work together more effectively. High levels of social capital (AKA, more social connections) make teams more collaborative, respectful, and cooperative. Lower levels of social capital, on the other hand, can lead them to waste time on office politics and workplace conflict.
Why is team bonding important?
If they don’t bond, team members could feel like their work relationships are solely transactional. That can lead to a lack of employee engagement, especially for remote teams.
BetterUp Labs studied the benefits of connections in the workplace. Those low in social connection experience increased anxiety, burnout, and stress. But what happens when employees do foster strong connections? Well, your business (and your people) benefit. Highly connected employees experience greater goal attainment and professional growth. They also see a boost in well-being and an increase in positive, healthy relationships.
According to research by Gallup, employees that feel connected to their coworkers are more likely to take actions that benefit the business. This makes sense — if you truly enjoy being around your coworkers, you’re going to want your team to be successful.
That’s just the beginning, though. Here are four more reasons why team bonding is so important.
Fosters a sense of belonging
Team bonding activities create shared experiences. Whether it’s a happy hour or a game of trivia, these experiences can help employees feel a sense of belonging at work. Going through something together as a team can make everyone feel more connected and included.
This is important because according to research by BetterUp, workplace belonging can lead to a 50% reduction in turnover risk. When team bonding is done right, it helps create a company culture that people don’t want to leave behind.
To develop a high-performing team, leaders need to help employees trust each other. That means giving team members opportunities to get to know each other beyond their day-to-day interactions.
Team bonding activities create space for employees to learn more about each other’s diverse backgrounds and experiences. As a result, team members will feel like they’re part of a community that can be trusted, instead of feeling surrounded by strangers.
Creates psychological safety
As you get to know your coworkers, you begin to feel like they understand where you’re coming from. These relationships ultimately create a sense of safety that allows employees to be open and honest with each other.
But why does psychological safety matter at work? If employees feel like they’ll be degraded for their opinions and ideas, they won’t ever speak up. As a result, the entire company will suffer from a lack of innovation and creative thinking.
Improve team dynamics
Studies show that teams of friends tend to work better together than teams of strangers. That’s because strong relationships make open communication easier, allowing people to feel respected, seen, and heard. As a result, team dynamics improve.
Team camaraderie can also reduce workplace conflict. Instead of getting frustrated with a coworker for not replying to your Slack message, bonding helps you avoid taking things personally — and that will lead to more productivity, team collaboration, and cohesion.
Team bonding vs. team building
The terms “team bonding” and “team building” are often used interchangeably. However, they serve very different purposes.
Team building is about developing specific skills. For example, team-building exercises like scavenger hunts help employees build their problem-solving, decision-making, and communication skills. Motivated by a common goal, the team must work together to overcome a series of challenges and obstacles.
By contrast, team bonding is about having fun. The only objective is to relax and bond over shared interests. Going on a sunset cruise during a company retreat might not help your employees become more skilled, but it will create a wonderful, shared memory that brings them closer together as individuals.
How do you build team bonding?
Toxic, hostile, or negative work environments can make team bonding next to impossible. Companies that foster supportive, strong relationships between coworkers have the below characteristics in common.
Encouraging bonding early and often
Team bonding should begin on day one. For example, during the employee onboarding phase, you can plan activities that encourage relationship-building. Events like a welcome lunch will allow the new team member to meet everyone in a more casual and personal setting.
Prioritizing a feedback culture
A feedback culture is one of the most crucial ingredients for team bonding. Regular feedback keeps the channels of communication open between coworkers. It also allows both the recipient and the giver to learn, grow, and build trust. Without feedback, employees are bound to be actively disengaged — and without engagement, you can’t create team bonds.
Leading by example
Management should lead the way when it comes to relationship-building. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day as a team leader. But if you don’t take time to get to know your direct reports on a personal level, they are going to follow your lead. In the long run, that lack of bonding will reduce employee engagement and team morale — and that’s not good for anyone.
In order to foster team bonds, companies also need to recognize the importance of work-life balance. That way, employees can bring their whole selves to work. When team members feel they can be authentic and prioritize their personal lives, they’ll be much more open to relationships with their coworkers.
8 activities to encourage team bonding
Some employees groan when they learn they’ll have to participate in team building activities. These events can feel a lot like unenjoyable “mandatory fun.”
Team-building games are useful for developing teamwork skills and collaboration. But when it comes to a successful bonding experience, the goal should be to have fun that doesn’t feel awkward or forced.
That means when it’s time to choose an activity for team bonding, listen to your employees. You can even let them take the lead on planning. And most importantly, make sure whatever activity you do is accessible and entertaining for everyone.
In the meantime, here are 8 ideas for fun team bonding activities.
1. Happy hour
A team happy hour is a great way to encourage your team members to get to know each other. When you get out of the office and into a more casual setting, it can help people relax and be open to conversation. Don’t hesitate to get creative here, either. Happy hour doesn’t just have to mean going to the bar next door.
For example, you could host a “Paint and Sip” happy hour, where employees get a canvas, paint, and a glass of wine to drink while they hang out. Whether it’s virtual or in-person, having time dedicated to fun, not work, will create space for plenty of team bonding.
2. Coffee chats
Large group activities are fun, but they don’t always make it easy to connect with others. A casual one-on-one meeting over coffee, however, can encourage even the shyest introvert to open up. Whether it’s over Zoom or at the café next to your office, a coffee (or tea!) chat is a great way to build meaningful working relationships.
Team managers can ask employees to schedule one “coffee chat” per month with a colleague they don’t talk to regularly. Or, they can automate the process by using a Slack integration like Donut — it introduces teammates via direct message and then encourages them to schedule a virtual meeting to get to know each other.
3. Office book club
An office book club is a fun way for employees to connect over a shared interest. Simply choose a book and a regular meeting time, and you’ll be ready for some company-wide bonding. You could also try launching a podcast discussion group for the non-readers. The most important thing here is to give your team a chance to discuss something besides work.
Book clubs are extra effective for building cross-departmental connections. Imagine this: a software developer and a marketing coordinator might never meet, but if they join the book club, they could realize they have the same favorite novel. Suddenly, they’ve found an amazing new work friend that they never would have had otherwise.
4. Team retreat
If you want to take team bonding to the next level, it’s time to get your remote employees off of Zoom and to a retreat. Face-to-face communication is crucial for team bonding, so even if it’s just for the day, an in-person retreat can do wonders for morale and engagement. During the retreat, you can even do some team-building activities.
Employees that go to the office daily can also benefit from a retreat. For one, a change of scenery can increase their creativity and motivation. The adventure of traveling to a new place can also lead to shared memories and new friendships.
5. Celebrate everything
Celebrating your employees is one of the best ways to build team camaraderie. Whether it’s a birthday, promotion, or work anniversary, take any opportunity you can to pause and give team members public recognition.
Even the smallest actions, like saying “happy birthday” during a company-wide meeting, can make a big difference. You could also take the team to dinner to celebrate someone’s new role or give out a certificate to honor an employee’s first full year with the company. However you do it, celebrations are one of the most effective ways to forge stronger team bonds.
6. Holiday fun
You don’t have to wait until December to celebrate the holidays with your team. Throughout the year, you can host fun activities that bring your team closer together. Here are some ideas:
- Encourage employees to show their appreciation for each other on Valentine’s Day
- Challenge team members to St. Patricks Day cookie-decorating competition
- Host a summer barbeque on July 4th
- Have a competition for the best costume on Halloween
- Cater a delicious Thanksgiving feast for the office
- Take the team ice-skating during the winter holidays
7. Escape room
An escape room could be seen as a team-building event — and it can certainly be used for that. But if you want to take your employees to an escape room just for fun, make sure that it doesn’t feel like an obligation. One way to do that is by letting your team vote on which themed escape room you’re going to try.
Then, make sure you don’t get caught up in trying to teach employees teamwork lessons — save that for your corporate team-building days. If you’re able to step back and enjoy it, an escape room adventure can definitely tighten your team’s bond.
8. Team lunch
Lunch might be the best team bonding initiative out there. Everyone loves food, so you really can’t go wrong here. You could have a food truck visit the office once a month, do pizza every Friday, or tacos every Tuesday.
The most important thing is to make sure you encourage employees to have intentional conversations. For example, you could kick off the lunch with an icebreaker topic to help everyone feel comfortable. Or, you could do a “Lunch and Learn” series, where team members take turns teaching each other about certain topics. Then, they can discuss what they learned over the meal.
Create lasting, positive change with team bonding
Effective team bonding activities can boost morale, build trust, and foster a sense of belonging. It can be easy to treat work relationships as purely transactional, but with a bit of effort, you can build deep connections with the people you spend the most time with every day: your coworkers.
And remember — whether you decide to host a book club, a trivia night, or something else entirely, the most important thing is to have fun.
If you’re struggling with facilitating meaningful connections in the workplace, BetterUp can help. With personalized support, you can help ensure your people feel that deep sense of belonging in the workplace.