Get below the surface and discover what’s missing from most corporate team building ideas. Then find out what to do about it.

Corporate team building ideas aren’t hard to find. Look up “team building” on Google, and you get around 53 million results. Even “corporate team building” gets you 1.7 million results. You’ll get directed to the web pages of hotels, resorts, restaurants, city tourism departments, and, of course, plenty of companies that specialize in team building. That’s undoubtedly good; with more and more diversity in the workplace, you want options that can appeal to everyone on your team.

The problem? Too many organizations approach team building as a magical cure-all to dysfunction. Good team building can help bring your group together, but to get real, lasting benefits, you have to take a different approach. You have to step back and look critically at your organization, management style, and business philosophy.

The most effective corporations know that to create a winning team, the groundwork has to be in place. Create your foundation, then you can build a team that has the resources to succeed.

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The 5-step guide to creating corporate team building ideas that actually work:

clock- How to Think Up Corporate Team Building Ideas DifferentlyStep 1: Step back

No matter how brilliant your team building activities are, if your employees are overloaded and burning out, no corporate team building ideas are going to help. Take a hard look at your business environment. Are people forever behind on their work? Do they come in sick? When was the last time you had an anonymous workplace engagement survey?

These are important questions to face. People need to have real work-life balance. They need to be able to achieve goals, feel productive, and feel valued. Once you establish the groundwork and create an environment where people have manageable projects, work reasonable hours, and get paid fairly for their work, you can move on to step two.

Step 2: Create the space

Step one only gets you set up. If you want this to work, you have to follow through. It’s great that you’re willing to accept that a happy, engaged team is essential. Now, what’s holding them back? How is corporate communication? Is there an identifiable business strategy that everyone is working toward? Is there too much top-down bureaucracy or too little management initiative?

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chart- How to Think Up Corporate Team Building Ideas DifferentlyStep 3: Set goals

You’ve gone through steps one and two. Your team is happy, engaged, healthy, and they enjoy coming to work. They know they can count on management to support them when they need it. They know there’s a strategy and they have the autonomy to make that strategy work. When you accomplish that, you’re well on your way to effective team building. That, however, brings up the question of what effective team building is? Only you can answer that question. But you’ll need one thing before you can get the answer: a goal.

Your goal for a team doesn’t need to be grand. A series of small individual steps gets you to the same place that one big step gets you. Think back to your high school research paper. First, you had to hand in a thesis statement, followed by an outline, then a bibliography, and so on. All these small, attainable goals led to the final project: a big ole research paper.

So what do you want your team to accomplish? Set a series of small goals to get there. Make sure your team has the tools and resources they need to do the job.

Step 4: Reassess regularly

You’ve already done the hard work. This part is simple. Go back to step one. Figure out what isn’t working and make adjustments. Is there still a problem with engagement? Is it the whole team or just one person? If it’s the entire team, you have some work to do. If it’s only one person… you still have some work to do, but your approach may be different.

things- How to Think Up Corporate Team Building Ideas DifferentlyStep 5: Have some fun

This is probably the step you came here looking for, and it is an important one. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” But you can’t skip the critical fact that no matter how fun a group activity might be, it doesn’t make up for a dysfunctional workplace. Of course, as a smart leader you already recognize that, and you’ve taken steps to make things better. Now it’s time to have some fun.

So, after all that, what are some corporate team building ideas that work?

Again, we can’t speak for everyone, but there are some nearly universal ways to show your team you care.

  1. Take everyone out for lunch once a quarter. A free meal is always appreciated. Just be sure to take into account any dietary preferences.
  2. Send your team gift cards, tickets to a concert, a bottle of wine, or a pound of coffee. Choose accordingly, and you can’t go wrong.
  3. Give your team the gift of time. Give your employees a block of time each month to volunteer, go to kids’ games, take a nap, or whatever else they want to do. It could be one 4-hour block, an hour a week, or any combination that works. This gift doesn’t cost anything, but the return is priceless.

Start building your social wall today. Post announcements—manually or on a schedule you define—and keep your team up to date on everything happening at your company.