Can Team-Building Increase Productivity in a Recession? Well, It Depends

Doug Staneart  |  October 23, 2022
last updated

Can Team Building Increase Productivity in a Recession Can team-building activities increase productivity in a recession? When the economy slows, company leaders have to be cautious with every expense. They often put off hiring new employees until more certainty develops.

When we do this, though, team members end up having to do more to make up for the lack of personnel. Eight-hour days may increase to nine or ten-hour days.

Interestingly, these strong team members will develop natural efficiencies. They’ll use creative thinking to figure out shortcuts. They’ll discover new methods for handling conflict resolution. People naturally find ways to get better results with less. But, eventually, there just aren’t enough hours in the day—even the most productive team will struggle.

When this happens, how do you keep morale high? How do you help your team members stay positive and forward-looking? As time goes on, morale can drop.

At this point, leaders will look for a fun way to boost employee morale. They may look into organizing a team-building activity. So, in this situation, can team building activities help increase productivity? Can we avoid the expense of adding new personnel?

Also, is this process more difficult in a down economy? The answer to that question is… “Well… It depends…”

Don’t Confuse “Morale Building Team Activities” with “Productivity Building Activities”

Don't Confuse Morale with Productivity Team Building is almost a generic term for both “morale building” and “productivity building” activities. But confusing the two can be a costly mistake.

Let’s first cover how these two types of activities differ.

By the way, each has a purpose. Each of these types of events should be used to build high-performing teams. The problem occurs when leaders want to improve productivity but schedule a morale-building activity, instead.

Although people will often call both of these types of activities “team building,” the activities themselves get totally different results. Both are needed to create a close-knit team. But quite often, leaders will schedule one type of activity, hoping to get the needed result from the other. They will often be sorely disappointed.

Morale-Building Team Activities Are Best for a Reward or to Build Camaraderie

Morale-building activities are designed to create a positive impact. They can include anything that adds fun to the workplace. The team may just go out to lunch together or schedule a happy hour. Or, you might schedule an office holiday party. These team activities also include entertainment-style activities at regular meetings.

Each of these items provide an excellent opportunity to create a shared experience that builds temporary camaraderie. They also provide a fun relief to the normal day-to-day rat race.

Productivity will often improve (sometimes dramatically) when morale improves. However, an increase in morale doesn’t always improve employee productivity

For instance, a manager may give the entire team the whole week off. Morale would skyrocket! But productivity would drop to zero for the week.

Morale-building activities like team outings and parties are important, but they can’t entirely replace work-related events and activities.

Morale-Building Activities Have Fantastic Temporary Results

Charity team events at annual meetings can be a great way to improve morale. These team-building exercises can combine a few nice results. First, they can generate great public relations without increasing the meeting cost. Also, if they are organized well, you can also boost morale and add some fun.

For instance, most conventions are going to have some type of entertainment. If nothing else, you will probably schedule a company outing of some kind. Instead of taking everyone to a ballgame, many companies opt for a charity bike build.

Or they might organize a team obstacle course to create gift boxes for soldiers.

When team members participate in an event like this, they build camaraderie. They see their coworkers in a different light. However, the drawback is that the team atmosphere created can be temporary. Morale has to be nourished every day.

If you just do one fun activity a year and nothing else, you may get negative results. As a result, you’ll want to schedule activities like this regularly. You will want the individual team members get to interact with each other in a fun way to build camaraderie.

For instance, let’s say you are a healthy person who eats well every day. Then, you have a fantastic three-course meal with your family and friends. That meal will be memorable. You will create an experience. However, if you are hungry every day and have the same meal, the next day, you will be hungry again.

Your team has to be nourished consistently, too.

Productivity-Building Team Activities Help Teams Build Skills

In addition to building morale, a team also needs to develop new skills in order to keep them productive.

Productivity-building activities are training or innovations that help teams do more with less. This may be as simple as investing in better tools. In other cases, sometimes we have to stop and sharpen the axe.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”

Here is an example. Our instructors sometimes travel two or more times per week. As a result, we may miss getting the best-priced travel fees. By the time we get back to the office from our current trip, it may be too late to get the best price for the next trip. And, on the road, we may be operating from our phones versus from a computer.

To fix this, we just added an automated report in our CRM. The moment an instructor gets a new assignment, they get an automated notification. The notification has the date, times, location, etc., for the event. The report saves each instructor time and effort. He/she also has the option to forward the report to one of our admins, who can make arrangements for them.

This solution increased our productivity and decreased our costs.

Build Teams by Helping Team Members Develop Skills Together.

A mentor of mine told me that “You can’t build a team by training individuals. You build a team by training individuals together.” I didn’t really understand the power of this advice until I started my own business. But I understand it more and more as my company grows and grows.

For instance, many companies offer tuition assistance for their employees. This seems like a good investment. However, what often happens is that a company will invest a ton of money into the development of an employee. Then, the person leaves the company and starts working for a competitor. This happens because the individual employees are meeting their personal goals and growing, but the team as a whole remains stagnant.

However, if the entire team grows, they feel like they are a part of something bigger.

For instance, Apple decided to eliminate cash registers in their Apple Stores. Any employee in the store can use their smartphones to ring-up items for purchases. Apple is doing something that no one else is doing. So, their employees who have been trained in this new technology feel like they are a part of an elite group. They are different from other retail stores.

Whether they are or not doesn’t really matter. The team believes that they are ahead of the curve. Customers can go to any Apple employee and, within seconds, create a purchase. They send the receipt to the customer via email. And the customer can be on their way quickly and efficiently.

Productivity goes up. Costs decrease and profit increases. And as a bonus, the employees feel more of a team atmosphere.

“Soft-Skills” Team-Building Training Builds Both Morale and Team Skills

However, there is another type of team building exercises that often gets overlooked. “Soft Skills” training helps teams build morale while also developing skills to reach higher productivity.

For instance, we did a combo program for NASA a couple weeks ago. The group has team members in Florida, Houston, and California. During the pandemic, many new team members in other parts of the world as well. So, the session we did for them had two parts:

First, we did a fun and interactive communication training session. Classroom training is often boring. But if you add fun activities along the way, participants begin to laugh and enjoy working with each other. People learn faster when they are having fun tackling new challenges together.

Then, we added a fun game to the end of the meeting. This created a positive environment, giving them a chance to cut loose, open the path to improving interpersonal relationships, and to end the meeting on an emotional note. It was the perfect opportunity to drive employee engagement and positive reinforcement.

As the team members boarded planes to go back home, they were probably thinking something like, “It is so nice to work for an organization who believes in their team. And at the same time, gives back to others in need.”

They created a Win-Win-Win scenario.

What Are Soft-Skills And How Do They Improve Productivity?

Hard-skills are essential to doing individual jobs within a company. For example, hard skills for an engineer might be calculus and physics.

Soft-skills are skills that improve productivity no matter what specific role a person has within an organization. They include communication skills, presentation skills, persuasion, and leadership skills. And, often times, soft-skills double as an excellent way to improve an employee’s ability to work in large groups.

If you aren’t an engineer, you may have little use for calculus or physics. However, no matter what role you have, the better you communicate the more successful you will likely be.

When teams train together in these soft-skill areas, they often develop a team culture. Just like with the Apple technology, team members become engaged employees because they feel like they are a part of a unique group. Their elite team is different from most organizations (because most organizations don’t train this way).

For example, a commercial construction company hired me to help them deliver high-level sales presentations better. When they competed for a big project, they often had do a presentation for the buyers. We conducted a series of presentation skills classes with the teams of presenters.

Because they trained together, they developed a team culture that showed up when they presented together. Quite often, at the end of their presentations, the buyers would say, “We chose this group because they just seemed to work very well together.”

The team culture showed because the individuals within the group had been trained in soft skills together. They saw themselves as having an advantage over other presenters (and they had one.)

Can Team-Building Increase Productivity in Your Team?

Presentation skills, people skills, coaching, mentoring, and other soft-skills training can really help your employees become a successful team. The team members just need to go through the right team building activities together as a team.

So, if your budget won’t allow you to hire new personnel right away, try training your current team. As your team becomes more productive, profit will grow. Then, you’ll be able to expand as the economy improves.

I remember my college football coach telling us, “You don’t fight for records or awards. You fight for the guy who is next to you in the trenches.”

Create a team culture so that every team member is fighting for their coworkers in the trenches. When you do, you will be able to move quickly as things improve in the marketplace.

author Doug Staneart
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Doug Staneart is president of The Leader's Institute ®. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Region. He is a specialist in corporate team building activities and custom presentation skills seminars.
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