Bringing staff back together for group gatherings is a universal ritual of the back-to-school season. Inservices and team meetings provide a means to distribute new procedural information, set the cultural tone for the year, and build and strengthen relationships among staff. The words “team building activity” often elicit rolled eyes and groans. Still, when done well, these activities can be the scaffolding upon which a strong, resilient, dynamic, successful team is built. Good team-building exercises are, in fact, an evidence-based practice for creating and nurturing collaborative, effective teams. Research shows that they can have long-term positive effects on employee morale and retention and that team building positively impacts all team outcomes. So, how do you plan team-building activities that won’t make your special education team run for the hills? Here are five back-to-school team-building don’ts:
Don’t go into it without a clear objective
The idea of team building is a good one, but it’s also a vast one. Narrow your focus to hone in on what specific aspect of your team’s dynamics you’d like to strengthen. Are there lots of new hires this school year? Then perhaps getting acquainted and establishing connections is a good goal for you. Was last spring super rough, and morale needs a big boost? Then focusing on raising enthusiasm might be a good idea. Determining the outcome you want will help guide the type of activities you choose.
Don’t do the same activities you’ve always done
And speaking of activities, nothing is more certain to make everyone feel like the activity is a waste of time than doing one that’s been done a million times before. This excellent list from Wrike has 21 team-building activities organized by what type of goal they’re suitable for, supplies needed, and instructions. Is your objective team bonding? How about creating a team coat of arms? Do you want to focus on communication? A game of Salt and Pepper or a scavenger hunt might be perfect!
Don’t make it too serious
Regardless of your objective, one of the critical elements of any successful team-building activity is having a little fun. Stay away from asking staff to share personal information that might make them or others uncomfortable and instead keep the mood light and playful. It’s on you, the team leader, to set the tone, so save the reflective chat for a debrief when it’s over and encourage some silliness and laughing while the activity is underway.
Don’t assume everyone loved it
It takes a lot of work to think about, plan, organize, and execute any group activity. It can be easy to lose our perspective and objectivity when we’ve spent time and energy on a project, and we’re more likely to believe it was a success because we so desperately want it to be a success. Don’t fall into this trap! You set your objective before the activity, now take the time to ask for feedback from your team as it pertains to your goals. No need to over-complicate, just a quick little survey sent the next day or even a sticky note with a 1-5 ranking that everyone can turn in at the end of the day. What’s important is that you learn whether what you did worked so you can use that information to improve in the future.
Don’t stop at the end of the event
Team building goes on all year. While the first 30 days can be a crucial time for retention of new staff (see more of our thoughts on that here), think about how you can carry your activities forward throughout the year and sketch those into your calendar now. Did you have a paper plane contest? Think about ideas like putting paper planes with notes of appreciation on their wings in staff mailboxes throughout the year, sending a monthly email with instructions on how to make a different paper plane each month, or recognizing a Pilot of the Quarter for staff who are demonstrating the traits you want to encourage (innovation, perseverance, etc.). Your team will know that the activities you chose for them were meaningful and, most importantly, weren’t a waste of their time.
Investing time in your team now will pay dividends for the rest of the school year, so get out there and team build like the super administrator you are!
This post was originally published 9/05/2022 and most recently updated 8/115/2023