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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Team Building: How Corporations Can Learn from Athletes


Companies and athletes mostly work in teams, and the challenge to develop a cohesive unit might be equal for both. In line with this, both office managers and sports coaches would run team-building activities to boost team morale, engagement and communication. But which aspects of athletic team-building could be applied in the corporate setting?


Sports teams hold team-building activities a lot more often than corporate teams. This can be due to the differences in the work they do, but office teams may benefit from team-building activities that are more often than annual. The activities may not be extensive, anyway.

You can hold brief indoor activities for a team every week or every fortnight that last around an hour or so. This way, employees can have a regular recreational break and something to look forward to at the workplace.

However, the frequency required for your team-building activities would still depend on several factors, including the workload, your team-building goals, and how often the teams have new hires.

Progressive planning

Most athletic teams plan their team-building sessions in a progressive manner. They build each challenge on the next and organise it around key themes that are tailored for their teams. To improve communication among members, for example, the session may include setting up teams with various combinations of players taking leadership roles.

The team-building session also needs to include progressions beyond its thematic focus. Consider progressing from individual and partner challenges, to small group activities and, eventually, to cooperative exercises for the entire team. You may also employ a continuum from simple tasks with fewer rules to more complex ones.

Starting with the “Ice Breaker”

Athletic team-buildings are akin to practice sessions where they begin with a proper warm up. For corporate teams, this means conducting an ice breaker to prepare them for the activities ahead. These can be simple experiences that allow members to go from work mode to competitive mode and onto a relaxed spirit of engagement.

Laying down the rules

Give the ground rules to your team after the ice breaker, including the goals for the activity. Let them know that, as they have fun and enjoy themselves, the activity explores a deeper meaning and purpose that is applicable to the team’s dynamics, and that there is a lesson to be addressed at the end of the session. Depending on the activity you have in mind, you may prepare small rewards or trophy alternatives to encourage engagement.

The debriefing

Many team leaders tend to focus almost exclusively on the activities themselves and forget about the debriefing at the end. Here, the lessons extracted from the activities are explored and the team members’ opinions are addressed. This might be more important than the activities, since it can allow team leaders to learn more about their members, and increase their skills in leading activities and in discussing their value, use and application for the team.


Coaches follow up team-building events by making sure players apply the sessions’ themes when playing the sport itself. For office team leaders, this can mean emphasising the lessons from the team-building exercises even as they work. The lessons need to be constantly revisited and not simply left at the team-building session.

There can be useful lessons from other disciplines that can be applied to the workplace, like the team-building practices of athletes. These team building activities do not only keep employees motivated and engaged, they can also translate to improved employee retention strategies.

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