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What are the benefits of team building?

Trust falls have fallen from favor, and skits are about as welcome at professional events as pink slips. In place of these old-fashioned offerings, sophisticated team building activities are as plentiful and variegated as toppings at Pinkberry. But what are you actually getting when you add a team building component to your event? (The answer is not “gummy bears.”)

Team building may take the guise of, for instance, a cell phone scavenger hunt, a game show, or an outdoor challenge course. But those descriptions don’t really convey the value. The benefit of team building – and we’re talking about something more focused and goal-oriented than simply a luncheon with bowling or an outing to a ball game – is a hands-on, engaging, interactive experience that is nothing short of transformative.

A much-linked to article on FastCompany quotes recent research from the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology. The article, titled “The Science of Why You Should Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things” compares and contrasts the happiness benefit derived from commodities (things) and actions (experiences). Despite the appearance of being ephemeral, science suggests that experiences such as travel or seeing a show manifest more long-term happiness than getting the newest doo-dad from fill-in-the-name-of-your-favorite-high-end-retailer-here-mine-is-Apple.

The reason is multi-fold, but one factor is adaptation, which has a diminishing effect on happiness. A new item, once you buy it, doesn’t remain new for long, and as it becomes part of the everyday, its novelty, and therefore its value, recedes. The team building equivalent here would be taking the team to lunch or the ballgame. It’s a nice idea, and it’s certainly fun in the moment, but if you’re hoping for long-lasting benefit to linger much past the dessert course or the last inning, you’re going to be disappointed.

By contrast, experiences – even those that are already in the past – maintain their robustness, and have more long-lingering effects on happiness, according to recent findings. Part of this has to do with a misconception about memory. Many people think of memory the way it’s portrayed in the popular summer movie “Inside Out,” namely that re-living a memory is like putting on a familiar video. In truth, each time you “re-play” a memory or experience in your mind, you transform it just by remembering it. Your memory is actually closer to a game of Telephone. Now while that means your memories lack journalistic authenticity (remember, eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable), the flip side is, the memory remains a dynamic, evolving part of your personal history.

To further enhance the positive, long-lasting benefits of their experiential purchases, many clients choose to combine their team building activities with CSR. Coming together with a common goal of giving back to the community adds a sense of personal satisfaction and beneficence alongside the other benefits of a team building game. Our company has worked with organizations like Boys and Girls Club of Burbank and Santa Monica Food Bank, acting as liaisons between the clients and the recipients of the do-goodery. In some instances, teams play an “Amazing Race” style challenge and collect items at each pit stop to be added to a backpack. At the game’s end, backpacks overflowing with school supplies and recreational items are donated to the chosen charity. The memory of sharing the items with the kids in need is a heart-warming experience that far outstrips the dollar amount of the pencils and stickers.

Experience-based communal memories make a lasting imprint on the brain. They transform for the better a group’s ability to co-operate, to brainstorm together, to work with collegiality, and to be willing to take risks or even to fail together. The return on investment is long lasting and, unlike Pinkberry, you don’t have to add Oreos to get people excited about it. Although sometimes we do it anyhow.

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