For employees in a small business, maintaining a state of perpetual youthful energy can be tough. Workers fixate on the duties of their “daily jobs” and easily lose the creative, adventurous perspective everyone possesses in their youth. The reasons are usually the same: They don’t have the time, they’re tired, they’re used to a no-nonsense approach in their workplace, and they’re stuck in this boring rut of monotony. Work isn’t fun; that’s reserved for vacations and weekends.
Why Ruts Hurt
Bored employees don’t help advance smaller businesses’ success; these companies have fewer resources, employees, and layers of expertise, making talent all the more necessary. Small offices must come together to cover many different areas, which requires teamwork, adaptable problem-solving, and an extensive knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
If you want that incessant youthful energy and adventure in your employees, you must give them the opportunity to rediscover themselves. Help them liberate their creative juices! Even better, give them the opportunity to share these experiences with their co-workers and colleagues so the trust they gain carries into work, allowing for a more comfortable and cooperative workplace.
How to Get Out of Ruts
I’ve taken teams of students from the University of Missouri’s Entrepreneurship Alliance out, away from the pressures of school, and engaged them in fun, adventurous activities with great success. Small businesses would benefit from this approach as well.
Where better to begin the trust than with ten unsure steps out of their comfort zones? Try activities that are only vaguely life-threatening, but get the adrenaline pumping and incorporate some risk: zip-lining, white water rafting, or alpine/rock-climbing. Giving employees the chance to be vulnerable with each other forces them away from the limitations of formality and into genuine cooperation.
These boundary-pushing trips isolate conflict and clarify goals so co-workers can really gel as a team. The challenges should be fun, non-confrontational, and all-inclusive. However, stick to activities that are widely accepted by the group and allow for escape; the point isn’t to highlight physical limitations, but to celebrate diversity within the team.
The most beneficial activities call for a good challenge; after they’ve completed a feat they’ve never even contemplated before, their self-confidence will grow. When faced with an obstacle at work, your employees will think, laughing, “Remember that time we built a raft in the middle of nowhere with just a hammer and a saw? Yeah, I think we can probably figure this one out.”
It’s a Win-Win for Your Team
While it’s hard to explicitly define what your employees will gain after jumping off high ledges together, here are a few things you could expect:
- A sense of teamwork and accountability,
- Improved interpersonal/communication skills,
- A deeper understanding of their co-workers,
- Creative problem-solving, and
- The natural development of “informal leaders.”
You might also find them recreating the team-building scavenger hunt on lunch breaks in the office, just for kicks!
While this sort of fun may be exactly what your business needs, it might be a bit beyond the reach of your budget. Contact a local university; see what resources they have available, talk to someone in their ROTC program, and ask if they have ideas or equipment you could rent for a day. Even the Boy Scouts might have valuable input on creating team-building fun.
You’ve taken your employees out for a long weekend and had them racing each other on obstacle courses, or building their own canoes and setting off down a river together. Now what? How do you keep the momentum, risk-taking, and creativity flowing in the office?
The adventures must continue! Schedule more periodic events; get them used to tackling conflict. Make sure they don’t lose the memories of their danger-filled accomplishments amidst the grind of the job; take millions of pictures and slip them into presentations, social media, and brochures. Keep a constant reminder running of the things you’ve accomplished together. You’ll find yourself thinking, “Who says work can’t be fun?”
Our “daily jobs” are important and necessary, but we can’t bring our best to them if we don’t take breaks and key in to the other parts that make us valuable individuals. Take your team out for some risk-taking and team-building – you’ll see a whole new side of them, and they’ll see a whole new side of themselves.
Dr. Greg Bier is a Professor of Management at the University of Missouri. He leads the newly formed Entrepreneurship Alliance at the University of Missouri University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business. He is also a partner with Entrepreneur MO (www.mo.com). Follow Greg on Twitter at @gregbier.