Just recently, I wrote a different kind of article than what normally appears here on Step By Step Fundraising. It was an actual personal experience I had while leading a group of non-profit professionals through a day of team-building activities. The discoveries we made that day about the group were surprising and dramatic to me. If you have not read this piece yet, I suggest you click on over to see what I’m talking about.

In many ways, I think that article alone is reason enough for you to book a team-building retreat with your non-profit staff right now, but there are plenty more. I have been a professional team-building facilitator for 13 years now, and I have seen literally thousands of people benefit from the time they’ve spent working with their colleagues on their communication and team-work skills.

Here are a few of the many reasons I think a team-building retreat can benefit your non-profit staff:

1. The first reason I suggest that you take your staff through a team-building experience is that most people are not great communicators. That’s not to say you have rotten people working for you, but effective communication is really hard. There are so many things that get in the way of two people talking to each other with openness, respect, and honesty. It’s no wonder that there is so much work-place drama in our society. Therefore, people have to be taught and continually reminded how to treat each other so that hurt feelings don’t get in the way of your organization’s mission. That’s what a team-building retreat can do.

What a team-building facilitator does to achieve this is put a group in a completely unexpected scenario, such as having to form a near-perfect square with a 50 foot long length of rope while everyone is blindfolded. Obviously, this situation would never occur in the real-world setting of a non-profit. However, all of the skills required to accomplish this absurd task are required of your staff everyday, such as listening to one another respectfully, being creative, solving problems, dealing with stress, speaking up, and being safe with each other- physically and emotionally. But, because the skills are being applied to something the group has never done together before, everything seems new and can be viewed in stark relief afterward.

Therefore, if someone is clearly impatient with someone else at the retreat, it is much more evident than it would be during day-to-day interactions. If someone uses humor in a hurtful manner, it really sticks out like a sore thumb in this new environment. On the flip side, if somebody is really encouraging to someone else during  a challenging situation, everybody notices that support. If a person comes up with a creative solution to a problem that was stumping the whole group there is suddenly new respect for that person.

Once the group can see what it is doing well and what problems are bringing them down, they can start to work on real-word solutions to those problems. The team-building facilitator’s job is to put the group in situations where they can see the things they need to work on themselves.

2. The second way a team-building retreat can benefit your non-profit staff is that you are providing them with a shared experience outside of work. Just like a field trip from way back in elementary school, it’s always exciting to break the routine. As adults, routines can be very counter-productive to us. We get used to doing the same thing day in and day out, and we forget that we are creative individuals. We lower our expectations when we are in a rut, and our productivity declines. Overall, we’re just not as happy where we are living our lives by routine.

Now some people would say that they like routines. Routines are predictable and safe. I don’t know, that seems like a pretty poor argument to me. I’ve run non-profit groups before, and I wouldn’t want my employees to embrace a routine, just because they are scared of the unknown.

Therefore, I believe that packing up and going to a retreat center for a day of team-building activities, which by and large are a lot of fun, is very healthy for everyone in your group.

But, of course, this “shake up” can be scary to many people. I can see it on their faces and hear it in their early comments. It takes a few minutes to get them warmed up physically and loosened up mentally. But it always happens. There are literally hundreds of different ice-breaking activities, so there is something to fit every kind of group.

I’ve seen dozens of people, usually men, who come into the facility with a scowl on their faces and they keep looking at their watches, letting me know that they have other, more important places to be. But not a single one of these guys have stayed that way very long. Once we get them to crack just a little smile, they warm right up to what we’re doing.

Even if this “field trip” is all that you got out of the expense of a team-building retreat, it would be worth it to shake your staff up a little bit. The end result will be workers who are more alive, more creative, and less scared of the curveballs life throws at us.

To be continued.

For the next part in this series on team-building, please check back here soon.

Photo by: michaelcardus

Posted on 25 January 2011

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