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Is your team-building ‘fun’ missing the point?

on Sunday, 09 September 2012. Posted in Teambuilding

team building fun at work

Looking to boost morale or reward staff with a Team Building event? Fun is no straight forward strategy and getting it right can be a serious business. In this article we discuss some elements that ensure your team building is on target.

How team-building can alienate staff

I was at dinner recently with a couple of friends and we got onto just this topic. My friends groaned at the idea of ‘Team Building’ – seeing it as an effort at imposed ‘fun’ from above. One friend had politely maneuvered out of her Christmas Party last year with the excuse of a ‘family event’ because she resented the pre-arranged games and quizzes that she would be made to participate in. ‘It is meant to be a thank-you for all the work I’d done – and then I am made to participate in a quiz! If it was free food and a bit of a chat, then that would be fine!’.

And, then the suggestion of the now well known pedometer challenge, got a big groan as another friend expressed a real aversion to ‘team games’. She’d much rather pick her own rewards in the workplace – ‘I’d love to do Pilates at lunch-time or something like that’.

Is it that my friends are really such cynical team players? Not necessarily, as one of these people loves to work in a close knit team. It seems that what they resent is the idea of ‘enforced fun’ i.e. fun dictated by someone else. In the situations we were discussing, they really didn’t feel comfortable, or able to be (or explore) who they really felt themselves to be.

Should work be a vehicle to self-actualization though? Well, yes and no. Sure, we are at work to do a job. But if as more and more research suggests, a sense of ease,fun and laughter in the workplace enhance productivity, then understanding what makes for true fun might be a useful thing.

Understanding ‘fun’ at work is a great start

The key to understanding what fun is, is to understand that we are all different and that fun is, to some extent, a very individual thing. Think of a time when you had a good deal of fun lately for instance. Were you at a party? Were you hang-gliding? Were you stamp-collecting? Were you playing rugby? Were you at a classical concert? Fun certainly means different things to different people. Perhaps the one thing that ‘fun’ means to all people, is that when we are having fun when we feel most relaxed and most ‘ourselves’.

How to use work fun appropriately in team-building

Because we have fun when we feel most ourselves, having fun as a team actually starts with the individual. In other words, if we want to have more fun at work, perhaps we need to bring the self we most like to work and share that person with others.

Sometimes we find it difficult to really be ourselves at work, because we tend to associate work with the drearier side of life and the less colorful side of our personality. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. We can ask ourselves, how can we take the ‘me’ that I really like more to work? It is amazing what a difference this can make.

I did just this in one academic role I held where I was feeling a bit like a fish out of water. I had been deliberately wearing bland, inconspicuous clothes to work to help me ‘fit in’. However, I found that this actually made me feel more alienated. So, I decided to wear clothes I really liked to work every day. And, you should have seen some of the students faces (I do like quirky clothes sometimes!). Actually, I think they were pleasantly surprised and importantly, I felt much more relaxed.

So, having more fun at work, definitely starts with the individual. However, there are certainly things that the team can do together, to build up a fun atmosphere.

Because fun is different for everyone, from a managers point of view, ‘Team Building’ and having fun together, should be about recognizing and affirming the differences in a team and finding ways to bridge these differences. Ask your staff to help you here!

What you will find most likely is that having fun together is really quite simple. One doesn’t necessarily need fancy equipment like pool tables or even wild days out together at Paintball or Outward Bound. These things can be great for some people in the team. Essentially however, the strength of a team and its ability to have fun together, is its ability to generate a positive, friendly and affirming atmosphere.

How to create effective team environments

Creating an affirming atmosphere and having fun together, can be as simple as celebrating each person’s birthday or finding creative ways to praise people or say thank you. There may be special days to celebrate - new staff days, April Fools Days etc. Meetings can be made positive and more light-hearted – forget apologies perhaps – start with the people who are there! There may be an opportunity to get in a Pilates instructor at lunch-time. Perhaps your team might like to set-up a fun committee and get real creative and crazy. But whatever ‘fun’ is, it is best if it comes from the team to some extent, because then the team has an investment in making fun work.

In a medium to large size company, a friendly, affirming, ‘fun’ team obviously operates most effectively within a positive, friendly and affirming company culture which has good processes in place to encourage feed-in from employees, reward and affirm good work. Importantly, staff often come to resent fun at work initiatives if they feel these and other key workplace concerns they may have, have been overlooked.

Conclusion – Work fun can bring a team together

To conclude, even though people’s definitions of fun differ, ironically, the great thing about having fun from a team building perspective, is that it also has the power to bring people together. While employees generally appreciate employers’ attempts to reward staff, fun imposed from ‘above’ can sometimes alienate staff. The fun that grows both organically and deliberately out of a supportive work environment, can on the other hand, have enduring value.


Dr Kathryn Owler, Director of


Owler, K., Morrison, R. & B. Plester. 2010. ‘Does Fun Work? The Complexity of Promoting Fun at Work’, Journal of Management & Organisation, 16(3):338-352.

Owler, K. 2008. ‘Fun at Work: Fad or Serious Business’. New Zealand Management Magazine, April: 40-42.

Tips, training and resources

Staff training: Training for staff can motivating and help staff know that you care. Joyworkz offer a range of workplace wellness seminars such as Effective Strategies to Enjoy Your Work that assist staff to be healthy and happy at work.

A wellness programme: This has the added advantage of providing a workplace with an array of team building activities that are known to contribute to employee motivation and loyalty. If you need help getting started, consider Joyworkz SimplyWell™ package, which takes the stress out of designing a workplace wellness programme.

Fun at work books: There are a range of good books available on promoting fun in the workplace. David Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes are well known authors. Dr Kathryn Owler, director of Joyworkz and local author, has also written Fun at Work: A journey of acceptance, joy and true meaning, a refreshing read for anyone seeking more fun at and enjoyment at work.

Visual prompts: Visual prompts in the workplace can be useful. For instance, the free Alsco Heart Health Poster encourages staff to have a good laugh at work.

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