The Team That Volunteers Together Stays Together: Why Volunteer Projects Build Stronger, More Productive Teams

For many teams, nothing strikes fear into their hearts more than the words “team building exercise.” For most people, this conjures up images of embarrassing and frustrating games in which one has to determine which animal they are most like or construct elaborate structures from nothing more than drinking draws and paperclips.

Team exercises can be useful, if they are relevant and fulfilling, while also encouraging teamwork, creativity, and confidence. After all, highly functioning teams are those that can work together toward a common goal and communicate effectively, and a well-designed team building experience zeroes in on those skills. However, a well-designed team activity should also create a shared experience, something that team members can learn from and draw upon when working on projects, and that creates a bond that extends beyond the office.

While games and challenges can fulfill some of these roles, one of the most productive and meaningful teambuilding exercises has nothing to do with guessing games or art supplies, and instead has to do with making a difference outside of the office. Team volunteering projects have been proven to create stronger, more productive teams — not to mention, they serve a valuable purpose in the community. 

How Volunteering Creates Stronger Teams

When most of us go to work, we fulfill our roles, both in terms of the work we do and the “role” we play in the office. Most teams have the comedian, the parental figure, the leader, etc. These roles are determined by our behavior in the office, and may or may not accurately reflect our personalities outside of work.

By taking the team out of the office environment and giving them new roles to fulfill, though, team members can start to see each other in a different light. Instead of falling into the normal patterns of behavior and interaction, working somewhere else toward a different goal “shifts the script,” and forces people outside of their comfort zones. In addition, research suggests that moving the team outside of the office helps them “recover” from their work, and in most cases, teams return energized and focused on their jobs. 

Some of the new energy that volunteering creates may stem from the fact that giving back has been proven to be good for your health. A study by the UnitedHealth Group found that about 94 percent of volunteers reported that volunteering improved their mood. Almost 80 percent report that volunteering reduces stress, and about three-quarters of the respondents reported better health because of their volunteer efforts. For an employer, a team of happy, healthy, and stress-free workers is the ideal scenario.

Also ideal? The branding benefits that can come from volunteering. When a company sends out teams of volunteers to work in the community, they help foster more positive public perceptions and a better reputation in the community. Not only does that contribute to brand value, it also improves the company’s ability to attract and retain top talent. People want to work for a company that allows them to do meaningful work, both in and out of the office.

Planning a Volunteer Outing

Volunteers on StreetThe key to a successful team volunteering effort is allowing the team to design the experience themselves. One of the major issues with traditional team building activities is that participants are usually forced to complete activities or challenges that they feel uncomfortable with or do not understand. Many people would rather be back at their desks working than completely an exercise that appears to have little to no value. 

For that reason, it’s important to get team input into the volunteer experience. Allow the team to decide on their own how they would like to give back, and devise the parameters of the project. As they set priorities, determine roles, and assess the resources, they will be building their skills in a more organic way — and when they actually work together and see their efforts come to fruition, they will gain an even greater sense of accomplishment and confidence than they would from any other exercise.

Incorporating volunteer projects into your team building strategies is an effective way to increase satisfaction and have fun while creating a more cohesive unit. Whether the team spends the day rehabilitating a neglected park, building a house for a low-income family, participating in a walkathon, or performing some other type of work, the memories, and the relationships that come out of the experience will positively influence your team’s work going forward.