Having a cohesive team is crucial for any small business, but building one isn’t easy. Simply putting together a group of people is not “team building” — it takes specific actions and experiences to allow employees to come together into a unit. And as the person running the show, it’s up to you to know what those actions and experiences are.

Some team-building exercises are forced and counterproductive, leaving many employees frustrated. Other team-building techniques, however, are both enjoyable and effective.

Give up on the trust falls and the awkward question-and-answer games. Instead, go with these activities that actually help your employees form a real team.

1. Help the Community

Volunteering is a great way to build your team and benefit a worthy organization in your community. It also comes with a neat list of benefits: building interpersonal and communication skills as well as increasing overall purpose, life satisfaction, and health.

Working together on something meaningful outside of business gives your employees a shared cause, which creates instant common ground and takes away the awkwardness of forced small talk. To get started, contact non-profit organizations in your area and start creating opportunities for your team to volunteer.

2. Get Active

Physical activities come with their own set of health benefits, and they’re also a great way for your team to enjoy some downtime while also building rapport. Keep it casual and fun, focused on group participation rather than competition. Activities like hiking, biking, and canoeing are active and encourage participation without being overly competitive.

Be sensitive to physical limitations that might keep some of your employees from participating. A team-building exercise that excludes part of the team is missing the point. If you don’t know whether your team members have an issue with a particular activity they might want to keep private (such as not being able to swim), take a quick and anonymous poll of your people. Offer a list of options for team-building activities, including some that require more physical activity and some that are low-impact, such as bird-watching, nature walks, or attending a sporting event.

3. Learn Something Useful

For a team building technique to work, employees need to feel that their time isn’t being wasted. Tie team building into educational trips, events, or training opportunities that are beneficial on their own, so everyone can gain real knowledge and build skills while also bonding with each other.

You can seek out “field trips” connected to your line of work. That way, you help employees learn more about your products, services, customers, or industry: a marketing firm might visit a design show, or restaurant staff could visit local wineries. Other possibilities include business or industry conferences, professional development opportunities, and targeted in-house training.

4. Share Meals

Sharing a conversation over a meal is a time-honored, effective way to form bonds and strengthen relationships. There’s something very natural about the experience, since chatting during lunch is something we do so often anyway.

Employees who simply have their breaks at the same time build more camaraderie. You can encourage that by providing a shared lunch once a month, or hosting an occasional barbecue or dinner out.

Communication and rapport are essential ingredients for a team that works together well. The best way to build that rapport and encourage conversation is not with activities that focus directly on doing so, such as icebreakers and blindfolded courses. Instead, a sideways approach is more welcome and more effective. Choose activities that are enjoyable and valuable in and of themselves; your team will do the rest.

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