The Serious Fun of Shared Experiences

If you’ve ever doubted the value of a team-building exercise, give yourself a slap on the wrist. Give yourself two slaps if you thought the activity was downright lame.

Even though it may not have felt like it at the time, making the effort to build strong workplace teams is one of the most important investments that an organization can make. When done well, team building creates a strong bond between team members that builds trust, reduces conflict, encourages communication, increases collaboration, and creates more engaged employees. And, all these things are good for business.

If bonding with coworkers has positive business outcomes, why do team-building exercises always feel so forced and unrewarding? Perhaps its because they aren’t focused closely enough on the power of shared experiences.

Two Yale University studies set out to understand the power of shared experiences. In the first study, two participants tasted sweet chocolate. Researchers found that the participants judged the chocolate to be more likeable when they tasted it at the same time when compared to tasting it when the other participant was present but engaged in a different activity. The good taste was amplified because the experience was shared.

In the second study, bitter chocolate was substituted. As expected, the participants found the chocolate to be less likeable when they tasted it simultaneously compared to tasting it when the other participant was present but engaged in a different activity. In this case, the bad taste was amplified because the experience was shared.

This research supports what we instinctively know. Shared experiences are powerful building blocks for the construction of strong bonds between individuals. And, it’s those bonds that create high-performing teams.

Working as Serious Fun

If we do what we love, then we’ll never work a day in our lives. Right? Wrong. It doesn’t matter how much you love what you do, there are aspects of what you do that you don’t love so much. And, it’s those aspects that may cause the cohesiveness of your team to suffer.

Imagine you’re a dog lover who works for a nonprofit that rescues racing dogs and finds them good homes. Without a doubt, the bulk of your day will be satisfying. Still, there are tasks that can be downright distasteful. Cleaning out the dog pens is one of those distasteful tasks. One day, you slip and fall on a huge “pile.” Some coworkers rush over to help but they slip and join you on the pile. The collective laughter could be heard from a mile away. Some serious bonding took place on that pile. And, it couldn’t have been scripted any better.

Playing as Serious Fun

Good managers will always try to come up with ways for their team to have fun. It’s important to play. When we were kids, play allowed us to use our creativity and imagination while developing our cognitive and emotional strength. Playing as adults serves much the same function. It relaxes us, stimulates our imagination, and helps us think of creative solutions.

When managers bring constructive play into the office environment, they can create opportunities for powerful bonding. In a sense, this is what those horrid team-building exercises were supposed to be about. But they missed the mark. What might work in your office space is a pinball machine that stimulates friendly competition. Or, perhaps start a corporate kickball league. The point is to have activities that allow for fun to emerge on its own. The bonding will follow.

Eating as Serious Fun

Do you remember the last great dinner party you attended? It was the one where the food was so delicious that you thought you would never stop eating. The host was at the top of their game. Everyone seemed to have such interesting things to say, and they all thought you were interesting too. You didn’t want it to end.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that perfect. Still, it’s likely that you found one or two people there with whom you could have a meaningful conversation. Your positive experience was less about you and the partygoers than it was about the food. Yes, you had a great time because of the food.

Sharing food has a way of opening us up, making us willing to share our thoughts and feelings. You can get the same effect in the office by hosting a pot-luck lunch. Or, you can get the same effect every day when you provide your employees with daily lunches. Instead of eating alone at their desks, or venturing out to fast-food restaurants, your employees can share a space where they can enjoy their food and each other’s company.

Whether your team is working, playing, or even eating, they can enjoy serious fun that brings them closer together.