From the Blog:

Team building activities for workplace productivity

How Out-of-Office Team Games Drive In-Office Innovation

Increasingly, large companies are providing child care services, painting graffiti murals on the office walls, stocking up on snacks, hiring buses to take people to work, and even letting employees buy massage credits. Companies invest in these perks because they know that making work more pleasant encourages employees to spend more time there. But there’s also growing evidence that quality interpersonal connections, not just trendy perks, are what help make work more enjoyable.

Friendships Make for Engaged Employees

Contrary to stereotypes about time wasted around the water cooler, multiple studies suggest that having friendships at work is desirable. Friendships can increase employee satisfaction as much as 50% and give a big boost to employee engagement: Gallup found that 55% of engaged employees “strongly agree” that their employer encourages friendships at work, compared with just 9% of actively disengaged employees. Another set of studies found “evidence that overall wellbeing (which social connections promote) is predictive of future employer outcomes related to health care, productivity, and retention.” Even among senior managers, “orientations in favor of workplace friendships are widespread, and many jurisdictions engage in efforts to promote them.”

Basically, friendships help people feel better and work harder. As Christine M. Riordan recently pointed out in the Harvard Business Review:

Camaraderie at work can create “esprit de corps,” which includes mutual respect, sense of identity, and admiration to push for hard work and outcomes. Many companies are engaging in corporate challenges, such as bike to work day, wellness competitions, community service events, and other activities to help build a sense of teamwork and togetherness.

Riordan hits on a key element of boosting employee friendships: encouraging interactions outside of the office. While workers tend to interact many times during an 8-, 10-, or even 12-hour workday, most of these encounters are professional, formal, even stiff. By creating opportunities for employees to associate in a less stressful, non-work environment, companies help workers build connections that go deeper than the standard org chart. This in turn can make employees happier, healthier, and more engaged at work.

And one critical point is that only intrinsically motivated, engaged and empowered people truly innovate. Innovation is a product of passion, people and the freedom to hone and iterate it with like-minded people.

In political scientist Robert Putnam’s argument in Bowling Alone: building personal connections gets people more active in their communities to. In large companies – cross-departmental trust can create and heal the connections required of large-scale projects. Perhaps an office bowling league is just what every company needs? (Limeade is launching both kickball and dodgeball teams this Fall).

Workouts Help Employees Engage and Innovate

Putnam has put together a list of 150 activities (in addition to bowling) that build social connections. The list includes “Organize a fitness/health group with your friends or co-workers,” and many organizations (including Limeade clients) have had success building workplace camaraderie by promoting physical activities outside the office. Jamba Juice not only sponsors lunchtime book clubs, but also organizes training groups for road races. They even give employees points and reward through their wellness program for participating in these culture-building activities. The rewards they offer are largely symbolic – recognition and “the blender”. (At Limeade we go with the lime green size 21 Nike shoe on your desk for the “Makes Others Great” award).

If employees can run a marathon together, just imagine how much they can achieve by collaborating on projects. We are even experimenting with sending whole teams away for a week to bond and innovate. Similarly, many Limeade clients – Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for example – give (or have employees compete for) fun pedometers and have them share their progress online.

Limeade research also reveals a strong statistical connection between measures like Work Meaning, Feeling Energized (at work) and Concern for Others and workforce productivity.

At Limeade, in addition to the standard and not always liver-friendly happy hours, we go on monthly company hikes, hold hack-a-thon innovation events, have high-five challenges, do mid-day planking and walking meetings and much more. These help us share ideas and build the bonds that foster real innovation. Our experience confirms the idea that out-of-office interactions make us work better together (and we think contributed to our recognition as a Top 5 Midsize Company to work for in Seattle).

What is your company doing to build social bonds between employees? What do you wish your company would do? We know you are asking yourself if you can afford the time, the league entry fees, the (usually cheap) rewards and the distraction? If you want to have a competitive, innovative, vibrant culture – can you afford not to?