Team building or Rewards and Recognition?


As a consultant I frequently receive clients’ requests to facilitate Team Building and Employee Recognition events.  This process can be tricky.  Sometimes people think Team Building is the same as Rewards and Recognition. Or they want to achieve both goals in the same session. Although these types of events may look similar, the reality is:

  • they are two different types of interventions,
  • driven by different needs,
  • done in different ways,
  • and they produce different outcomes.

The success of Recognition events usually depend on the environment we have created in the organization. If people feel heard, and know that their input is valued, they will be more engaged. When the communication is transparent and flows in every direction, they will trust the leaders. In places where the leadership is present and trusted, employees will feel appreciated. If this is not the case, leaders should start by addressing teams and departments in small groups, as to really pay attention to what is happening.
Team Building, on the other hand, is a series of group sessions that works better after they group has worked on:

  1. Organizational Alignment (that allows the team to discuss and understand their purpose, among other topics)
  2. Strategic Planning (that will provide clarity on their goals)
  3. Organization Design (that includes usually a review of roles and responsibilities, as well as their processes)



Often, my clients ask me for fun activities. This request, again, raises a lot of questions in my mind. Do they want to actually learn something? Or do they want to just have a good time? Do they trust each other and trust the management team?

For sure, I know many games that can be debriefed or not, depending on the purpose. If employees have unresolved issues among themselves or with the management, no game is going to make them trust each other. If the leaders just want to “get together and have fun” employees will resent that they are not having significant conversations or working on something relevant.
In any case, regardless of the chosen activity, what makes team events successful is how it is framed and debriefed. If your employees don’t know each other and you want them to mix and mingle, that is what needs to be announced and done.


Some important considerations when designing any of these events:
-Where your employees are (team maturity), and what are the underlying issues they’re facing (especially if they had gone through a major transition)
-Aligning the purpose with the design of the session: if you want to recognize employees for their results, don’t do a learning session. If you want to build the team, allow them to discuss issues that are relevant to their performance
-The invitation: The way you invite them is the way they come, so if your invitation is unclear or boring, that is likely the way the event will develop


MIX AND MINGLE (they don’t know each other, there are very large teams, or there are periodical opportunities to get to know other employees)
-Team Olympics: Create groups from different teams and give them tasks to perform. Each task will win them points and they’ll get prizes at the end.
-Office Trivia: ask them for their pictures as babies or a mix of professional and personal information and ask people who they are.
-Office Bingo: give them a list of categories for them to get signatures (Who has 1 kid, who doesn’t have a Facebook account, who has ever been to Australia, etc)
-The Oscars (it also works for mix and mingle, if the categories are funny and from popular votes): With a bit of budget, create statuettes, trophies or awards and give them for the metrics or competencies you want to appreciate: Customer Service statistics, Sales, Attendance, etc.
-Mutating Trophy: start with a regular trophy and give it to the first person you want to recognize. This person will add something meaningful to the trophy, and pass it to another colleague they want to recognize. At the end of the year, gather the team and ask every person who won the trophy to share a bit about it.


-The topic and structure of a team building session depends on the Team Agreements you want to work on: Collaboration, Communication, Conflict Resolution, Decision Making, Leadership, etc. There are several books and blogs that can provide you with a game that will allow your team to experience a particular situation and debrief what it means for them and agree on how the team will incorporate this learning to their own work.  For ideas on Team Building games, visit our Pinterest page.