Developing and sustaining effective team dynamics requires effort and focus, and team volunteering can play a part in helping to build those dynamics. Essentially teams are brought together to get things done, with the logic that more gets done together, than alone. However, that benefit is only achieved when the team knows how to best work together. Effective leaders know it's critical to create a working environment which facilitates that - so the team makes progress on the right things, at the right time.
Underpinning that environment are two key ingredients - trust and understanding the strengths and skills each team member brings to the team.
The leader will usually know the skills and capability of each team member. However, often team members don't have the same level of understanding. This may be because two teams have recently been merged and so relationships are still being formed, or because effort hasn't been devoted to building that understanding.
Regardless of the reason, this ambiguity breeds disengagement and distrust. It also means that team members can't leverage each other's skills as effectively because if you don't know what someone does, you don't know how they can help you (or vice versa).
Go outside the office
While there are a number of great ways to build team understanding and connection through structured team days and facilitated team sessions, getting outside the office and into a different environment plays a part too.
When team members come together to volunteer to help a not-for-profit or community group they are usually working in a more relaxed and less structured environment. This encourages banter, bonding and camaraderie, and the experiences from the day become shared stories that help to build the team's culture.
As well, it is an opportunity for team members to see each other working in a different context and applying different skills.
Improve employee well-being
In the 2017, Beyond Blue's State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia report painted a bleak picture of the state of Australian workplaces. One in five Australians (21%) took time off work in the prior 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy; and this statistic was more than twice as high (46%) amongst those who considered their workplace mentally unhealthy.
Volunteering provides a range of positive benefits at an individual level. This is because when a person helps someone it elevates how they feel about themselves, which in turn, aids their mental health and well-being.
A 2007 study, led by Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University found that givers (classified as people who give away either money or time) were 42% more likely than non-givers to say they were "very happy". Brooks' study also found that givers were 25% more likely to say they were "in excellent health".
Many Australians already regularly volunteer, with the 2016 Census showing that 19% of Australians (15 years and over) undertake voluntary work.
People prefer to work for organisations that play a positive role in the community. So not only does volunteering help to build the team's connections, elevate relationships and improve well-being, it also enhances the organisation's reputation. This enhanced reputation also makes it easier to attract and retain talent.
Tips to consider
When considering how to set up a volunteering activity in your team, it will help to keep the following points in mind:
- Make it meaningful - seek input from your team in terms of the type of team volunteering exercise they would like to be involved with. This activity may or may not connect with their work
- Be planned - there are a number of organisations that can help you find the volunteer activity that best suits your team. Make sure the day is scheduled and everyone in the team knows what they need to bring and how they will be involved.
- Get active - be ready to roll your sleeves up and get involved during your volunteer day. Make sure you and your team deliver the value that the organisation expects.
In the words of the Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, "What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good."
Volunteering is a great way to do some good for the community and your team.