The Value of Team-Building Activities

Early in my career as a customer service leader, I worked for a company that had a tradition of ordering lunch for the entire office on Fridays. Those were great times and that custom remained a part of our culture for many years.

As the company grew and customer service got busier and busier, I decided to start shutting the phones off, sending callers to voicemail while we enjoyed our lunch together as a team. While this practice was popular with my team, it wasn’t quite as popular with company executives and customers. And eventually, it was squashed and the customer service team had to attend Friday lunch in shifts.

The Challenge

A team-building activity might include a social gathering to help team members build connections, a lunch, a party to celebrate a birthday, holiday, or another occasion, or a team-wide training. Often referred to as non-productive, or shrinkage time, arranging such events has proven to be a challenge for those of us working in the contact center.

Even on occasions where we split the team into multiple groups, we still face the challenge of finding the perfect window of time that has the least impact on customers. And even then, if call or email volume suddenly spikes, a wrench is thrown into the plan.

The Value

Sure it’s a struggle, but anyone running a contact center knows that it’s worth it. Here are just some of the benefits I’ve seen:

  • Build relationships – Critical to our ability to work together, relationships break down walls and create the trust necessary for success. In a busy contact center, it’s challenging to find this time otherwise.
  • Build connections across the organization – Allowing the different groups in your organization to intermingle, helps build understanding for the unique challenges each group faces. This paves the way for solving more complex, organization-wide problems.
  • Continuous training and improvement – When I talk about training, I’m talking both about job-related training as well as exercises, like Strengthsfinder, that focus on personal development.
  • Break up the monotony – For anyone who’s ever worked an 8-hour shift where they answered wall to wall phone calls, you know that even stepping away from the phones for a meeting can be a relief.
  • Boost employee engagement – A focus on individual and team development is an investment in employees, communicating to them that they have value.

Recreating Responsibly and Sustainably

In a contact center setting where customers aren’t going to magically stop contacting us, it requires some creativity to get the team together. Here are some things that have worked for me:

  1. Get together after hours – While people have lives outside of work, I’ve found that, on occasion, most people are more than willing to get together for dinner, drinks, and/or a fun activity after work. In a contact center, this is probably the best way to get everyone together.
  2. It’s OK to break up into groups – There’s still value in pulling groups of people off the contact center floor for an activity. This requires planning and commitment to align schedules and organize groups at times where everyone can be together.
  3. Set a purpose for the activity – If this is training, what skills should attendees be able to perform as a result? If it’s more of a social gathering, perhaps you play a game or do an icebreaker question to help everyone get to know each other as opposed to sitting around in a circle and waiting to see where the conversation leads.
  4. Contribute to your company mission – Especially when done during the workday, keep your company mission in mind. Are there structured activities you can do as a team to contribute to your mission? Is there a way your team can give back to the community in some meaningful way?

Finally, don’t give up hope. I’m reminded of the numerous occasions where one person took at call fifteen minutes before the activity only to have the call last an hour. Ugh! While it’s deflating, never stop making the effort to bring your team together and invest time and energy in their development.

This was my answer to the Customer Experience Question of the Day (#CXQOTD) for November 6. Take a moment to watch the video above and share how you prove the value of team-building activities in your organization. You can leave a comment below or respond to this thread on Twitter with the CXQOTD hashtag.

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Jeremy Watkin is Director of Customer Experience and Support at NumberBarn. He has more than 19 years of experience as a customer service and contact center professional leading high performing teams in the contact center. Jeremy has been recognized numerous times as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, product marketing, social media, and more. When not working you can typically find him spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis. Be sure to connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

One comment

  • Laurie A. Koppenaal

    Hi Jeremy,

    I worked as a CSR at a call center for a government contract for 10 years. Boy are you right about breaks from the phones being greatly appreciated. It is fast paced and at times can be crushing. We had quite a few nice activities, such as customer service week. At first I thought they were silly, but over time I went with the flow. It can be hard to get CSRs motivated for these things as we often switch into autopilot; burnout can also be a huge factor. I always felt however that rewards for teamwork were mostly appreciated. There were contests for best quality for one month, then highest volume of calls taken, and so on. Our supervisor would arrange for a 30 minute meeting and buy pizza or we would all do a potluck. This way it didn’t cut into calls to badly since it was prescheduled and other teams were still taking calls. Another big thing was customer accolades. If a caller asked to leave a positive review with a supervisor the call was pulled and monitored. If it was 100% perfect quality we received a ribbon to hang in our cubicle and a small bonus! I loved this one as did many others at the callcenter.

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