Using Team-Building Exercises to Achieve Business Success

his author’s company developed what it called ‘The Puzzle.’ This team building exercise was used to help the business set and attain its goals.

Every company has goals, but does every employee know what they are? More importantly, do they know how to measure and attain them? It is easy to determine the top-level goals, but it can be challenging to make sure every employee can state what they are at any moment of the day. It is also difficult to create measurable sub-goals that allow employees to actively contribute towards accomplishing the company’s top-level goals. The hardest part is figuring out how employees can be motivated to want to reach them.

It goes without saying, the industry is extremely seasonal. Once spring arrives, everyone works like crazy until the ground freezes (depending on where they are located, of course). As a result, it becomes difficult to keep everyone focused on the top-level goals. That said, if an employer gets creative, they can find a way.

For instance, it took this author’s company five months to develop a system that ultimately worked. Even if a business is not able to create a detailed plan before the season kicks into high gear, it is important to at least consider starting the process to ensure all employees remain focused on the goals when it gets busy in the summer.

The goals

First and foremost, it is important to be able to articulate the company’s top-level goals. Owners instinctively keep them at the forefront of their mind at all times. The question is, however, can all employees articulate a company’s top goals? For some businesses, the answer to this question is “probably not.”

In most cases, employees cannot communicate what they are about because many business owners have not taken the time to disclose them. Therefore, the first step is making sure everyone is on the same page. This can be achieved by taking the time to write down and formalize what the company’s top-level goals are for the next season. Then, make them official by sharing them with everyone in the company—whether there are five or 50 employees. It is surprising how empowering it can be when everyone is aware of what the company wants to achieve.

This formal process can include a short, once-a-month, company-wide meeting. Start the first meeting by asking everyone if they know what goals have been set. In some cases, it is likely the majority of employees will not be able to state all of the top goals. Therefore, making everyone cognizant of them is the first important step. In fact, it should be one of the company’s initial goals, as it is easy to measure and is attainable by all employees. Repeating the top goals at each subsequent meeting will likely make it clear to all employees by the third such gathering.

That said, being able to restate the company’s goals is not the same as knowing how to attain them. Therefore, the next challenge is to empower managers or lead employees to create sub-goals that allow each department to reach company targets. These sub-goals should be more tangible and attainable for each team member on a day-to-day basis. For example, if the goal is to improve customer service, the sub-goal for a retail store might be to answer all phone calls by the second ring, or not to put a customer on hold for more than one minute. For a service department, the sub-goal might be to fix every service request on the first visit for two straight weeks.

It is important to allow the management team to develop these sub-goals and to come up with reasonable and simple ways to measure them. Time should be taken to prioritize the sub-goals to narrow them down, as it is important to keep them specific. In fact, it is better to have fewer sub-goals to ensure the program is successful—especially in the first season.

The next challenge is creating a system to keep the sub-goals at the forefront of everyone’s mind and using rewards to motivate each team member. For this author’s company, this led to the creation of ‘The Puzzle.’ This team building strategy was developed as a way for the company to set and attain its goals.

The Puzzle

The word ‘puzzle’ has two meanings: to feel confused because one cannot understand or make sense of something, and a game designed to amuse by presenting difficulties to be solved by ingenuity or patient effort, to test ingenuity or knowledge. This is exactly what pool and spa businesses are confronted with every season. In some cases, employees may be confused or cannot understand how to achieve their company’s top goals, but they want to figure out how to succeed in a seasonable business. They also want to accomplish company objectives even when the days are long and busy. The challenge is to stay focused on the company’s goals even during the peak of the summer season when it feels difficult to step back and look at the big picture. Owners want employees to feel integral to the businesses’ success. They want employees to know they belong to a team and will be rewarded for helping the business attain its goals.

For this author’s company, the answer to this puzzle was, in fact, creating a physical one—a large, tangible puzzle, or ‘big picture,’ that everyone could see on a daily basis throughout the busy season. The puzzle, which is approximately 1.5 m tall x 3 m wide (5 ft tall x 10 ft wide), was built on wheels so it could be easily moved around the building, allowing every employee to see the ‘big picture.’

Thirty-two sub-goals were developed and turned into cardboard puzzle pieces. When any sub-goal was completed, one of the company’s top-level goals would also be achieved. To motivate everyone and keep the goals top-of-mind throughout the busy season, the author’s company awarded monthly prizes for each goal that was attained as everyone worked towards completing all 32 sub-goals. The prizes corresponded with the goal that was written behind each sub-goal puzzle piece.

Everyone’s success is to the greater good
‘The Puzzle’, which was used as a team building system by this author’s company, provides a practical framework that motivates employees to actively engage in achieving important goals during the busy summer period. Despite how frantic the summer may seem for some businesses in the pool and hot tub industry, it should be remembered this trade also has the luxury of having an off-season. This is the perfect time of year to reflect on what did and did not work during the previous season, as well as how the company’s goals need to evolve. The off-season should be used wisely to set goals that can be attained. It is important to sit down and evaluate the season immediately after Labor Day when it is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Get the entire team to jot down what went well, what did not, and what they think the goals should be for the following season.

‘The Puzzle’ worked for this author’s company, and hopefully, it can be used by other pool and hot tub businesses as a way to achieve goals while working hard during the hectic season. Businesses should use the entrepreneurial spirit that transcends through the pool and hot tub industry’s retailers, builders, and service professionals to their advantage. In the first year of using this team building system, this author’s company sub-goals ranged from adding 50 new customers to shipping all of its orders in less than 48 hours for 30 straight days—from order placement to loading the product on the truck. The team also decided it was important to create goals that fell under the ‘company enjoyment’ category. These are fun goals that make it enjoyable for employees to come to work each day (e.g. successfully tossing a beanbag through a target on a board). The prize for this particular sub-goal was the employee’s chance to have his/her name pulled from a hat to create a personalized target. This comprised laminating a photo of the employee on the board.

To make the process easier, it is helpful to assign an owner to each sub-goal. This person becomes the one in charge of not only achieving a particular sub-goal but also determining how to measure it and report on its status at every company meeting. Once a sub-goal is completed, the owner is also in charge of presenting to the team how it was achieved and what means were used to track it. Most importantly, the owner then has the pleasure of pulling off the sub-goal puzzle piece and replacing it with a ‘prize’ piece that has a value worthy of the accomplishment.

The company’s finance department suggested some gift card rewards, too. However, rather than just handing over an envelope with a gift card, it was made to be more entertaining. In this case, the gift cards were stuffed into balloons, which required employees to pop them to get the prize. The main objective of the pool and hot tub industry is delivering fun, relaxation, and quality time with family and friends. Therefore, weaving this experience into daily fun at work was essential to keeping employees motivated—whether they are manufacturing pool covers, selling hot tubs and chemicals, or keeping pools clean.

The results

In the end, the employees at this author’s company were able to accomplish more than 80 percent of the 32-puzzle pieces in the first year. The business also achieved its top-level goals in the process. The company and its employees entered this challenge because teamwork is vital to success. It was not easy at first, but once the puzzle system was put in place it empowered every sector of the business, not only helping everyone complete set targets for the season but also having fun at the same time. In fact, the puzzle turned into a game in which the entire company became involved, helping everyone work together more efficiently along the way. Next season, the team is excited to achieve all of the company’s goals because everyone agreed if all 32 sub-goals are achieved, the prize under the final puzzle piece will be spectacular.

This article was written by Michael Shebek and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].