The benefits of outdoor activities for team building

The benefits of outdoor activities for team building

Over the years, team building has gotten a bad rap. When the annual away day announcement came through, employees would be filled with dread at the thought of having to gather round and do some form of cringe trust exercises. It would have been enough for anyone to pull a sickie.

Fortunately, there is now the opportunity to engage in fun, different and inclusive team building activities which also deliver meaningful benefits. And never has this been more prevalent than in the outdoor team building space.

I have worked in the team building events industry for over 12 years. Prior to founding Onigo, I ran the UK’s leading team development event which saw teams from UK companies take on a series of outdoor challenges that blended strategic thinking, problem solving and adventure. Their playground was typically a national park such as the Lake District and there was not a trust exercise or a raft build in sight.

It was here that I saw first-hand the huge benefits of outdoor team building – when it’s done right. Not just through testimonials and evaluation metrics but also through my own eyes as I witnessed teams go on a journey; starting as nervous individuals who barely knew each other and finishing feeling jubilant with their arms around each other’s shoulder.

Celebrating outdoor team games

Such experiences inspired me to found Onigo and to try and bring these benefits to a wider audience, by providing fun and different outdoor team activities which bring colleagues closer together but which everyone can take part in.

By their very nature, outdoor team activities enable colleagues to get out of the office, into fresh air and move their body. Bonus points if they can do this in a green space. Designed right, outdoor team building activities can deliver a plethora of benefits. Here are my top 8:

#1 Social Connection

Social connection at work increases happiness and reduces stress whilst boosting engagement and loyalty. And outdoor team building activities are an ideal way to build social connection amongst colleagues. By changing the environment away from a formal office or confined indoor space, the opportunity for colleagues to connect on a social level rather than at a work level grows.

Being outdoors, and participating in a game-based activity, reduces formality further and enables guards to come down. Social connection begins to form, and this is deepened through activities that require collaboration in order to achieve a predetermined goal, ideally with a little bit of healthy stress thrown in, such as a time limit and / or light competition.

‘Going through something together’ deepens connection but not if the activity takes an individual too far out of their comfort zone and doesn’t remotely simulate a work environment. White water rafting might seem like a good team building activity but for many colleagues it is too far removed from how they typically interact in the workplace. A problem-solving outdoor team game is far more likely to achieve wide engagement and deliver meaningful connection.

#2 Showcasing your talents

By creating a less formal environment through using an outdoor space, you in turn create a less controlled environment. It is here that colleagues are (literally) given the space to express themselves. Their skills and personality traits come to the fore and become apparent to their team members enabling colleagues to gain a better understanding of each other.

As an example, our Onigo outdoor activities are specifically designed to enable colleagues to demonstrate skills such as; communication, problem solving, leadership, strategy and planning. For a senior manager, this insight is invaluable when it comes to allocating resource to projects and identifying staff development opportunities.

#3 Team development

Tuckman’s Model for Nurturing a Team to High Performance outlines 5 phases of small group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

The Forming phase sees a team being newly formed and acting as individuals within their normal boundaries. The Storming phase is where some form of conflict or friction can arise as individuals go beyond their established boundaries before differences are resolved and a leader emerges in the Norming phase. The Performing phase sees teams execute their strategy effectively.

An effective team development activity would use this framework, allowing small teams to move through each phase and resulting in visible team growth. Being outdoors in a less-controlled environment, whilst participating in an activity that has a clear goal with either time pressure and / or light competition, creates ideal ‘live event’ conditions for this group development process to take place effectively.

#4 Mental health benefits

It is widely accepted that spending time outdoors in nature can have a positive impact on an individual’s mental health. New research led by the University of York has now shown that taking part in outdoor, nature-based activities specifically leads to improved mood, less anxiety, and positive emotions. Interestingly, the strongest results were seen when the outdoor activity included exercise as well as engaging in conversation.

Boosting mental well-being is central to how we design our Onigo experiences. Our outdoor activities are always based in green spaces, always involve light exercise (walking) and always enable space for conversation – both within the nature of the game or casually whilst the game is being played.

#5 Physical health benefits

Research from the University of Illinois has shown that spending time in nature boosts the human immune system which can provide protection against a range of diseases, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more.

Furthermore, with vitamin D being a tricky nutrient to get enough of through food, 80 – 90% of vitamin intake comes from sunlight. Whilst protection against the sun is vital, we also need it’s vitamin D for bone growth, cell growth, inflammation reduction and neuromuscular and immune function.

#6 Boosting focus, memory and creativity

We now know that getting outdoors improves concentration, regardless of the weather! University of Michigan psychology research showed that walking in a park in any season improved memory performance and attention spans by 20 percent.

Research also shows that walking opens up the free flow of ideas and increases creativity production. Whilst walking anywhere, whether through the woods or on a treadmill, has a positive effect on creativity, researchers found that walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies.

#7 Inclusivity

Inclusivity can have a range of meanings. At Onigo, we aim to make our activities inclusive for all, regardless of: age, gender, disability, nationality, location, seniority, physical ability, puzzle-solving ability, team size, beliefs or social preferences.

When it comes to outdoor activities, one of their benefits versus indoor activities is that you are often not limited by capacity. This means that companies can engage wider teams, enabling colleagues to collaborate with team members who they don’t usually work with on a daily basis. Through the right activity, those relationships will translate back into the office and boost cross-team communication and collaboration.

#8 A Covid safe solution

Ensuring employee safety and reducing risk must be central to any team building activity. As companies try to navigate the workplace challenges brought about by Covid-19, a topic that comes up a lot on my client calls is how they can come together safely for a face-to-face team-build.

Outdoor activities are a great solution, particularly those involving walking and avoiding physical contact, providing natural social distancing and ventilation. A reputable and experienced events provider should also put additional health and safety measures in place in order to further reduce risk, such as modifying activities, briefing participants on additional procedures and encouraging participants to take a Covid test prior to attendance.

P.S. If you are looking for some outdoor team building inspiration, check out our range of outdoor team activities.

Alex Stanley
March 22, 2022