How to Plan Team Building Activities for Blue-Collar Workers

The ideal scenarios for using team building activities, when not to use them & tips on team building activities specifically for blue-collar workers.

Danielle Riha
January 12, 2022

Team building activities in the workplace are often met with resistance from the employees for a number of reasons, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Team building activities can be effective at fostering employee engagement when organized with a few key considerations in mind.

If you’re looking for a quick list of team building activity ideas for blue-collar workers, you’ll find it in our next blog post. Before picking out specific activities, we recommend you start your planning by first considering the reasons why people don’t like team building activities, and then think critically about what you're trying to achieve with the team building activity.

In our research, we’ve identified the ideal scenarios for using team building activities, when not to use team building activities, and pro tips for creating team building activities for blue-collar workers.

Why People Don’t Like Team Building Activities

Team building activities make some people uncomfortable.

Ask A Manager reports that many people see team building activities as a violation of their dignity, privacy, and/or personal space. Realize that what’s fun for some people is miserable for others. This especially includes athletic activities and public performances.

Participation is usually required.

What makes an uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable? When you feel backed into a corner and obligated to participate out of fear of eroding your reputation in the workplace or getting fired.

The activities often have no direct correlation to the actual work the team does.

Improv, games of telephone, taking a hike, or going on a treasure hunt around the warehouse may sound like a good team building activity at first, but how do those things tie back into the functions of the team? If you can’t clearly articulate how the team building activity correlates with the group’s daily work, don’t do it. Or if you do, just don’t call it “team building.” (More on that in a minute.)

When to Use Team Building Activities

The best time to use team building activities is:

  • When the team is brand new and still getting to know each other
  • When you want to foster deeper connections on a high-functioning team
  • When you want people from different departments to get to know each other
  • When you want to keep employees engaged, or get them re-engaged

In our experience, the best time to “do” team building is any time you need to get strangers talking to each other, or when you want to foster employee engagement.

When NOT to Use Team Building Activities

One commenter on Ask A Manager said that team building activities are effective in strengthening what’s already strong, but they’ll never fix what’s broken. If you have communication problems or trust issues on your team, those are managerial obstacles that can not be solved by playing games or taking personality tests.

Pro Tips for Creating Team Building Activities for Blue-Collar Workers

Have clear intentions about what you’re trying to accomplish.

The first step in planning a team building activity for blue-collar workers is to define your goal and desired outcomes from having the event. Write it down in a sentence, and then use that sentence to announce the event, when inviting employees to participate in the event, and again when kicking off the event.

If you call it “team building,” make sure you can articulate a clear and obvious connection to the work they do on the job.

This should be combined with the statement you wrote above. An example might look like this:

As you are all aware, we recently landed a huge new contract in which we’ll be building parts for building agriculture equipment. To meet the client's demand, we’ll need to bring in temporary labor. In order to hit the aggressive deadline, we want to make the temporary staff feel comfortable and part of the team right away. Accordingly, we’ll be conducting ice breakers and other team building activities for full-time and temporary staff over a two hour lunch next Wednesday.

If it doesn’t have a clear and obvious connection to the work, don’t call it team building.

You can still hold the event, just call it what it is: a pizza party, community volunteering, a team outing—you get the point. The goal is to worry less about tying it to work, and to focus on creating an event that most employees would want to participate in. Having fun and socializing in a casual environment is often the best way to cultivate real friendships and camaraderie in the workplace. So focus on that, instead of making up complicated games with lofty goals.

Get real feedback from employees on what type of activities they’d like to do.

Rather than trying to guess or make assumptions about what might be fun for your employees, go directly to the source and ask them. You could send an email or ask in person, but we think sending a text message survey is the best option for blue-collar workers.

Make it optional to participate.

Forcing grown adults to participate in an activity that is not critical to, or a defined part of, their job is cruel and unfair. By forcing participation, you’ll only create resentment from the unwilling employee, who will then bring negativity into the event and ruin it for those who do want to participate. Forcing participation also threatens psychological safety for employees, because they might be afraid of getting fired, demoted, or shunned for not participating.

Schedule a variety of types of activities to appeal to both introverts and extroverts.

Finding a team building activity that pleases everyone is a high bar to clear. Instead, accept the fact that you can’t please everyone, and instead make an effort to organize a variety of activities to please everyone over time. Try a trivia contest one quarter, small group lunches the next, and an escape room the quarter after that. Consider not just extroversion and introversion, but also learning styles (visual, audible, tactile) and communication preferences.

Organize events to occur on the company’s time and dime.

Schedule events during working hours, and pick up the bill. This will lead to higher participation and satisfaction rates.

Want some recommendations on specific team building activities for blue-collar workers that will help you build an engaged workforce? Check out our follow-up article featuring nine ideas for blue-collar team building activities.

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