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Team-building activities foster healthy, productive working relationships within a department. Photo: City of San Juan Capistrano
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Don't underestimate the role of organized employee activities—both serious at-work ventures and less serious after-hours activities—in employee bonding.

In the city of San Juan Capistrano's building and engineering department, every work unit endeavors to promote team spirit. We depend on each other to give our best and accomplish the most. But even though work groups or managers develop programs to foster and enhance team spirit, we sometimes find ourselves struggling or failing to keep efforts going.

The classic syndrome of “firefighting”—taking care of urgent matters first—makes it easy for public works departments to back-burner important programs like team building.

When there is time, you might dust off an old team-building plan only to realize that it's half-baked or falls way short of expectations. When this happens, employee morale and department performance suffer.

Our department decided that addressing problems with team spirit called for a team approach. In 2004, out of a department of 20 staff members, a six-member Employee Participation Team was created to mull over a variety of issues and then work to implement them. An initial list of issues was developed by department staff, then presented to the team to tackle:

  • Staff satisfaction survey
  • Employee recognition program and budget
  • Potlucks (lunch and breakfast)
  • After-work activities
  • “Employee of the Year” program
  • Department newsletter
  • Client appreciation days
  • Uniforms for building/code-enforcement/construction inspectors
  • Customer service evaluation forms/comment cards
  • Training
  • Department brochure (and staff contest to select design)
  • Job detail sharing at staff meetings
  • Holiday party activity
  • Development and application of a department mission statement.
  • Because it includes parties, potlucks, and other fun activities, the importance of this list might not be apparent at first glance. However, each of these activities contributes significantly to developing a healthy work environment—and Employee Participation Team members are well aware of the weight of their responsibilities.

    “This approach can be challenging at times, because team members are responsible for channeling ideas and concerns from the entire department,” says team member Kassidy Hill, administrative assistant. “However, the small team size ensures that meeting discussions are focused.”