How team building helps prepare student leaders

How Team Building Helps Prepare New Leaders on Campus

Leadership is challenging at every level. But students and other campus leaders face some unique demands. Team building activities can help administrative and student leaders work through these issues quickly and set them up for success.

By design, student leaders in any type of on-campus organization face specific time constraints. Every year, seniors graduate and new freshmen arrive, meaning there is automatic 25% (or greater) annual turnover. There is natural succession planning as members become officers, and officers take leadership roles.

There’s always a new leader somewhere, a student who has a short time to figure out how to get people to follow them. The new leader has to motivate their group and build trust with team members within a very short window of time.

The college or university’s administrative leaders face similar if not quite identical issues. The structure of campus life creates a continual challenge to build trust, collaboration, and relationships in a short time.

The Unique Challenges of Student Leadership

The intrinsic time constraints of the four-year (generally) college cycle are one noteworthy challenge for student and on-campus leaders, but not the only one.

In a professional career work setting, the job is the primary focus of every employee, at least during business hours. But college students have multiple points of focus: their classes and homework, friendships, possibly a part-time job, plus any clubs or organizations they join.

So, a second unique challenge for student leaders is building a strong culture and team environment in a situation where the club or organization is only one of many things their members are involved in.

Freshmen are just learning to balance these multiple priorities, to begin to get involved. But quickly they become the sophomores and juniors who play a more active role, and then seniors—who lead the campus groups while developing the next set of leaders coming up behind them.

The Benefits of Team Building for Developing Student Leaders

There’s no better way to address these unique challenges of time and attention than through team building.

In a team building program, just as in any campus organization—the school paper, drama club, sorority or fraternity, engineering student group, whatever—leaders are motivating team members to work together to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. It may be building a structure, completing an on-campus scavenger hunt, or assembling items for a local charity.

The student organization leader may assign team members to groups and play a role in assigning tasks, but everyone is learning to collaborate, communicate, make decisions, solve problems, and even aspects of leadership—all in a fun, non-stressful environment. Participants may be rewarded for certain achievements with a Dominos or Starbucks gift card, adding to the fun and motivation.

As noted above, college is about four years; four very busy, very short years. Each year, every student’s role and experience changes. Sophomores and juniors can be assigned projects like running a food drive or organizing an event because they’ve already been part of that. But how does the group leader make first-year students feel welcome, and feel like part of the team, very quickly?

Team building helps because it creates a situation in which there are no experts. No one has done this before; assembled a bike, or filled a backpack with school supplies for underprivileged kids, or whatever the activity may be. It’s a level playing field, making it easier for everyone to jump in, participate actively, and get to know each other.

Student leaders are able to quickly create cohesiveness and build trust by giving back to the members with a fun activity first. Team building programs are the ultimate ice breaker. They provide a fun, non-threatening, non-stressful environment where everyone can contribute and build a comfort level with each other.

Those leaders can also quickly see the strengths and weaknesses of new members: who is outgoing and who’s quiet, which members are ready to take on increased responsibilities and which will need more attention.

And team building helps every participant learn key leadership skills such as how to influence others effectively. It’s not always about having an official leadership role or title. Often, team members need things from each other on a peer level. Team building helps create a natural rapport, a cohesiveness that enables students to effectively work with others in their group in a cross-functional manner.

All of this makes team building a no-brainer for any student organization. Campus clubs and groups will often do a team building activity in August or September as the school year begins, and again in January or February after the break when there are additional new members joining.

How Can Team Building Help Student Groups?

Student leaders often work to establish their credibility with new members by talking about themselves: “This is what I’ve done, my accomplishments, my experience, awards or honors or recognition I’ve received.”

That’s fine up to a point, but it’s also important to flip that coin, to enable members to see a different side of the leader by switching the focus to members: “Why did you join this club? What is it you’d like to accomplish with this group? What are you passionate about?”

A team building exercise puts these types of questions into action. Leaders can assign members different roles and see what they gravitate toward. This creates a culture of fun, understanding, openness, and encouragement.

What’s more, many students today are socially conscious. Team building programs that enable them to give back to the community in some way not only build team cohesiveness and collaboration skills, but are also highly motivating.

Students build relationships with other group members, learn about those members (and themselves), and expand their abilities including leadership skills, all while having fun AND feeling good about the activity.

There are a wide variety of team building activities available to help improve collaboration in student groups and develop the skills of young leaders. Campus departments and groups can choose from indoor or outdoor activities, in-person or virtual, with an emphasis on physical activity, problem-solving challenges, or social good.

Wrapping Up

Students and other campus leaders face challenges due to the unique nature and structure of college life. Time is short and student group members are juggling multiple priorities. Leaders at campus organizations need to establish trust, build relationships, foster collaboration, achieve the goals of the group, and train the next generation of student leaders, all in a compressed amount of time.

There’s no better way to accomplish this than through team building. These programs help break the ice and get new members integrated into the group quickly in a fun, non-stressful setting. Incoming students are soon contributing productively and learning leadership skills they will need as upperclassmen members.

Juniors and seniors learn to be more effective leaders. Everyone involved improves their skills in relationship building, collaboration, problem solving, and decision making—and has a lot of fun doing it all.