As employees are returning to the workplace after more than two years apart, finding ways for teams to reconnect in-person is on the minds of many business owners – and really anyone involved in leading people.
Volunteering as a team can be a meaningful way to build and strengthen team bonds while supporting an important cause. It can also help raise awareness or re-acquaint employees with the organizations your company supports, while helping to fill a gap in volunteering bandwidth that many charities experienced during the pandemic.
7 ways volunteering benefits teams
The goodness that comes from volunteering together infuses not just the whole team but individual team members, too.
“The camaraderie experienced while volunteering is like no other,” says Lacey Jansen, CWB Program Manager, Community Engagement. “When a group of people are together, working on a goal for the good of others, bonds form quickly and there is almost a lightness to it. Teams always walk away with a sense of accomplishment, a greater understanding of community, and a heart-warming people experience like no other.”
- It’s a chance to leverage your skills and expertise – or develop new ones: Perhaps your team has some specialized proficiency or knowledge that could benefit the charity, or maybe it’s an opportunity to learn something new together.
- Helping others is good for mental wellness and reducing stress: The past two years haven’t been easy for anyone. Research shows that being kind to others releases feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine. Feeling good from doing good? That’s a pretty great combination.
- Being kind to others also helps develop empathy and emotional intelligence: Both are important characteristics to cultivate in team members and their leaders.
- You’ll be practicing things like collaboration, creativity, communication, and the ability to organize as a group. All of these are factors in any team being able to effectively develop strategies and execute on tasks as a smoothly functioning unit.
- Titles don’t matter outside the workplace: Volunteering as a team takes the inter-personal dynamic outside of company walls, where role and status are no longer at the forefront. This can lead to deeper and more authentic human connections as team members get to know each other on a different level and in another context. You might also find the natural leadership ability of others who aren’t currently in leadership positions rises to the surface – something that’s important both for growing your business and succession planning.
- Build and cultivate cross-company camaraderie: Team building that engages people from different areas of the company is a great way for those who don’t normally work closely together to get to know each other. It can also help new employees (including those onboarded during the pandemic) make connections and start building their networks within the company.
- Experience a sense of pride and accomplishment as a team: Whether it’s cleaning up a park, painting a fence, selling raffle tickets at an event, or serving a meal at a shelter to over a hundred people, there’s a feeling and energy that comes from doing something good and tangible for others while representing your business as a team. This can create memories that connect people long afterwards.
4 tips for getting started
Finding a meaningful team building activity involves determining what team members are interested in doing and aligning that with an activity that both fills a charity’s need and is within their capacity to support.
“It’s really very easy to start a group volunteer activity. In fact, many community organizations have these listed on their websites or have special opportunities available,” says Jansen. ”And don’t be afraid to reach out to charities – they rely on volunteers to run their operations and truly value all the people support they can get.”
- Ask your team what they’d like to do and when – and then see how this lines up with what’s available. If there are charities your company already supports, start there. Be aware your team’s size may impact your volunteer options. Make sure too that you land on an activity that all team members can take part it. Physical activities like planting trees or building homes can be fun and fulfilling, but be mindful of whether they’re a fit for everyone.
- Consider an activity that leverages your team’s skills or expertise: Again using tree planting and home building as an example, if your team is skilled at construction or landscaping these activities could be a great option. Likewise, depending on the team’s abilities and interests, perhaps it’s reading to kids, helping out at a tax preparation workshop, or doing a presentation on financial literacy.
- Combine your team building activity with an in-kind donation: Elevate your volunteering experience by doing a collection drive for items the charity needs – like food, clothing, or books. Or perhaps there’s an opportunity to donate office furniture or computers your business is no longer using. The team could then present this donation to the charity when they arrive for their volunteer shift.
- Provide opportunities for the team to learn about the charity and the cause: Can the charity do a short talk or facility tour at the start of the volunteer activity? Or can they provide resources to share with the team in advance – including information on how they might continue their support individually?
Need some thought starters? These types of organizations typically have team volunteering options:
- Local food banks
- Women’s shelters
- Seniors facilities
- Municipality clean-up or tree planting
- Clothing donation centres
- Organizations offering free meals to vulnerable community members
Bringing it all together
Reconnecting team members – including connecting new employees in-person for the first time – is at the forefront for many businesses as employees return to the workplace after more than two years apart. Volunteering as a team has wonderful benefits for teams, individuals, and the community. Choosing an activity that aligns well with the company, the team, and the charity is important. You’ll want to do a bit of research ahead of time to land the best fit and provide the most value to both the team and the charity.