Ken Heymann in Hotel News Now

6 Tips to Promote Employee Team Building

At a time of labor shortage and high turnover rates, hoteliers can use team building exercises to promote employee engagement and morale. 

Just as group clients incorporate team-building exercises into their off-site meetings in hotels, hotel companies are eager to improve teamwork and boost morale among their employees. At a time when there are chronic shortages of entry-level employees in many markets and turnover rates are high, associates at all levels need to feel connected to their jobs and feel good about the contribution they’re making.

“Line employees are the face of our hotel when it comes to interacting with guests. We look to them to implement our approach to guest service. So it’s critical they feel empowered and have a positive attitude about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team,” said Isabel Dreher, VP of human resources at The Hotel Group.
 
Team building can translate into competitive activities such as rope courses and Olympics-style relay races, where the bellman feels a special bond—at least on this one day—with his teammate, the general manager. Or it can entail employees participating in community and philanthropic activities as a group. Or on the simplest level, it can mean recognizing individual associates and teams with awards for a range of achievements at company- or property-level meetings, banquets or holiday parties.
 
Whatever the particular approach, sources said to consider these six tactics to ensure your team-building efforts have the greatest positive impact:
 
1. Be inclusive
English might not be the primary language for many associates. These employees might also come from a culture where “bonding with the boss” isn’t something they’re necessarily familiar with. Many might even view it as disrespectful. 
 
“Be sure these initiatives are presented in a way that everyone understands—and is comfortable with—the intention,” said Judith Moran, VP of human resources at Waterford Hotel Group. “Also, where physical activity is involved, you’re mindful of people’s possible limitations.” 
 
2. Focus on community
Efforts like recruiting a volunteer group of employees from different departments of the hotel to clean up a park or section of a riverbank or highway, paint a homeless shelter or serve meals at a soup kitchen foster teamwork, sources said. 
 
“But they also instill pride in associates on behalf of their hotel and, by extension, their hotel company or brand. In most cases, associates not only work in the community, they live in the community,” said Brian Wismar, regional VP at New Castle Hotels & Resorts.
 
Wismar said companies such as Marriott International have taken these charitable activities to the corporate level, dedicating a defined period of time each year when employee teams at their hotels around the country—or even the globe—perform community service. Marriott’s initiative is called “Spirit to Serve.” Hilton Worldwide Holdings’ comparable program is “Global Month of Service.” The focus in such programs most often is either social or environmental service projects.
 
3. Keep the big picture in mind
Team-building activities can be valuable, but they need to be part of a larger, ongoing effort, according to human resources consultant Kenneth Heymann, COO of UniFocus. In the best case scenarios, positive outcomes emerge when associates have a common experience, are able to rely on one another and share a good time.
 
“Too often, however, team-building exercises tend to be intermittent, once a year, once a quarter at best. They’re well intentioned, but in the days following, the work environment returns to how it was,” Heymann said.
 
He said team-building exercises are most effective when they result in a concrete change in the company culture or communications structure.
 
4. Ensure senior management buy-in
“Senior management” can mean the GM at the property level, a corporate VP at the regional level or the CEO of the company. Line employees tend to look up to them, given their leadership roles, sources said.
 
A popular team-building activity has always been “CEO for a Day” events, where a rank-and-file employee is chosen to shadow the CEO or other C-suite executive as he or she goes through the daily routine. 
 
“Senior managers may or may not opt to participate in team building, but their vocal support is still important as it lends these efforts credibility,” Dreher said. “If the senior managers take team building seriously, everyone else will follow suit.”
 
5. Shine a light on different departments’ contributions
Rather than team-building events like Olympics-style races that highlight athletic ability, Moran pointed to activities that draw directly on skills practiced at hotels. 
 
Two examples (both related to the housekeeping department): competitions that test team members’ ability to fold a sheet or make a bed. The logical candidates to serve as judges: the housekeepers themselves.
 
“Associates in other departments and managers as well might not appreciate the skills involved in performing these basic tasks and, indirectly, give the housekeepers a newfound source of recognition,” Moran said. 
 
Another example (this one related to the catering department): how to set a banquet table accurately, complete with multiple sets of wine glasses. Throw in a time limit for added suspense, Moran said.
 
Given that hotels are 24-hour operations, associates work shifts, so it’s probable that those working the day shift never get to interact with certain colleagues, especially those in other line departments. Thus, team-building events are a way to at least partially bridge that gap.
 
6. Be sensitive to generational differences
Baby boomers tend to be strong believers in being part of a team. The concept doesn’t seem to resonate the same way for millennials, Heymann noted. 
 
“The younger generation may be more independent or relate more to technology,” he said. Consequently, hotel human resources managers might have to approach team building from a new perspective going forward.
 
January 6 2016. By Bruce SerlenHNN contributor