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Building Bonds

As president of a fast-growing small business, Jon Rapaport realized his 40 employees -- a mix of longtime workers and new hires -- knew how to do their jobs. What they didn't know, he says, was each other.

So this October, Ecclestone Signature Homes of Palm Beach Gardens gathered its workers at the PGA National Resort for four hours of team-building and esprit de corps. Divided into three teams, each built puzzles using MC Escher lizards, communicating only with hand signals and inflections of the word "yadda." They also crafted rockets of one-liter soda bottles.

Few rockets flew, but along the way, introverts came out of their shells, leaders were discovered and bonds were built.

"You do better business with those you know after you can associate a name with a face," Rapaport says. "It's a chance for different parts of the company who normally don't communicate to get to know each other on a social level, too."

Team-building fosters communication among employees, which can improve performance and help "mature" the company's workforce, says Trina Pulliam, president of Trainnovations, the Jupiter-based training firm that worked with Ecclestone.

"That's the basis for a successful organization," she says. "In order to mature your workforce, you need to have the interpersonal skills. They're developed in a systematic approach using training and team-building."

Seemingly simple activities are designed to help individuals and fellow workers learn their place in the organization, Pulliam says. Self-surveys gauged employees' perceived strengths as individuals and team players; the answers helped people see how they can better contribute to the day's team exercises as well as the company's efforts. Even building rockets brought out definite skills, she says.

"They're not just building a rocket," she says. "They're building an organization."

After the event, Pulliam and Rapaport discussed how to carry on what the group learned to improve workforce skills like problem-solving, conflict management, in-depth communications and team-member strengths. In the short term, she left a few printed "tip sheets" that Rapaport will stuff into employee paycheck envelopes. One is an article on improving communications, trust and support. Another has five suggestions to boost effective teamwork.