Fitness Challenge Blog

Using Teams in an Employee Fitness Challenge

November 20, 2014 by Joseph

Emphasizing the use of teams and teamwork in the workplace has a long history. Since the Hawthorne studies of the 1920s, business writers have stressed the many benefits of working in teams including:

  • Teams often generate higher-quality work faster than individuals.
  • Each member brings complimentary knowledge and experience to the team.
  • Team members provide support and can back up one another.

But how does this relate to your employee fitness challenge? Just as the work of employees is enhanced by working in teams, so is a fitness challenge enhanced by working teams. This is particularly true when variety needs to be added to your competition or when your last challenge was based on individual efforts.

Some of the major challenge team benefits are as follows:

  • The challenge can be used as a long-term team building exercise and can add a sense of camaraderie.
  • Team members provide motivation and help all participants strive harder. The “Hawthorne Effect”, where team members work harder because their efforts are observed by other team members, comes into play.
  • Teams consisting of random participants can be used to network employees throughout an organization. An additional “Honeymoon Effect” may lead to increased effort because members may not be familiar with one another and want to make a good impression.

Team fitness challenges have been part of the ChallengeRunner system since its inception and are highly recommended when creating a new challenge. An analysis of the massive volume of challenge data collected by our system highlights the following:

  • Average number of participants was 113% higher when teams were used.
  • Each participant recorded 68% more data entries as part of a team (when weight loss challenges were excluded).

Of the two major findings, the average number of participants in the fitness challenge should be put into context. Organizations that use teams tend to be larger and have a wellness program with a longer history. Therefore, the significantly larger total number of participants is reasonable and may simply be a result of a larger pool of workers to invite.

The second finding is more significant since it represents the number of times each participant entered data into the system and would not be influenced by the population of the organization running the challenge. It is even more significant considering the 68% greater involvement was obtained after removing weight loss challenges. Strict weight loss challenges (where weight loss is the only activity being tracked) were excluded due to the much lower number of entries submitted by participants; often only starting and ending weight. With weight loss challenges added back in, team participants recorded 143% more data entries than challenges without teams.

As demonstrated above, using teams can positively affect the outcome of your employee fitness challenge. Because wellness program ROI is based on participation, wellness program administrators strive for as many participants and as much participation as possible. Using teams tends to promote both. However, teams are not always a panacea for your challenge. Some negative aspects of teams include:

  • Self-selected teams can form “dream teams” with the fittest employees. This will quickly sap the motivation from other teams eliminated after the first week. This is particularly detrimental when a group of distance runners team up in a walking challenge.
  • Rare cases of bullying have been reported where certain team members feel that others are not trying hard enough and pressure them for more effort.
  • If there is friction between departments, using structural teams which are organized by department may exacerbate this problem.
  • Additional administration effort is required organizing teams, collecting and analyzing team data, and generating aggregated leaderboards.

Teams should certainly be considered when designing a fitness challenge. The positive effects on participation make them a vital tool in your wellness toolkit. Nevertheless, team and non-team challenges should be used intermittently to achieve variety and minimize the negative effects of each.

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