Learn Social-Bonding (Not Team Building) to Foster Relationships at Work

December 02, 2022

Guest blog post by Jacques Martiquet.

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Leadership Retreat in Colorado, 2021.

I was one of the chief facilitators. A group of 30 strangers came together east of Denver, spending three days together.

After many circles like this, the closing ceremony happened. Everyone had a turn to share. And almost everyone said they had never experienced so much psychological safety, warmth, and inclusivity in their lives.

So what did we do?

We implemented the science of social-bonding.

In this post, I'll share the differences between social-bonding and the cringey team-building that your company forces you to do. I will argue that your money is better spent on social-bonding. Finally, I'll share some of my recommendations for implementing social-bonding within your organization.

Ready to innovate how your company approaches relationship-building? If not, please exit this page.

The central question of this article is this: What is the most effective way to create social bonds among humans?

The Status Quo

Take a look around and you'll notice that a lot of leaders have either not asked themselves this question or have a really bad answer. For average corporate leaders, it is team-building. You can find a list of 'team-building' exercises on platforms like Elevent and Airbnb Experiences.

Although team-building has a positive denotation — that is, 'team' and 'building' does not construe a total waste of time — it has some negative connotations. Largely, because it is often forced onto participants and has no depth.

Comedians, escape rooms, and LEGOs are 'shallow fun.'

For the critical leader, team-building has the connotations of being ineffective, shallow, and temporary. Let me tell you why.

Team-building games are done once, usually at a larger company event, and they often do not require vulnerability or courage by participants. Deep relationships are not formed on the surface. Nor are they formed in one sitting. They must be continually nurtured.

If you want to foster healthy relationships at work, you'll have to do something recurrently.

Here's how most corporate leaders approach team-building: alcohol, games, and shows. Again, go on Airbnb Experiences, Elevent, or any other team-building platform for direct evidence.

I hate to break it to you, but these approaches waste employee time and company resources. If you're going to bring more than 20 people into the same room, it makes sense to be more strategic with how you engage in fun, so that it translates into cultural change.

When so much effort has been made to get everyone in the same room, it makes sense to go deeper.

For an estimate of how much a gathering costs, in terms of employee time, use the Gathering Effect's calculator.

Let's summarize what I have shared about traditional team-building.

  1. Team-building often has no follow-up, and it is done too sporadically to have a lasting effect.
  2. Team-building often does not involve deliberate practice of any skills — the essential feedback mechanism by which skills, including relational skills, can be sharpened (1).
  3. Most team-building events (ex. river rafting) are shallow fun. Participants are not practicing vulnerability, eye contact, active listening, or empathy. Rather, they are socializing according to default social norms. This form of socialization is shallow. I've written about this.
  4. Forced fun does the opposite of what it is intended to do. It alienates employees (2).

Sources: (1) (2)

The New Era of Social-Bonding

We asked ourselves a question at the beginning of this article, and now it's time to explore the evidence-based answer.

Q: What is the most effective activity for fostering social bonds among humans?

Whatever the activity is, there are criteria that highly effective social-bonding activities fulfill. They...

  1. Induce the release of social trust neurotransmitters: oxytocin and endorphins.
  2. Necessitate participants to exercise courage and vulnerability, that is, take social risks.
  3. Create a sense of emotional synchrony — people feel the same emotions.
  4. Involve a high level of authentic social validation among participants.

The most effective practice for cultivating social trust must fulfill these 4 criteria in my experience. But really, just number 1. The other criteria operate through number 1. They activate social neurochemistry.

So what can leaders do to activate these neurotransmitters?

Let's take a look at fundamental social behaviors that do this. There's eye contact, touch, verbal validation, nonverbal validation, physical synchrony (movement), vocal synchrony (song or cheer), and laughter. These are known to be the neurochemically-active building blocks of human connection.

The more present they are in our interactions, the more social neurochemistry will be activated.

Certain practices involve many of these building blocks. Normative conversations over drinks, on the other hand, only involve verbal validation. So, if you're facilitating something that goes beyond merely talking, you're taking a step in the right direction!

Out of all the social activities leaders can choose from, I want to give you a list of my top recommendations. The list does not include building marshmallow towers or playing with legos. I have tested the following activities and know that they activate social neurochemistry.

Authentic Relating. ex. The Curiosity Game.

Story Telling. ex. Life Journeys.

Improv Games. ex. Press Conference.

Touch-Based Games. ex. Triangle Tag.

Partner Dances. ex. Mirroring.

Vyving.™ ex. Festival Client.

Vyving is a sequence of dance, song, touch, and play exercises, boosted by emotion- and memory-laden music.

Two observations from the list.

One. When we stack different activities together, more social neurochemistry is activated. This is why vyving, the activity I invented, is my highest recommendation. It happens in three stages: 1. Relaxation. 2. Vitality. 3. Belonging. The relaxation and vitality stages put people into a positive, energized state—making them more receptive to the next stage, which takes them into the depths. The last stage is authentic relating.

When positive emotions are already present, deeper forms of emotional bonding become possible.

Two. Some practices do not involve the intellect (they are body-based). To build social bonds, it is not necessary to understand someone intellectually. You can feel close to someone without knowing their name, age, or personal history. This does not mean that authentic-relating, a practice based on personal disclosure, is not powerful. It is just less powerful than a combination of intellect- and body-based activities = stacking.

In this section, we set the criteria for the ultimate relationship-building practice and learned about 6 candidates. We concluded that the most effective relationship building practice is a stacking of practices involving the body and the intellect, beginning with an activity that induces positive emotions.

This is why vyving™ takes the lead as my top recommendation for social-bonding. It involves touch, nonverbal and verbal validation, vocal and physical synchrony, and laughter — all the neurochemically active building blocks.

The problem is, vyving™ requires a professional facilitator and curated playlists and sequences of activities... so what should the average joe do after reading this article? How can you apply what you've learned here?

Take baby steps.

  1. Start by trying an exercise from the links above or from my joy toolkit or vulnerability toolkit.
  2. Avoid the temptation to book an entertainer, game show, or escape room — unless you want to merely have fun.
  3. Make it an explicit priority in your team to experiment with new ways of relating and having fun. Emphasize the importance of taking risks and growing as leaders.
  4. Before leading a new activity, frame the activity so people can consent wholeheartedly. New social activities do not work unless participants are committed and understand your motives in introducing them.

By introducing interpersonal games and connection exercises to your group, you are participating in the evolution of social norms on this planet... toward more effective relationship-building practices.

Thank you.

Final Recommendation

Try a structured conversation game, based on authentic relating. These are the least risky games.


Jacques W. Martiquet is a corporate event strategist who helps human-centered workplaces design shared experiences that create a lasting difference in mental health, psychological safety, and belonging. Since 2017, Jacques has been earning his title as The Party Scientist by leading thousands of dance parties and shared experiences across 15 countries, and for companies like Accenture, LUSH, and Lululemon.Jacques is on a public health mission to transform how the west socializes. From alcohol and shows... to human connection and fun. Everything he does is informed by one belief: human connection is the elixir of life.