Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Most corporate team building is a waste of time and money. I say it based on my 20 years of experience. Many companies invest in activities that teach nothing of value like bowling, yacht parties, dinner, desert safari, waterpark, forming a band and performing a song..... These activities are supposed to build relationships and bolster team spirit, and, by extension, improve collaboration. Instead, they foster embarrassment and cynicism and in the best-case scenario, people just have a good time out.
They don't teach anything about other people, how they operate, how they feel, think, or what is important to them. These activities don't tell us what people are good at and how we can bring the best out of them. The most they tell is how much Jennifer can drink or how great Chris is at bowling. Now my question is; how useful this type of information is at work? It is not!
I don't know why we do this to adults. One of my genius HR VPs made us do two days of "bonding". How about two days of working collaboratively, or doing something actually productive???? I actually felt more dislike toward the entire group of people by the end of the two days than before.
Now, this is not what we want to achieve with team building, is it? What you want to achieve with team building is business results! Strong relationships and trust do matter to collaboration, but they are not the starting point. They are the outcomes of dedicated people striving together and people can only strive when they use their strengths.
The first thing we should ask is; do we need team building at all? Maybe the team has tuned into each other naturally without any intervention. If that is the case, if they work well together, complementing each other, if they are productive, if there are only necessary tasks conflicts then it is likely that team building is not necessary.
If the team is not naturally tuned to what others:
- are about
- do best naturally (talent)
- bring to the team (contribution)
- need to be their best self
- love doing
- hate doing
- motivated by
then you need team building. Not to have a good time out but to learn all those things about each other. Developing a common language along these lines gives team members a shortcut for knowing and trusting one another that is later applied in the flow of work. This can be done in many different ways one of which is team building using CliftonStrengths Assessment that helps the individuals to discover their and their colleagues' natural talent.
Another situation when organizations tend to apply team building is when there is conflict within the team. No amount of bowling, boat trip or alcohol will solve the existing conflict. You will actually have to have hard talks with the people involved and figure out the solution together. You cannot minimize and disrespect the problem by plastering it over with a night out. The problem will stay and you just show zero care about it.
Team buildings can achieve their purpose but only if activities are built in order to address the problems the team is facing at work. If you have an unhappy team because they feel disrespected or unheard going out to have fun will not help. What will help is communication, reflection, and change in the leader's behaviour. Or, if the team is dysfunctional and unproductive because they don't understand each other knowing that my colleague has a dog called Lilly which I found out during the bowling outing will have zero added value when we get back to work the following day.