What are your perceptions of teambuilding activities?

teambuildingactiv.jpg”What are your perceptions of ”teambuilding” activities?What kind of teambuilding activities have you been subject to at the work place? Which ones were successful, or not-so-successful, and why?” – these questions were asked to people, who ever had participated in team building activities. Here are their answers:

Randy R
Senior IT Analyst

”I’ll second Amy and Stephen’s comments and add a little story about a team building exercise I participated in a few years back.
The manager of the group would regularly do little team building exercises every few months as part of some large group meetings we would hold for strategic planning. She seemed to be compelled to do this because our group was going through a difficult period, finding our place in organization and being completely overwhelmed with the demands placed on us. We really weren’t quite ”gelling” as a group and often found ourselves at odds with each other due to miscommunication and a host of other issues.
Well, before this particular meeting, she asked each of us to write down a secret on a small card – something about ourselves that only we or our family would know. She collected the cards and, during a break, posted them around the room. The goal was to match the person with their secret.
Most were cute and odd things like ”I collect rubber duckies” or ”I played Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in high school”.
But, there was one secret that stopped the show: ”I have three nipples.”
The little team building exercises stopped after that.
The moral of the story is that ”team building” isn’t something that happens when you gather the troops together to go rock climbing or do some kind of role playing exercise – often, it just reinforces relationships and feelings already going on in the workplace. Team building is something that good managers do every day by motivating people to work together and making everyone feel that they have something to contribute. And, as others have noted, you can’t make a team out of a group of people that don’t have a common goal and purpose.”

Barry G
Executive and Leadership Coach/ Team Catalyst

I am not a fan of teambuilding per se because it is often difficult to translate back to the work of the team. John Katzenbach said it best in The Wisdom of Teams that teams build by doing the work of the team. I prefer to coach a team through processes as they work on real outcomes, making it less of a leap to sustainability.

Zimmerman J
Director of Consulting Services at CDR Fundraising Group and Non-Profit Organization Management Consultant

Many good answers above – but here’s a point that hasn’t been made…

People learn through two important channels: cognition and experience. The best learning happens when both channels are used together.

So, experience is a great teacher, but only when you understand what you experienced. And classroom teaching is valuable (cognitive), but only when you have a chance to put your training to real use (experiential).

Good team building follows this principle. A good team building exercise acts as a microcosm of the work place. In a short amount of time, a team has a shared experience. Following the experience, people talk about what happened, how it helped them understand the real work situation, and how they can apply the lessons back in the workplace. So, you get the two-channel treatement: experience plus cognition.

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how to apply this model of team building, and the team building exercises they conduct are not worth much.

And, as mentioned by others, team building is an on-going event. A ”real” work experience can become a team building event if someone is alert enough to add a cognitive element to the experiential. This is why ”lessons-learned sessions” are so valuable (aka, after-action reports, autopsies, post-mortems, process evaluations).

Terrence S
Facilitating Change – Achieving Results

”Team building” has gotten a bum rap in many organizations because of bad past practices. Sometimes the term ”team building” has been inappropriately applied to situations where:

– there is no real team (a precondition for team building),
– time is wasted on irrelevant activities, and
– rather than building anything lasting, emotions and relationships are strained

Actually, team building, an Organization Development intervention with a long and rich history (see Dyer’s book in the link), can be a powerful way to improve the functioning and performance of a team.

If it’s done right.

John S
Sr. Manager Talent Management & Organization Effectiveness Home Depot Global Supply Chain

I think team building is essential, certainly in my company, primarily because there is a reason why some teams succeed and others do not. I also believe that it is teachable in that there are certain skills that a leader can employ to drive better team dynamics. Lencioni’s book ”Five Dysfuntions of a Team” is a good parable book on the subject. The one piece I like the most is the idea of healthy conflict perdicated on trust. Essentially, if team members don’t trust each other, little divergent or conflicted discussion will ensue, thus limiting the team’s output. Engendering an atmosphere of trust, as a goal, I believe can have a very big affect on team effectiveness.

Furthermore, employing New Leader Assimilations for new teams or one with a new leader, is a good step in kick starting the relationship building process that otherwise might take months to create.

Amy V
Owner, Combo Platter: Event Marketing & Management

The biggest problem, in my view, of such exercises is that those are often the only times that organizations strive to build teams. After the activities, it’s back to the same-old. Team-building is something that needs to be done regularly and consistently as part of the company culture, not just during occasional group gatherings.

Tammy L
Workplace conflict resolution coach and consultant

I agree with Terrance Seamon’s take and would add this:
As a conflict resolution expert, I’ve had over a decade’s worth of organizations contacting me for ”team building” when what they really wanted was to address the conflict…in as indirect and avoidant was as possible. Certainly not all organizations seeking team-building make this mistake, but it’s come up again and again.
So team-building in the way Terrance describes it is most valuable. Team-building as a side-door to addressing conflict is a poor choice, in my opinion, and the organization in those instances is far better served by hiring a conflict resolution specialist who understands how to make conflict work **for** the team, not against it.

Gary P

Hi Brian
I have taken part in many team work development exercises only to have them produce short term results. This was a result of a lack of follow up by the leadership, or the case that we were really a group and not a team.
Be sure yours is a Team and not a Group: Some ways to tell the difference
Team: a group of people ORGANIZED to work together. A team should have the following;
Individual and mutual accountability, Specific team purpose that the team itself delivers, and
collective work products
Group: a number of persons BOUND together by common social standards, interests, etc. and has the following attributes;
Individual accountability, the group’s purpose is the same as the broader organizational mission, Individual work-products

Stephen M
Regional Channel Account Manager at Panda Security

If by team building activities you are implying the mind numbing, plethora of motivational activities that companies undertake; my perception is that they are a waste of time and money. Building a team isn’t an event. It takes leadership and it takes time. Lots of both.

Fire walking, board breaking, paint ball, rock climbing, sailing, rope courses, laser light shows, smoke and mirrors, etc. I’ve done them all and still come away with the same questions unanswered – why? so what? who cares?
I would add to Joel’s comments. People arrive at a decision through three very distinct phases of thinking – comprehensive thinking, divergent thinking and convergent thinking – in this exact sequence. This is to say that first we try to understand, gather information, learn, etc. Then we transition to looking at various solutions and outcomes. Once we have exhausted that we converge our thinking and make a decision. I’ve yet to see any team building approach that does this outside of the military.

Mike R
Senior Manager Products and Services at Evergreen Team Concepts and Student at Western International University

First thought is a relay race, trust of the other person passing the baton, each member has a significant part, you don’t succeed unless everyone does, cheering on each team member – all working for a common purpose.

The problem just like the example above is that it isn’t relevant to our work. We can all go to a paintballing activity and have roles and parts and have fun working for a common purpose of getting a flag, however connecting the dots to our work or transferring this over seems to be where the problem lies.

James C
Managing Director, Progressive Resources Ltd

It’s very easy to criticise team building activities but the reality is that they are more popular within companies than ever and most people have very good experiences on them which edify their relationships. There’s some confusion between team building and team bonding in the UK because culturally we recoil from words like bonding.

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