Team Building Sometimes Isn’t

by  Chris Edmonds  |  Team Dynamics
Team Building Sometimes Isn’t

The improving economy has prompted many companies to reinvest in their employees through team building activities. With the purse-strings less tight, leaders try to create a fun atmosphere and help team members bond with each other.

A recent Denver Post article discussed this trend. Getting people out of the structure and formality of the workplace can boost connections and increase communication. Yet some activities rely on competition, which often creates hard feelings.

One Denver firm operates an indoor kart racing facility that is very popular for company team building events. The feedback they get is 95% positive – yet there are periodic problems. One business owner let the competition go to his head and began ramming his employees’ karts. “We had to remove him from the track,” sighed the track owner.

There is no question that these activities can be fun and are certainly a change-of-pace from your day-to-day work environment. But are you getting tangible, work-related benefit from the time and investment?

The reality is that team building will not likely have beneficial impact on your day-to-day operations. Bowling, softball leagues, bicycling clubs, ropes courses, and even carting events may be enjoyable for some team members. But there is no guarantee that cheering on a colleague on the sports field will make that same team member more cooperative at work the next day.

How can companies create beneficial team building experiences that positively impact team members and their business? By engaging in cooperative team building activities – not competitive ones.

Here’s an example. David Greer’s upcoming book, Wind In Your Sails, mentions a powerful practice for creating authentic cooperative connections between team members – cooking together.

One of his first jobs was with a start-up that operated out of a house. A norm evolved that people volunteered to cook lunch for their twenty or so colleagues every workday. It was a terrific relationship-building experience – and you know that real work problems were getting solved over sandwiches daily.

David’s story reminded me of how cooking together helped one of my teams. In my YMCA executive days, I created a similar experience for my day camp staff. We bused 30 team members to a rented cabin for a weekend of planning, training, and bonding. Dinner the second night was a team building experience.

We assigned people to four teams. Each eight member team had to plan their dinner meal within a $60 budget. That was real money back in the early 1980’s. They had to plan who would take the lead on shopping, cooking, and cleaning. They had to cooperate with the other teams to share pots, pans, counter space, refrigerator shelves, ovens, etc. in our commercial kitchen.

We bused the teams to a local grocery store and gave them their cash. They had fifteen minutes to shop and get back on the bus. They then had 40-minutes to cook, 30-minutes to eat, and 30-minutes to clean the kitchen.

The experience was terrific. Everyone participated – and everyone enjoyed a nice meal. It was loud and fun. There were constant negotiations for needed pans and utensils and space as cooking began. People interacted deeply with everyone on their team – not just their best friends.

Afterwards, we spent an hour facilitating learning moments from the dinner experience – and let these leaders tell us how planning, cooperation, and sharing will make ours a high performing, values-aligned team.

The chaotic dinner event helped improve relationships, cooperation, and communication across our team that summer.

Remove the element of competition and build on the benefit of cooperation. Get out of the office and find ways of working together to make a positive impact on work relationships and practices.

Tell us about a favorite team building memory…
Photo Credit: Morguefile

About The Author

Articles By chris-edmonds
S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, thought leader, author, and executive consultant. He writes books. He blogs and podcasts. He’s a working musician on the side.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John Smith  |  26 Feb 2015  |  Reply

Very nice post, Chris:)

Now I really look forward to David’s new book. In my experience, the team-building strategy has been mis-applied and you provide some good examples.

One of the things I did for many years involved outdoor experiential activities, such as ROPES courses and even just good, old-fashioned rustic camping with my staff. I have written often about the lessons learned, both individually and as a group, from those seemingly simple exercises and games.

About the competition thing, we seem to sometimes lack a regulator to control our tendency toward “winner take all” behavior. I have rarely seem this in entire groups, but often observed it in individuals. Your story about the boss who got banned for overly-aggressive go-karting was a good example … and when this behavior is displayed by the boss, in the environment of the organization where he can’t be “banned”, the results are seldom positive, especially in the long run.

On the other hand, many pleasant memories were stirred by your cooking example. Everyone has to eat and the opportunity for mutual benefit is obvious.

Bottom Line: How behavior is handled when team-building is critical. I have seen some pretty shabby behavior used as a learning point for all involved, but I have also seen a team go belly-up because non-productive behavior was not addressed, either at the point of action or during the follow-up, within a safe environment.

Thanks again for an astute and memory-provoking post:)


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