Why Your Team Building Exercise Won’t Build a Team

by  Mandy Vavrinak  |  Leadership Development

“We teach what we know; we attract what we are.”

Those 10 words from Seth Godin at the Chick-fil-A Leadercast 2011 seem simple enough. Maybe… but I think that like much of what Seth says, there’s more to it than first appears. If you look at that statement through a traditional leadership lens, you might think about how it applies to organizational behavior situations; training, leading a team, etc. And his statement does apply to those situations, indeed.

But aren’t we are always teaching… even when we don’t intend to? Every action or inaction, gesture, word or reaction shows others what we want them to see; what we want them to know about us. We all hold an image of how we think we appear to others, and we tend to act in order to further that perceived image, no matter how inaccurate it may be. So we continually teach what we “know” to be true about ourselves and the world, even if our truth isn’t authentic or even recognizable to others.

We attract, however, what we truly are. If we ARE close-minded or mean-spirited, we will somehow find ourselves working with, for and alongside others of the same inclinations. If deep down, we are suspicious of other’s motives and fearful they are out to take our position, clients, or credit… it doesn’t matter how often we “teach” trust, we’ll attract people who are, at heart, fearful, suspicious or generally untrusting. We’ll probably spend some time wondering why all the team-building exercises, ropes courses and training sessions aren’t “sticking” either.

I found myself thinking about this idea of teaching what we know (and honestly, how can you teach what you don’t know?) but attracting what we are long after the event ended. When we seek new members for our team, we often say we want someone who complements us, who is strong where we are not… and maybe we achieve that balance in skill sets. But if we attract what we are, then it stands to reason that a highly creative, disorganized individualist isn’t going to attract a linear-thinking, logical, highly methodical corporate type. However, if those two people had the higher mission of the organization or team first and foremost in their mind and hearts could their partnership be successful? Yes, I think, because then, they’d be two of a kind at a deep level and would “attract” each other. So I think the big idea Seth was sharing had less to do with our attributes than our attitudes. We need to get beyond our ideas of people as discrete lists of skills and personality traits or scores on assessment tests. Look at who you’ve attracted… who has asked to work with you, collaborate, pick your brain, work for you, have you be a part of their team. What are the common themes or big ideas? An honest examination can tell you much about your true self.

This principle applies to clients, too… if you aren’t thrilled with the client base you’ve been able to attract, take a (deeper) look inside and see if perhaps the leadership law of attraction is at work. I’ve been working on a matrix of which clients I particularly enjoy working for, and looking for the unifying or common attitudes. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) it seems to have little to do with the type, size or category of business, age or sex of the contact or owner, payment history, or even the type of work I do for them. It has everything to do with how the owner views his own clients/customers and employees.

I think Seth is on to something here. We teach what we know; we attract what we are. What do you think? Who are you attracting?  Is that a good thing?

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What People Are Saying

Pete Friedes  |  22 May 2011  |  Reply

I have another example of the same principle. When we were selecting partners (when Hewitt Associates was a partnership), we’d ask all existing partners to appraise all the candidates they worked with. Invariably, their evaluation would be centered on their own strong traits; actuaries would evaluate a candidate on the accuracy and precision of his/her work, or salespeople would evaluate a candidate on his/her social skills. The best evaluators were partners who appreciated strengths they did not possess themselves.

James Coakes  |  22 May 2011  |  Reply

Sometimes a fun team building exercise is just what a team needs. Time away from the office for some fun informal social bonding. At other times they need more than that; a facilitated session looking at issues within the team. I have been providing fun and serious team building events for more than 20 years and most of the times clients know what they need and choose the right approach.

The problem is that fun and serious team building are assessed under the same banner, when actually they are completely different things.

Team Building Pro  |  22 May 2011  |  Reply

This is an interesting perspective on ‘teams’ in general but somewhat negative! Teams can only be successful if lead with open, honest and clear communication and expectation I agree, but not every team is chosen by those that lead, there are oftent leadership and staff changes that require more consistent solutions. There are many highly recommended team building organisations who can support or maintain these goals so that negativity does not get in the way of teams reaching their common goals unimpeded by varying personality traits and attitudes.

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