Category Archives: executive team building exercises

Thoughts on Team Building and Choices, not Beliefs

Since I first started consulting on behavior and performance back in the late 1970s, I was struck by the differences in what people SAY they do and what they actually CHOOSE to do. Often, these represent large gaps between theory and actual behavior, a gap that often needs to be closed to actually change organizational cultures. People have a hard time being congruent, acting as they think they do and seeing their personal behavior objectively. This is one of the primary reasons why 360 degree feedback can be useful.

Managers might talk about listening to their people and having an open door policy, for example, but the actual reality is that they are always too busy, they screen their calls and their visits, and they have people run interference for them. Surveys will demonstrate such gaps pretty regularly, in actuality. They might talk about “skip-level management” but they always want people to move issues and ideas up the normal chain of command. New data on Respect shows a similar gap (blog to be published tomorrow).

I believe you know what I am referring to, since lots of surveys show lots of such gaps and we have a lot of personal experiences with others that we can recall. And these two quotes sum up the situation:

We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by their behavior.

   and

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. (John LeCarre)

A friend who does teambuilding wrote about doing team development training with senior leadership in Kuwait and that the participants in two workshops challenged the models in his book and put him to the task defending his thinking.There were probably some cultural differences in play but these were also senior managers who often think they know about the intra- and inter-team interactions in their organizations but who generally see filtered data.

(For an example of “filtered data,” you will probably find this blog post to share a funny but true accounting of how Mission Statements get developed! The story is called, “In The Beginning.”)

It is obvious from the pictures that my friend shared that people attending had fun and that team bonding probably occurred. But these activities, by their appearance, did not seem to have a lot of construct validity insofar as being business decision-making and business problem-solving or related to issues of process improvement. Nothing appears measurable and inter-organizational collaboration seems difficult to generate, from appearances.

Given that there were apparent difficulties in the attendees relating to the high performance teambuilding model that was shared,  I also wonder if a different delivery framework for the actual exercises, something with tighter ties to business improvement realities, might have generated different outcomes and discussions. A good model will help leadership better understand what they can choose to do differently, to help change their behavior and the organizational culture they manage but only if you can link to behaviors, not trying to change attitudes or beliefs.

Too often, people from different perspectives and orientations TALK about what they do and how their managers and teams perform and will challenge models based on their beliefs about how things work. We all have such a sense of reality about things like this that it sometimes makes us blind to other possibilities. Simply using a group of people to solve a problem is NOT always relevant to making improvements in business processes and managing people and performance. Problem solving challenges are related, but different. Teams do not just solve problems, they must implement solutions!

kuwait team building pictures

These are the kinds of challenges commonly used in so many team building programs, but are they BUSINESS problems that relate to organizational improvement issues?

And it looked (above) as if my friend used activity-type exercises that are engaging and challenging but that might not have tightly represented business models of how things work.  And this is where some of the conversational conflict may have arisen — how does working with string directly relate to managing and improving high performance teams?

One of the things that I have found to eliminate most of that kind of divergent chatter among executives is to put them into a problem situation and get them to choose and behave and then debrief around ACTUAL behaviors observed, focused around optimizing organizational performance results. Simply talking about how they think things work is not really useful — and the focus is on beliefs and not behaviors and decision-making. We all have beliefs, but not all beliefs represent objective reality.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is one kind of activity that actually drives team and group behaviors in an observable and measurable way, and is one such approach to reality and choice. The exercise also focuses on the inter-table play and decisions, the competitive side of things that get in the way of collaboration and the larger issues of teamwork. It focuses on time limits and limited resources and the need for understanding a complicated set of rules for play along with issues of strategic planning, intra- and inter-team alignment to a shared goal, and the implementation of ideas.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine information and overview link
High Performing Teams do not just solve problems,
they implement solutions that impact results!

If you can get people to make choices and perform in a complex situation demanding teamwork and collaboration and planning, you now can focus on those choices and the observed behaviors and link those things directly to a model for organizational improvement and change. I think arranging knives in a unique creative manner is a great bar trick but the leap from that to organizational improvement is a long one.

What do YOU think?

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

 

Engaging Senior Managers in Organizational Teambuilding

Since we started focusing on the rental of our large event team building simulation, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, I have been engaged with consultant trainers asking me more questions about impacting organizational effectiveness and engaging senior managers in strategy improvement and change.Dutchman is one of the truly great team building exercises that works well with really large groups.

The large group play of Lost Dutchman's teambuilding exercise

Generating real organizational change is always an issue – how does one generate real involvement and alignment and ownership among the senior management team? And how does one really get value and focus from a large group event? We think it is active involvement and engagement along with clear discussions about past and future choices for changes and behaviors.

benefit of teambuilding exercise simulation

In actuality, delivering a large group event using the simulation represents an unparalleled opportunity to really accomplish executive team building and alignment because of a specific design feature in Dutchman: its’ direct simplicity.

Dutchman was designed to be easy to facilitate — I did not want to need a staff of people to do licensing or certification nor did I want to make the exercise too hard for players to understand. I also wanted non-training people to be able to deliver the game — we have had many line managers run the exercise over the years with great success. (See the Megan and Robin testimonials here)

The end result after 20+ years of polishing was a very straightforward team building program where there are few hidden tricks and a complete congruence of all of the facilitation staff to support the players in solving the challenges that are presented. The banking of the game and the tracking of team behaviors was made really simple. There were few “mechanical” issues and it was easy to learn how to operate so that a facilitator could pay more attention to the observed behaviors rather than needing to become some expert on game mechanics.

And the result exceeded expectations; in actuality. FEW people ever call me after purchasing the exercise and going through the instructional materials. Few people ever contact me after they deliver the game with questions and only occasionally do we get into nuanced discussions about design and tweeking the game to focus on details. It’s simplicity became a feature and benefit!

When I first started my deliveries, I would assemble some outsiders and pay them to help me deliver large games (50 people or more).  And as I was asked to deliver even larger programs, I would often get internal people together for an hour or so to teach them the mechanics — these were often the training or HR staff who were supporting the event.

What I eventually discovered is that I could deliver an actual team building session for a group of senior managers, running them through the actual exercise with a normal debriefing of results and impacts. If I could get them to commit to a full day, I could also get their agreement on alignment and shared goals for the organization, link that to the desired debriefing of the results of their large group team building event, and then put them into an active role for that delivery. Some could be “bankers” and some could help as coaches on the floor answering questions and providing direct team support.

THIS became my most effective overall design focus:

  • Get the senior managers in a collaborative and aligned mode of operation and give them an active role in the exercise = ownership
  • Have a collaborating team of senior managers supporting their people in the large group event and in the debriefing, improving actual organizational alignment and directly / actively supporting inter-team collaboration

Dr. Scott Simmerman facilitating team building gameThis design gave me the ability to put my coaching hat on with a real purpose and also enables me to run really large groups with only ME being required for delivery.

You can imagine how that positively impacts my profitability and minimizes any staffing issues and we also have plenty of management help for running the game. I can also charge the client a LOT less than my competitors because we are not charging for extra staff and travel expenses and all that. AND my delivery staff has a vested interest in making the event optimally successful.

Imagine the staffing needs to run a typical experiential exercise for 300 people versus the ability to deliver a senior manager team building session plus the large teambuilding event with only my active involvement and participation. Simplicity and effectiveness!

Plus, we generate a much higher likelihood of behavioral change and implementation after the event, since the managers have a really powerful hands on collaborative experience in working with each other to maximize the results of the event itself. The debriefing of that senior manager session focuses on discussing the kinds of behaviors these senior managers would like to see from the people at the large event. A focus on the shared mission / vision and generating alignment to goals, objectives and expectations becomes quite clear.

Having these real Senior Managers in this game delivery role is a great leadership learning lesson on how to implement change and support high performance. One cannot simply TALK about what leaders and players should be doing; they have to behave consistently and congruently to actually generate results.

And behaviors of the teams playing the game directly parallel what we see in organizations. While a few of the tabletop teams will have precisely what they need to perform at a maximum level, those same teams will often choose NOT to collaborate, to thus “win” the game at the cost of negatively impacting overall organizational results. This is one of the great debriefing points — that collaboration is a desired overall organizational outcome!

Anyway, it is really neat to see these kinds of large events happening, since they can be powerful events to engage people in change and improvement and to lead them out of the current “engagement doldrums” that we seem to find ourselves.

 

Have some FUN out there!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

 

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Large Corporate Team Building Event Ideas and Issues

Team building programs corporations might consider for their organizational development programs vary in impact and cost. There are a variety of different kinds of activities for team bonding purposes and there are programs that accomplish team building, which take a different direction. The focus on this post is to outline ideas that will actually improve business results and generate  alignment to missions and goals.

Team bonding may be fun and useful, but it is not often designed to generate measurable improvements of the interdepartmental collaboration and engagement kind.

If you spend time at a large hotel or conference center and check out the general happenings, you can often find groups there having some kind of company retreat that is not totally an educational training program. You will often see people sitting around or engaged in some kind of general activity, with a large screen at the front and powerpoint being shown. The people are often excited when they exit, knowing that they escaped death by powerpoint and non-engagement, at least for a short while. One wonders, though, why hotels are not required to post health warnings about deep vein thrombosis for some of these sessions!

A couple of years ago, people at OnlineMBA.com came across a blog post of mine while they were researching “Team Building” and sent me a link to one of their articles entitled, “How the Top Companies Take On Team Building.

I liked the way it started, since I pretty much agree with this:

Few corporate-culture business phrases are as potentially groan-inducing as “team building.” Visions of cheesy performances and “inspiring” activities like coal walking and trust falls immediately spring to mind.

There are many posts in my blog about the more ridiculous or hard to seriously consider team activities such as golf, paintball or fire walking and we started up a twitter thread to capture some of these ( #baaadteambuilding ). While there may be some positive individual impacts from some of these challenge activities, most do not seem to have any real connection to teamwork or organizational improvement initiatives, Most are nowhere close to being tied to improving results.

Years ago, Dave Berry weighed in on Burger King’s toasty experience with a firewalk — see my blog post on that here.

But the OnlineMBA article quoted above is solid. It talks about some different activities that DO have positive organizational impacts, many of which are not costly. Some are a bit off the wall, like hiring a comedy troupe to come in and cause people to laugh. I have actually seen that backfire but that is a whole different discussion. And they talk about doing Personality Tests as a team building exercise –that needs to be more than simply testing and talking. Maybe they could let the comedy troupe do them?

I read about a school board in Tampa that got together with a facilitator to do some team building. They started with Patrick Lenconi’s work on dysfunctional teams and they quickly became dysfunctional, as one board member immediately complained about the lack of trustworthy behavior of the others and the whole session became an emotional shouting match that was over very shortly. (They employed a trainer, and not a trained facilitator, who allowed to group to get too emotionally engaged way too soon and failed horribly at keeping conversations civil and arms-length. Ugh.)

My experience has been that solid team building games, ones that involve and engage people in metaphorical play, work great as tools to involve and engage people in problem solving and teamwork. From the game experiences and observed behaviors, we can easily link back to the real issues needing to be addressed in the organization. And by using a business framework in debriefing, discussing results and alignment and leadership themes from the play, we always avoid that kind of dysfunctional challenge to history within the organization.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Innovate & Implement  are fun, controllable, inexpensive and actually link directly to workplace collaboration and performance improvement.

And all of our products scale up from small group training sessions to very large group events. There are many long-term impacts on participants and the activities get everyone involved and engaged.

Team building exercise, Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

Performance Management Company is the designer and publisher of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building simulation. We sell different versions of the game for various uses and will also inexpensively rent the exercise to users for large group teambuilding or organizational events:

Rent The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

Click the above icon to see a detailed explanatory blog post about renting the exercise or click here to go directly to the information on the shopping cart of our website.

And you can find some testimonials here,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

 

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Rental of Team Building Exercise for Large Groups

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a great team building exercise for focusing teams of people on themes of leadership, alignment, collaboration and the optimization of performance results. We’ve been selling and supporting the exercise worldwide for since 1993 and sometimes, it makes sense to invest some of your own time and resources into delivering a team building program for an event or conference.

In this post, we will share a framework to deliver a powerful simulation generally focused on collaboration, alignment and leadership for less than $25 per person. This is about 1/5 of what most competitors charge, and to this they often add facilitator fees and travel expenses! You can DO it for $25 and have a more effective and tightly anchored team development program, to  boot.

You want to do real team building for 40 people? You need one person to run the game and one person to support the banking function. You rent the game for $1100 (plus shipping) and you have everything you need in the box, including tabletop materials, resource cards, instructional and delivery materials. There are multiple debriefing slideshows you can see. Plus, you get unlimited coaching from my by phone and email. A competitor publishes their charge for a similar session at $8000 plus expenses.

Let’s say you want to deliver a session for 60 people. We would support that game with all the needed materials plus training support for $1500. You would get all the orientation, instructional and delivery materials plus that unlimited phone and email support. A competitor says they will charge you $3000 and that is just their facilitation fee. It will cost another $100+ per person and you will also pay their expenses…

In either case, experience says that your time investment would be a couple of hours to understand the exercise frameworks and mechanics. To prepare for delivery and debriefing might be another hour and you would need about an hour to train one or two support people to “bank” the game for you. All instructional materials are provided.

But let’s say you wanted to deliver a session for 300 people. First, you run the game for the senior management as a 3/4 day team building program. You play and debrief and teach, focusing on issues of motivation, visions, goals, resource management and planning. You also involve them in defining the session outcomes for the large session to follow. Lastly, you then teach them how to support your big game (as bankers and co-Expedition Leaders). They become an active part of the delivery and will model behaviors designed to support teamwork and leadership development.

This initial event and time investment insures that your overall debriefing aligns with the senior manager group’s main goals for collaboration, leadership, strategy implementation, etc. These senior managers are your delivery team — their role is to help teams be successful and to maximize overall ROI, which is often the same as their regular role!

$7500 versus $35,000: So, you rent the game for your leadership group ($1000) and you rent the game for your Big Group for $6500. You have no other game-related expenses unless you buy cowboy hats and bandannas, The end result is that you have done a LOT of teambuilding for that whole organization when all is finished, with people being active participants. You’ve paid $21 a person for your Big Game (as opposed to 300 people x $100 per person ($30,000!!) plus another $5000+ in fees and expenses). AND, by not using outsiders, you have actively involved and engaged your senior management team in this organizational improvement effort!

Here’s one last point: By doing the delivery yourselves, you are NOT watching some Big Stage Show Spectacular done by someone else. When you use Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, what you are getting is a world class, hands-on business simulation that focuses your people on the play of the game, not the fancy materials and costumes. (An interesting factoid is that one of our Dutchman customers is Cirque de Soleil in Canada.)

We’ve been renting the game for more than 15 years and selling it for more than 20 and we have it pretty much locked down insofar as materials and training and support. Here’s what one renter just said about her experiences. Note that this is her second time for renting the game and that she is NOT a trainer but a senior operational line manager who wants to be directly involved and engaged in her performance improvement initiatives:

Testimonial on Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

We can charge these very low costs because we have a small company with little overhead and we have a game design that does not require a lot of reproduction or manufacturing costs. It is just a really great bombproof exercise that anyone can deliver.

We can also apply some of the rental fee to a purchase price should you want to acquire the exercise to run with people over time (unlike most others, we charge a one-time price for your game purchase, with no certification or annual licenses or per-person or hidden fees)

Many of our small game purchasers (we sell classroom versions for 3 or 4 tables of 6 people each) like being able to run Dutchman occasionally for really large groups. Dutchman is greatl for a one-time team building event such as an “all-hands” meeting event. We have supported many of those kinds of trainings and there is no upper limit on the size of the group — one client delivered a Dutchman session of 870 people in the same room at the same time!

Unlike a lot of the other designed team building simulations, we have a truly elegant and pretty bombproof design, which allows us to NOT offer train-the-trainer programs or require certifications or have other kinds of restrictions. Many of our customers simply get the materials, review the overall support documents, go through the powerpoint and — maybe — call me. Many choose not to bother calling and just deliver it!

I offer free and unlimited telephone support – you talk directly to ME, the game designer and a certified master facilitator, not to some “support person.” Few people seem to need the support, though, which says that the included materials are pretty complete. They should be, since we first delivered the game back in 1993 and have played with its design and supporting documentation since that time.

I can also customize the design in small ways, and work with you to design and refine a debriefing that fits with your goals and objectives and within your time limits. Generally, for large groups of 60+, we like to have 3.5 to 4 hours to do the game and the desired debriefing. This timeline allows 90 minutes or more for your debriefing — that active discussion is what generates the commitment to improve collaboration and teamwork, planning and communications.

Dutchman is surprisingly inexpensive, high-impact and very memorable and the program can be specifically tailored to generate your desired outcomes.

Dutchman is THE world-class team building exercise focused on improving inter-organizational collaboration and aligning people to shared goals and objectives. It can be run by line managers and executives, too, not just people in training and consulting.

Unlike most delivery organizations, we have a posted pricing schedule, so you can look at the costs of renting this team building simulation and the detail of delivering the exercise before contacting us. You will find that few vendors of team building simulations actually post their prices. Isn’t that odd?

Dutchman Rental Matrix(The only constraint on renting the exercise is that I generally restrict the rentals to North America, unless you are referred in by one of our users or you have purchased other materials or are otherwise known to me. It is just too hard to control these things with international shipments.)

You CAN get me to facilitate your exercise, but I generally try to talk prospects out of that idea if I can. I can be used to deliver the Senior Manager Team Building Event, since that is sometimes political. But you can then get your senior manager to lead the Big Game for your people (with your training and support).

We think we are the best value in large group teambuilding events, costing lots less and offering more benefits than most other competitors,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

You can find a LOT of information about running Dutchman with large groups by clicking on the large group picture in the above text or here.

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

 

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Simple, Powerful, Effective Team Building Simulation

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine continues to generate really positive feedback from customers. Since 1993, it has been continuously improved and refined to the point where it runs seamlessly, generates wonderful reflection, and clearly mirrors the organizational culture of the players.

We just had a situation where a senior line manager again rented the exercise for a team building and organizational development session she was leading for her team. The company is an electrical utility and she had about 50 managers in her new organization that she wanted to work with. The Lost Dutchman game was part of her overall goal of getting to know her people better and building some trust.

She had rented the Dutchman game in her previous assignment and had liked the outcomes and discussions it generated. This time, she liked it even more!

Testimonial on Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

The team building exercise sets up situations where players and teams have a variety of choices, and their strategic planning and collaboration within and between teams generates measurable results and a return on investment. When a team plays well, they generate good results. When the team chooses to try to beat the other teams, we generally see measurable sub-optimizing impacts on overall results.

Here are the comments from a young church leader, who had experienced the exercise as part of the DeVos Foundation work with leadership development and the inner city and who then used the game to impact his church and generate much better alignment and team building:

testimonial on The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game

People make choices, and we debrief on the choices made and how those same choices relate to their workplace, their alignment as team members of the group, and how choosing to compete impacts the culture as well as the customer. The goal of the exercise is to Mine as much Gold as we can and the role of the Expedition Leader is to help teams be successful. ALL of this relates very directly to workplace improvement.

We love to get this continuing stream of positive comments and testimonials about how the play of the game impacts people and performance. It is confirmation that our plans have generated positive impacts and changes,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

 

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Off-Site Meetings, Teamworking and Engaging People for workplace improvement

In a LinkedIn thread, we started discussing company activities and teamwork. My thoughts are along the theme that building teams within an organization is not the same as doing a lot of things that are called teambuilding. What I did was show this picture in a discussion called “Teamwork? Why is this called TEAMwork?” and comment:

Every so often, I am simply struck by what some people call team building. I have written extensively in my other blog about things like go-kart racing, golf, bowling, firewalking and other activities and how a connection to team building behavior and organizational performance change is tenuous at best.

FUN is not team building.

CHALLENGE is not team building.

Teamwork High Ropes Guy

One of my friends talked about her teambuilding experiences thusly:

Hi Scott! I think these activities help build teams when people *choose* to get together and do fun things together; not because the company forces them to do so. The reason certain coworkers will choose to do things together on their own is because the working environment is open and friendly and lends itself to people *wanting* to get to know each other outside of the office. The best team building activities I’ve ever experienced were completely voluntary and informal.

I read a thought this morning that helped me frame this up a bit more clearly in my mind.

It is a simple reality that building a community within an organization is not the same as building real teamwork.

Forming a softball team can have the benefit of helping people get to know each other so as to improve that sense of community; it may help improve communications and trust. But it is not going to help the team build a better sense of alignment to the organization’s goals and visions, nor will it improve systems and processes to have impacts on performance metrics.

The kinds of problem-solving faced by the second baseman when considering whether to throw the ground ball to first base or second base (one out, tie score, 3rd  inning) or the person forty feet off the ground standing on a board is not thinking about improving customer service or generating a sale or shipping an order. Teamwork is adding brains and engagement to business process improvement, more than doing a firewalk or winning at paintball.

I’ve written a lot about the issues I have with things like bowling or golf paid for by company funds and framed as “team building events.” A company started here in Greenville SC with indoor go-karts framed up its first advertisement with it being “a year-round team building opportunity.” Racing about in go-karts is a team building event? How will that impact organizational performance? How will that improve collaboration and decision-making?

There was a lot of media a while back about the Internal Revenue Service and such a formal event they structured. You can read about it here under the title,

IRS needs Large Group Team Building instead of $27,000 Innovation Speakers
Google ChromeScreenSnapz003

IRS Line-Dancing – click to see the video

They spent a gazillion taxpayer dollars on a huge fancy choreographed event, hiring “motivational speakers” (an oxymoron – do any actually motivate you?*) and took time to “train” a whole bunch of people to do different things like the line dancing above (team building, I guess) when they could have done something like The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine for maybe a total of $10,000 (including a leadership development session for senior managers) and generated some serious discussions about organizational and departmental goals, choices about collaboration and improving communications, discussions of shared risk and leadership of others, etc.

* I can remember attending a corporate event years ago when a famous football quarterback / restaurant owner was paid $40,000 to speak to a group of employees and vendors about his experiences with customer service. Does anyone really think that any listener walked away and did anything differently? It was a photo-opportunity for the company execs to get pictures taken, though.

Just as icebreakers to energize can be a waste of time and energy when they are completely unrelated to the training goals and session subject (see Motivation, Training and Icebreakers. Keeping it Real),  organizational team building activities should have a real connection to improving the organization.

Note: You can find a solid article on ideas for success for off-site team building event management ideas on this blog post.

That is not to say that company activities aren’t good things to do, because they are. But when limited budgets for organizational improvement are spent on picnics, bowling, softball and other community-building activities, you can miss the opportunity to do things that actually make impacts on people and performance. Do both, if you can.

Note:  We rent and sell an absolutely world-class team building exercise focused on alignment and inter-organizational collaboration. It is called, The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and there are many posts in my blog about the exercise and its design features.

Here is a recent testimonial that I thought to add:

Testimonial on Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

Renting the game is a really inexpensive way to have a great large group event team building at a very inexpensive price. Read more about renting Dutchman here:

Rent The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

 

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Outdoor Training: Issues of Learning and Change

Workers are the people who are doing the work. Managers are the people managing. Teamwork should have positive impacts and collaboration is more important than competition.

So why do most outdoor activities seem to be highly competitive ones? And why would we want MORE competition within the organization since it is already not helping — “interdepartmental collaboration” is an oxymoron in most places!

And I am sure that the workers find more competition within the different departments of your company right now than they find between your company and your competitors. The senior managers might see things differently, but do the workers themselves actually feel they are competing with others more than they feel they are already competing with their own management?

  • So, why not focus on more inter-departmental collaboration and alignment?
  • Why not build on improving communications and engagement?
  • Why keep doing competitive things when collaborative ones are needed?

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Airline Cargo Volleyball TrophyWe won the competition, but we lost the team building aspect of things. And I have the trophy to prove it! More on this below.

—————————

On occasion, I am asked if one of our team building games could be used in an outdoor setting. Wow, does that bring up some memories about what might have happened and the reality of losing control. I find too many uncontrolled things can happen in an outside environment and wonder why they are used, actually. And, so many of these outdoor events are strictly “games” and not learning events and, therefore, primarily competition-based engagement.

(Is that an oxymoron?)

Being outside is great, but is it cost effective for a business to make that decision? I guess if FUN is the desired outcome, and not LEARNING nor generating behavioral commitments to do things differently, outdoor games can work.

The idea of sports analogies or military frameworks applied to business development situations also makes me uncomfortable because businesses do NOT represent how sports teams operate nor are we generally accepting assault and raw aggression as good business strategies. We are not a football team with a quarterback and plays and countless practice drills and direct head-to-head team competition with other teams. We are not a baseball team, with players who each do their jobs in the field and then take bats individually against the pitcher of another team. We are not basketball teams, running plays and shooting baskets. We can make analogies to those activities, but we are not in those industries!

Paintball as a business exercise? Shooting at other people with the goal of doing them harm (killing them out of the game?) and demanding some level of motor skills coordination and physical activity of running and dodging to succeed creates an unfair playing field.  Sure, there are analogies, but is that a business learning opportunity? Is building a rope bridge and then walking over it a real situation for your business (or driving a go-cart or bowling) — is it going to generate real business collaboration and improvement? Firewalking?

(I do have a good article on Business Sabotage you can read here!)

Sports are too much about winners and losers whereas business requires collaboration across a variety of operational and support groups. Military games are way too deadly serious and many of your participants may have significant emotional ties to such situations. If they were in a real war, your activity will bring back those strong negative associations and memories. If they had a child or relative killed or injured in some war, it is that same issue — you are coercing them to participate in a situation that creates unpleasant emotions.

Do we really need to use competition and competitiveness
as driving forces
for collaboration within our companies?

(Is that telephone customer service rep actually in competition with another company or merely depending on collaboration from other departments to perform well in her job? Is that guy on the shopfloor really competing with The Koreans in producing a high quality automobile? Is competition the real driving force for top performance by people? (Answer: NO) )

Workers are the people who are doing the work. Managers are the people managing. Workers and Managers both want LESS competition within the different departments of your company. So, why not focus on more inter-departmental collaboration and improving communications and engagement?

Generally, the links to the business improvement issues — why companies are actually spending money and time with managers and employees — are sometimes quite vague when relating many outdoor activities to organizational behavior and leadership, problem solving or change. Sure, these outside exercises are fun and people do like to solve problems and compete. But it takes a good facilitator to bring out the discussions and not all the facilitators are all that good nor is there always support within the program design for a strong debriefing to take place. Plus, the links from the activity back to business are sometimes stretched.

I speak with experience as a participant of many different kinds of these activities. One was at a college with a bunch of my Leadership Greenville colleagues (a program supported by our Chamber of Commerce). Being collaborative and facilitative in my general style, I applied these skills in discussions about solving the outdoor problems at hand (like the acid river and the bucket on a string designs). The “session leader”  actually decided I was helping too much and told me that I HAD to be silent and could not talk – this is also known as punishment in psychology and it has pretty predictable consequences long-term.

(Yeah, and imagine when I was allowed to talk in the debriefing! One of the questions I asked of her was about the leader’s business experience. Turns out that she had never actually had an actual job. And she is the leader of this group of business people? Really?)

Another such program on collaboration turned into a mass group competition, where the VP of the group was making things more competitive by timing the different problem solving activities and comparing different groups to the others.

Airline Cargo Volleyball TrophyWe actually had a quite competitive volleyball teambuilding competition, too, and during the awards ceremony, many of the Losers actually booed the Winners in front of the company’s Executive VP Operations. And this was at a team building event where the company spent many 10s of thousands of dollars bringing players in from all over the US and hosting them at a retreat facility in the middle of Texas!

Note: I was on the winning team and I still have my trophy on my bookshelf as a reminder of how badly this went…

That same event also had one of the participants being stung by a scorpion when he leaned on a tree — he went into shock. But the facilitation team actually carried an anaphylactic shock kit with them out in the field, since it had apparently happened before (wonder if they had mentioned that when working on the design of the activities). Needless to say, that hour spent on it was costly for the 60 highly paid company people — everything stopped completely — as well as pretty distracting for all of his friends and co-workers.

Competition produces chaos and confusion, not collaboration and improvement

My outdoor delivery experiences also include a session where the sun came out and totally washed out the projected images on the screen so no one could see. At a different event, the temperature in the huge circus tent went to 110 degrees and the big electric fans blew all the papers off the tabletops (so we taped them down). But these same fans were so noisy that the debriefing was impossible, as also occurred with the game activities that followed after my session. And this narrative represents the short-version of all the things that went wrong…

Another event had it rain for an hour right after we put the maps and things on the tables. We quickly recollected all the soluble stuff and then, when the rain stopped, we had each table select what it required from our “Organized Pile of Materials” and take these things outside to their tables (which the hotel staff helped us dry off with a massive number of room towels).

YES, my games CAN be delivered as outside activities, but why? I actually cannot remember a single time when something did not go wrong and force us to make a major adjustment in our delivery (like an afternoon lightning storm). And I cannot imagine doing a large group, outside, with any kind of controllable learning outcomes. Here is one we did for 500 people that went really well:

Large group team building delivery - INSIDE - with everything under control!

If my client is paying big bucks to get people to the venue, feed them, house them and all that, and they are renting a room for lunch or dinner, why the heck not simply deliver the exercise inside under controlled temperature and lighting and audio/video and avoid all the disasters? Why even allow the potential problems? What is the big benefit of people standing around outside? (Heck, maybe I could design a program around them all coming over to my house and working on my yard and gardens, ya think? Do it like one of those cooking classes — I could sell it as a Landscaping Teambuilding Initiative and maybe even get them to work on my neighbors’ yards…)

Lastly, I do not consider firewalking, golf, go-karting or golfing to be very good team building activities. Baseball is okay, maybe, since everyone can play and bat and all that but running is required (and I actually ruptured an Achilles tendon playing ball). Volleyball requires too much skill and the size and skill differences between people can be way too large. And how many times do I have to pass balls around or deal with a bucket on a string or hold hands with other people to solve a problem, anyway…

There are LOTS and lots of good team building games and exercises that can be delivered with high impact and good learning. So, why intentionally add uncontrollable factors just to make it some “outside” program whereby a much higher potential for non-participation or even injury might occur?

I will always remember the White Mile movie starring Alan Alda: A corporate team-building trip ends in tragedy in this drama. Hoping to build bonds between his employees and clients, advertising executive Dan Cutler (Alan Alda) takes the group on a whitewater rafting excursion. But the raft capsizes, several of the men die, and one widow files a lawsuit. Cutler tries to hide his negligence, and one survivor (Peter Gallagher) faces a difficult moral dilemma.

Have fun out there! And maximize your team building impact.

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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this was re-edited and re-published on September 30, 2012.