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Category: team bonding versus team building

Why I HATE Outdoor Teambuilding after 30 years

“Outdoor Teambuilding.”

For me, this phrase represents an oxymoron, two words that simply do not go together. Classic oxymoron examples include “jumbo shrimp,” “crash landing,” “found missing,” “student teacher,” and, being an old rock and roller, my personal favorite, “Country Music!”

Why do I hate outdoor team building events? Because outdoors represents a basically impossible environment to do much actual team building yet companies choose to do those things, get no results and then think that no team building is actually possible. And they waste money, time and energy and cast a pall on good, impactful programs.

With training outdoors, there are simply too many distractions and dissociations in how people are reacting to make good connections to workplace issues. Outdoors is simply a place full of distractions making it is hard to hear and easy to lose focus. Sure, who doesn’t like to go whitewater rafting*, but other than remembering the fun and a few crazy things that happened to a few people, does it apply to workplace improvement or innovation or discussing changes in expectations or alignment?

And let me note that a lot of “indoor team-building focused experiential training experiences” are often simply outdoor-type activities moved indoors. I do not include any of those in my framing of business simulations and business teambuilding events. Running around indoors is the same as running around outdoors, in my view and I would also not consider paintball and firewalking to be indoor activities.


The ROI on most of these activities simply cannot be measured. Sure people have fun and will talk about the experience afterwards, but will they really do anything differently to impact the organization? And isn’t that why we are doing team building in the first place?


(Okay, an outdoor adventure or some fun and games IS better than listening to a senior executive share critically important data using powerpoint. I will take a climbing wall over a slideshow on last year’s results for inventory turnover… But I am talking about team building activities here…)

Organizations spend a LOT of money on team building events, with the expectation that they will get some return on that investment and see some changes in organizational behavior such as increased collaboration between departments or better alignment to the organizational mission and goals. (And, yes, “Interdepartmental Collaboration” is another favorite oxymoron!).

Post program, you will find the attendees talking about the activity and the structure and not a lot about the debriefing or the business links. Navigating that high ropes challenge is a solid accomplishment. And, sure, solving The Acid River is an interesting challenge – now how does that relate either to solving interdepartmental issues? And, often, the solution comes from ONE individual and not the team – there is no real teamwork involved in the strategy and those not involved are often those same people who resist the changes being done to them. Being directed as to how to perform is NOT teamwork and will not improve collaboration.

Click on the image above to see another article on outdoor learning and change

CAN Outdoor Teambuilding work? Sure. But DOES it represent the BEST environment for involving and engaging the broad diversity of people within the group and generate sufficient critical thinking or shifting of perspective that could drive changes in behavior? Organizations pay for this stuff, but I am not sure if they are looking for “great fun reactions” or actual impacts and changes. Only you can make that judgement based on your personal experiences, but my direct and indirect experience would say, Nope. No way.

  • Generally, those kinds of activities offer no possibility of measuring or measurement of behavior of individuals or groups, unless you focus on timing, which is a focus on competition more than collaboration.
  • They make it difficult for the older, less athletically-able people to compete on equal footing (that is a pun because I have a bad foot in actuality). The older workers simply cannot run and jump with the younger ones.
  • The events are often exclusive to those with some kind of disability or infirmity, such as a bad back or shoulder or knee and, frankly, being an observer is simply reinforcing that they are different (and not included with the others).

Doing a Dragon Boat Race is seemingly pretty unrelated to improving customer service or implementing the new strategy to involve and engage everyone in a workplace innovation project. Going go-kart racing is a fun thing, but who wins is often the most common discussion along with who had the fastest kart or who cheated so they could win. Do you have a different perspective?

And there is Paintball. Paintball as a business exercise. Shooting at other people with hard projectiles with the goal of doing them harm (killing them out of the game?) but also demanding some high level of motor skills coordination and physical activity of running and dodging to succeed creates an unfair playing field.  Grandmother Susan in accounting is probably going to find it somewhat physically challenging to lie in the dirt and shoot at people.

This 30-second advertisement for Booking.com is an especially good one, I think. Click on the image below to watch it on YouTube – it is well worth the time (30 sec)!

Annual company paintball teambuilding retreat booking dot com

And I also still laugh at the Firewalking “training event” paid for by Burger King back in 2001, with 100 marketing employees participating in this “team building and personal growth” session. The result was that 12 people got their feet burned and Burger King generating a great deal of publicity — yes, even Dave Barry poked fun at them in an article and there were a ton of posts around “naming the event” in a couple of training discussion threads, as well as suggestions for potential theme songs like, “Light My Fire” by The Doors (grin) ).  You can read more about firewalking here.

(Dave Barry’s really funny article is here!)
(The organizer blamed the burns on people with incredibly sensitive feet!!)

Firewalking can be a legitimate (and costly) experience growth experience (www.skepdic.com/firewalk.html).
but does it really impact teams and help to improve company results?

One who suffered injury was Burger King’s vice president of product marketing. But, hey, she had no regrets, for she was filled with the corporate rapture. Walking across searing coals, she exclaimed, “Made you feel a sense of empowerment and that you can accomplish anything” (and she could accomplish that with only a few casualties and hospital and ambulance bills). (And one wonders how she is doing these days…)

…so the Big Benefit of Outdoor Training:  You do not have to rent a hotel room.
(Well, Booking.com suggests you do as the one main benefit in their ad!)

Sure there are things like whitewater rafting that need to be outside, but I encourage you to watch White Mile with Alan Alda (trailer is excellent!) about his mandatory whitewater trip and the death of some of his executive team. Sure, it is a movie, but being on the water is not really the cat’s meow for many people.

I can go on and on about the personal experiences (generally failures and mediocre learning situations) but those have been done in prior blogs. What we are talking about is team BUILDING activities and not the team BONDING kinds of things that might improve friendliness or improve personal interactions but that have only remote connections to organizational development.

You have alternatives. There are a lot of good team building simulations out there that focus discussions on issues and opportunities, programs that present actionable behaviors and cultural shifts in how things are done.

So when someone is suggesting an event, ask questions about what might result from the expenditures. Define the desired outcomes and frame up with the ROI should look like. Good events can generate a lot of positive outcomes and impacts.

See this post for how those discussions might be addressed in a conversation of two senior managers trying to impact their organization:

Many People Hate Offsite Teambuilding – A Learned Response

 

For the FUN of It!

Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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.

One of the best teambuilding exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Twitter @scottsimmerman


Alan Alda’s movie, White Mile, was released in 1994: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8DIGIr8SiU

Booking.com’s advertisement on rewarding hotels after Paintball is found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZTgKU5KNTM

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building simulation can be found at: http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/corporate-team-building-games-the-search-for-the-lost-dutchmans-gold-mine/

Many People Hate Offsite Teambuilding – A Learned Response

My teams don’t want to attend a training program or offsite meetings; the programs aren’t exciting enough and they hardly learn anything from the programs. In fact I haven’t come across many effective programs that can keep my people engaged and make offsite meetings interesting!

This was part of a conversation between two heads of an organization in India with my colleague Solomon Salvis. They were together to talk about a management development retreat and focused on teambuilding and one of these heads was quite reluctant to send his teams for any training sessions. He did not see value; he did not see impact. It was apparent that many of his past experiences showed such meetings to be fluff and low on the aspect of driving real change within his organization.And it is really too bad that such reactions are common with some many team bonding exercises that are presented as team building tools.

We designed The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine to be different, to make this business simulation challenging but also to change the behavior of participants. The difficulty comes from addressing the senior manager attitudes that events cannot be effective in driving new strategies or building real collaboration.

A very senior operations manager, who personally leads Dutchman, said this after one of her deliveries:

I’ve received tons of positive feedback about the exercise – that it was the best one that they’ve ever done, it was fun and they learned something, etc. While I’ve always had an open door policy, people are using it more now – I have heard about more issues unsolicited in the last ten days than I had in the previous five months, which of course means I can do something about them.  It’s been great.

With Solomon’s explanation, the learning head from the above conversation invited his team to conduct Dutchman at 5 different offsite venues to focus on strategy, implementation, taking calculated risks, decision-making in short periods of time, trust of leadership and teams, and collaborating internally and externally for optimizing results. He then had the opportunity to debrief with the two business heads on impacts and outcomes.

The Learning head had received a lot of praise for introducing simulations in the organization and thanked Solomon for putting in the effort to make offsite meetings interesting. The other head informed that the feedback from the participants has been highly encouraging, the participants were completely engrossed throughout the entire exercise, they loved the energy, the learning and the set up. Their teams are now more collaborative than ever before and are ready to take on big challenges at work.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building exercise

If properly focused and delivered, a well-designed team building simulation can provide measured results that can be compared to optimized potential performance and support a discussion around key learning points and the choices that were made and that might be made differently in the future.Testimonial about Lost Dutchman Team Building Exercise

In many deliveries, the teams choose to compete with each other, which is energizing and fun but which actually sub-optimizes performance results. This same dynamic is why “interdepartmental collaboration” remains an oxymoron in many organizations. So, one goal of a powerful debriefing and program delivery is to discuss considered alternatives that could lead to improved outcomes. This can drive real change.

If you are interested in learning more, contact me or Solomon for more ideas and information. One of us can certainly support your teambuilding and organizational improvement efforts with an effective half-day event,

 

For the FUN of It!


Solomon Salvis at Simurise Learning Solutions in Singapore

You can reach Solomon Salvis at Simurise Learning Solutions in Singapore.


Scott Simmerman 2016Dr. 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.

One of the best teambuilding exercises in the world, as rated by his users, is The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, which focuses on leadership, collaboration, alignment and focuses on implementing the collective performance optimization ideas.

Connect with Scott on Google+

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
Twitter @scottsimmerman

 

Bad Team Building Ideas for Trust and Performance Improvement

In the midst of redoing a game design that requires additional components for discussing workplace trust and issues of performance improvement, I spent last night looking at a variety of dynamics around generating and maintaining trust between individuals, trust among team members, trust between team members and ideas for accelerating the quality of trust and collaboration. I did get some new ideas and there was some creativity going on as I did it. At the same time, there is not a lot of stuff out there that is very helpful for game design.

Some are simply good discussions, like Kevin Eikenberry’s video you can see here:

kevin

I like Kevin’s work and thought his ideas were good but nothing really grabbed me for the design work.

SO, I went into Google and searched for trust exercise to see if there were any more ideas, frameworks or insights I might spin into the new simulation and Google popped me into a page of images. And all my good research intentions spun quickly downhill into these writings. I will admit that this was a fun one to put together, with a bunch of giggles! Yet, I also hope that this post will be illustrative of what I see are some real issues around doing team building activities with real people in real workplaces.

The first image that jumped out at me from Google’s images was this one:

trust 1

The image was attributed to Riana Green / flickr.com and the link was to Psychology Today and an article on Floating, Trust and Religion. I am not really understanding any of this but you can find the blog if you click on the image. Should the link to team building and trust escape you, let me simply note that it escaped me, also. But it DID get me looking at more images as my curiosity was piqued.

The wag in me said to myself, yep, a lot of the results of team building exercises
in corporate situations DO in fact look like the image above,
but then I quickly struck that thought from my mind. (grin)

Okay, the next picture that leaped out was this one:

trust 2

The image was from ashleylatruly.tumblr.com but the link no longer worked. Yeah, I am guessing that the activity underlying the above image did have some components of trust built-in although I am not sure what they were nor would I suggest doing this in any kind of corporate context with a mannequin much less an actual person. But who am I to judge, right?

Yeah, this next one is certainly around trust. It is also one that I would suggest not be done casually out on the organization’s front lawn. But, yeah, this would certainly build trust; I am just not sure it would translate all that well toward improved corporate performance. And I am still thinking of how to put this into a board game…

trust 3

That takes us to these other kinds of activities, so much fun for teenagers but maybe a little less appropriate workplace adult organizational improvement programs. I am reminded that US Department of Labor statistics that show about 1 in 7 women past the age of 65 are still working and by 2024, that is predicted to increase to almost 1 in 5 or more than 6,000,000 workers in total. I would think that doing any of the team activities pictured below might be somewhat problematic (and I note that there will also be six different decades represented within many workforces).

baaadteambuildingand trust 5

 

 

 

Both the above sure seem like fun, however there may also be that issue of “appropriateness” in relation to the various organizational cultures out there and issues of sexual harassment and similar. Just imagine the “most senior managers” nuzzled up with the younger female employees. Or the discomfort for any variety of ages of people or new hires placed in these physically close positions.

And, with this chair thing below, with 7 people standing on two metal chairs and two people UNDER those chairs and our general issues around obesity, what could possibly go wrong???

trust 6

I’m reminded of the Tony Robbins Firewalks and his related motivational speeches by this short segment on The (Stephen) Colbert Report (click here). This was prompted by the different events where people had burned their feet to apparently prove something to themselves. Frankly, I think kayaking offers the same kind of benefit but without the fire. But I digress…

Then, we get into the Trust Building Professional Level Activities, where people who are both fit and somewhat already down the road toward collaboration and teamwork show that they can take their professional and physical development to new levels in situations such as those pictured below. As toward being “low ropes” kinds of organizational development activities, you may also find them a bit out of bounds or out of reality!

trust 7

and

trust 8

Remember that ALL these images came from my Google search for trust exercise. I did not make this stuff up and remain merely the archivist for collecting and organizing these ideas.

I DO believe that there ARE some things that we can do to build more trust and collaboration in the workplace, but they are just not like these pictured.

What strikes me the most about the above pictures and situations is my uncertainty as to whether everyone clearly understands all of the issues around doing effective organizational development including the regard for employee comfort and also avoiding lawsuits and other things detrimental to profitability and to the collaborative cultures we are trying to build. There are #baaadteambuilding things going on out there that make some of us simply shake our heads in wonder about who thought that up and who agreed to it?

Better alternative ideas do exist to what has been shown here! If you need some, connect with me,

 

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.

Note: These might all be excellent activities and exercises, but I try to write on themes of organizational development and team building and collaboration, and most of the things I share above are meant to poke fun at people who do not seem to truly understand issues of organizational culture and diversity and issues of age and personal preferences. I try to never make anyone uncomfortable with the kinds of things we choose to do as group activities. I have been in some that I did not like, whatsoever, over my years of experience.

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 and have different desired outcomes. The focus on this post is to outline ideas that will actually improve business results and generate  alignment to missions and goals with team building events.

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 PMC’s 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 (LDGM) corporate 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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