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.
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,
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:
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:
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.