There have been a number of articles around the idea that teamwork does not work to improve organizational performance. Teambuilding is seen as a complicated and expensive endeavor that does not pay off.
And I can see why people might say that, given some of the team bonding kinds of activities that many people label “teambuilding.” Just because people are active in some activity does not mean that their actions will actually improve organizational performance or increase collaboration. Team BONDING is not team BUILDING, not by a long shot.
If you follow #baaadteambuilding through google or twitter searching, you can see some of the things that a few of us working with team building tools have found SO bad as to deserve special tracking in twitter.
- A “Bubble Bounce” in which everyone bundles up in bubble wrap to bounce off the floor and walls?
- A PediCab tour of a city (good if everyone is physically fit and not handicapped, maybe, but what about the disabled)?
- Pub Crawling (as if the people might not embarrass themselves or do something really stupid on what is legally company time), or (seriously)
- Pin the Tail on the Donkey?
Team building should have impacts on actual workplace behavior, framing up innovation or change or collaboration. It should be focused on observable improvements, generating the commitment to change, and maybe even have some measurable impacts on results. It should not be viewed as “fun and games” or as social networking. Those might be nice to do, but hard to use for measuring a return on investment.
Hey! I will admit a vested interest in the issue, since I design and sell interactive exercises focused on issues of engagement and collaboration between teams. But there IS a lot of crap “training” out there calling itself teamwork — my particular pet peeves are things like Firewalking, Paintball and High Ropes courses. There are lots of similar “training events” that have few links to issues of people working together, interacting to define things to improve, collaborating to fix problems, etc.
Golf as team building? Sorry. Sure, golfers are known as great teammates and team play in golf all about working together for shared results. (Not!). Maybe when the players are boozing it up at the 19th hole or doing that pub-crawl thing, but not during play of the game, most certainly. Heck, you are not even supposed to talk much of the time!
Cat Bathing? (just kidding on that one…)
And, just now in twitter, I see where a company is offering up, “Ireland’s largest inflatable obstacle course, The Big Daddy.” Seriously, we are supposed to believe that bouncing through some inflatable challenge course is going to make us work together #morebetterfaster ? Sure, that might be fun, but I am guessing they don’t want obese people, pregnant women, wheelchairs, or people who carry knives and swords. But, like go-kart racing, it is framed as teambuilding.
Too many people ride as cowboys in their organizations. There are too many workplaces that reward individual performance and then expect people to work together and collaborate. In so many organizations, with lots of research supporting this, many of the people are not engaged. One should not expect much in the way of collaboration from those people who really do not care about their workplace or about shared results.
But we can motivate people in our organizations and workgroups. People want to work together if the situation can support it, and they want to feel successful and not be scared by the risks of performing.
In high performing workplaces, you will also see a collaborative culture where people work together to handle issues and solve problems. Granted, that approach may not work too well in places like Real Estate, Mortgage Lending or Stock Market sales, but we do see a strong need for collaboration and commitment where things like production or product design or customer service come into play.
Take any group of people, give them some common goals, measure them on shared performance, and allow them the ability to help each other and you have the basics for a workplace situation where teamwork will arise. Then, do some activity that demonstrates the benefit of collaboration on the overall results — something like, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”
Then, debrief that activity and discuss the choices that people made along with the choices they COULD have made, link it to the issues they see in their own workplace, and allow them to make commitments to each other (peer support) and you are highly likely to see improvement (if there is a bit of followup after the session).
Think of all the activities that we engage in where real teamwork is absolutely essential to accomplishment.
And esprit de corps is most certainly higher in those places where people are involved and engaged and working together toward common goals.
Teamwork not work? I don’t think so. Teamwork is ALL about group performance. And improvement is a continuous activity requiring visible support from the management team.
Sure, individuals can excel, but only through collaboration and engagement and motivation can we get a group of people to high levels of accomplishment and performance that they can celebrate and then continue to impact.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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