Traditional team-building can do more harm than good

Posted on: March 18th, 2016

Successful Business Meeting --- Image by © Corbis

If you’ve ever taken part in a traditional team-building activity – I’m talking muddy assault courses, orienteering, building things with Lego and the like – then you’ll understand why employees’ hearts might sink when a ‘Team-building time!’ email lands in their inbox.

But bringing your team together doesn’t have to involve getting back to nature or embracing your creative side – especially if neither of these things reflect your business or its staff.

In fact, workplace consultant and founder of Leaders Lab, Kate Mercer, recently told the On Rec website that rather than making teams stronger, traditional team-building activities such as these can actually alienate some employees.

The most obvious reason for this is that members of your team may be unfit or lack the confidence and/or social skills required for group activity, meaning they’re likely to dread any creative or sporty plans you had in mind.

But it’s also unfair – and a little patronising – to assume that your employees need the incentive of ‘fun and games’ in order to gain satisfaction from their work or connect with their colleagues. In addition to this, it’s incredibly difficult for individuals to transfer things they’ve learnt in a muddy field somewhere to the office – it can be done, of course, but it’s not straight-forward.

So instead of trying to make abstract concepts fit into day-to-day office life, Kate recommends creating team-building activities around real work tasks.

What does this mean, exactly? First of all, it means stepping away from the Lego and putting down that compass! The most effective team-building activities are those that your staff should be doing anyway – not only will they get real work done, but they’ll bond while they’re doing it. This could be anything from creating short- or long-term strategies to clarifying their roles and responsibilities with each other.

This type of experiential learning is proven to be the best way for mature adults to learn new skills and behaviours, and there’s no inconsistency between the field and the office. That’s not to say you can’t still include social activities in the work calendar, but they should be on a voluntary basis – after all, there’s nothing worse than forced fun!

Talk to Lucy Bristow about incentivisation and the benefits that today’s top candidates value over everything else.

In the meantime, we’d like to know: What’s the most effective (or ineffective) team-building exercise you’ve ever taken part in?

Image: How to run an effective meeting by Nguyen Vu Hung available under the (CC BY 2.0) license

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