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Forget Team Building Activities And Let People Get to Work

If you do decide on any team building activities, then please ensure they are not over demanding. So many managers get fed a stream of propaganda about the benefits of team building involving strenuous physical activity. But it's all totally redundant. You can achieve as much with a chili cook-off during the lunch break, or simply sitting down and having a coffee together.
2021.09.23.

Team building is big business. Over the last decade or so, a huge number of businesses have spent millions of dollars on organising team building exercises for their employees. This has led to a problem of over reporting successes and under reporting failures. No one wants to be the first to point out that the emperor has no clothes and that team building may not be the panacea for all workplace ills that it's often advertised to be. That's not to say that team going is a pointless exercise and doesn't have its place within any number of activities that can help improve productivity. Sometimes.

Thanks to self-serving advertising, we've all heard about how team building is essential to help people feel connected and enhance camaraderie between team members. True believers will talk about that first rush of dopamine and adrenaline that makes everybody feel good about themselves and each other. By boosting employees' moods, as well as improving their ability to take on new tasks, and love and respect each other, will hopefully reduce stress in the workplace. 

This sounds like a lovely plot-line from My Little Pony. But the real world is much more shallow and harsher, and really doesn't function in the manner we would like it to. There's a reason why if you mention team building many employees will dramatically roll their eyes to heaven and suddenly remember they should be somewhere else. Oftentimes, managers and business leaders will take team building to an extreme, without realising that this is an unwanted and unnecessary activity for most of those involved. These bosses see team building as a means of solving problems, which in truth, are non-existent, and are often caused by the very same management itself. If you scratch most employees, you'll find under the surface, a hard-working and dedicated person who just wants to be left alone to get on with their tasks.

Why Team Building is a Problem

There are 1001 reasons why a team building can fail. More often than not, it's because the company is beguiled into doing something that’s inappropriate for team building. Many of the activities may sound spectacular and exciting, but they serve no purpose in building teams. Many of these same activities can actually do more harm than good in that they can lead to resentment. This is because they can take time away from people's work schedule. Many employees are busy enough and their plates are already full to overflowing. Throwing in a team building exercise is just going to distract them from their job, especially when it appears to be a waste of time.

Another big problem with team building is that there's a failure to have a proper structure in place. There needs to be an environment that encourages employees to be honest and open with each other. Part and parcel of this is to have people share personal stories and work updates, or other life elements, amongst the group. But without a proper structure in place, then you'll find that employees will talk with those they are familiar with. This stops people from expanding their horizons and being open to learning new things.

We suggest that you never make team building compulsory. Taking away hours from people's work time, or worse, from the time that they are able to spend with their families and non-work friends, is a sin for which you will never be forgiven. In the end, this will lead to resentment and detract from work. In truth, by making a team building exercise compulsory, you will have already lost the purpose of it, as forcing employees goes against the very ethic of team building.

Make Team Building Task-Oriented

There's no need to throw your employees out of an aircraft or shove them down whitewater rapids in a kayak in the name of team building. In fact, you don't even need to leave the office. What you do need to do to strengthen team bonds is to encourage people to work together and have them complete work tasks together. And not silly fake work tasks. But real things that have real consequences for the business. You'll find that solving a real-word challenge is a much more effective way to bring your employees close together.

Make All Team Building Optional

With many employees having tight work schedules, tampered with looming deadlines, they simply don't have time to socialize with other employees during their work hours. No one wants to be taking work home or working late in the office simply because they would otherwise miss an important deadline. Take note, that for many employee’s, time is a limited resource. Also keep in mind that all your employees would prefer to spend time outside of work enjoying themselves socialising with their friends. Let your employees spend their free time as they will. And stop bugging them with silly ideas during their working hours.

Make Team Building Less Demanding

If you do decide on any team building activities, then please ensure they are not over demanding. So many managers get fed a stream of propaganda about the benefits of team building involving strenuous physical activity. But it's all totally redundant. You can achieve as much with a chili cook-off during the lunch break, or simply sitting down and having a coffee together. Overall your employees will find this less destructive. And because it's directly work-based it will always provide greater camaraderie and understanding, leading to increased productivity

Make Team Building Exercises More Natural

There's no point in sticking employees in cubicles and then complaining that they're not communicating. Likewise, there are many employees who have no problems connecting naturally. Meaning there's absolutely no benefit in having an orchestrated event or team building to improve what is already great. A better bet is to provide places where people can come together informally. This can be in the works cafe or by providing lounge seating. We even heard of a company that developed a walking trail around the building’s gardens, where people could walk and chat as a form of business meeting. Having a number of open spaces would help encourage organic connections between your employees.

Keep it Simple

Orchestrating team-building events outside with the office space has become very fashionable. Just because many large corporations have signed up for these events doesn't necessarily hold that they are any better at providing team building qualities than simply providing space and time within the workplace. Simply by encouraging employees to collaborate on the various tasks, whilst limiting their distractions, will provide the greatest means of facilitating team building for all those who take part. 

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