You’ve likely been to a team building event for work; it could have included mini golf, bowling, a scavenger hunt, or even a holiday party. While there is a place for these events, they are not the magic bullet to generate team engagement or productivity. In fact, I would argue they can have the opposite effect on engagement if they are not executed with careful intention. One thing I can say with certainty: a team building event will not magically produce productivity and morale where it is lacking.
One particular event is cemented in my memory for being particularly ineffective and painful. I was just out of graduate school, full of energy and a desire to make a difference in the world, yet working on a team that lacked direction and vision. Frustrated and desperate to put our energy into action, the staff asked the leader for a conversation about our team’s direction. The leader complied, a taskforce was created, and a day-long event was planned. When the day arrived we did several team building games, some competitions, and an awkward group trust exercise. The vision part of the session was the afterthought – a few slides and a new t-shirt given to each team member. We walked to our cars stunned by the day’s event, mentally defeated, and emotionally deflated.
Team building events are like a sugary snack for a team: they provide a rush of energy for a short time, but often do not provide lasting results on productivity or morale. How then do we design events that provide a more lasting effect on energy and team dynamics?
Consider your reasons for wanting to bring the team together. Are you celebrating a team accomplishment? Sharing important information about the team’s direction? Building rapport and relationships within the team? It is important to choose a focus for this time together and then plan accordingly.
Get to the Ground Truth
Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations discusses the military term ground truth to mean what is actually happening in an organization or relationship. She argues that this ground truth may differ from the company message or “official truth.” The ground truth is what is talked about at water coolers and bathrooms, but often is not spoken about public meetings. She asks this question in her book:
What conversation can we have with one another to help our collective understanding of ground truth?
Imagine a team building event where the ground truth is discussed. Associates would leave with tangible clarity of situations and tasks.
Focus on creating alignment not competition
It is tempting to play paint ball or host a dodgeball game between sales and production. The immediate result would be an animated experience for the group, but the lasting effects would be contrary to intentional collaboration.
Bust red tape and focus priorities. Hay group, a world leader in employee engagement, believes that engagement is actually only part of the equation.
“Employee engagement, however, is only half the story. It’s no good feeling great about your job if you can’t get things done. That’s why it’s important for employees to be “enabled” too. Because if enthusiastic people are held back by bureaucracy, systems or conflicting demands, not only will they underperform — they may stop trying, or even leave.”
Returning to our sugary snack analogy: there is certainly a time for fun activities in the world of work. The problem arises when we try to make it the meal; it leaves us hungry and empty in mere hours. On the contrary, creating events that give sustainable energy to the team will drive both engagement and enablement resulting in a more highly functioning team.