“We’re going to cross this field with two buckets, one plank and carrying a pound of mint humbugs. If we do this, we’ll be a better team!” No, what you’ll be is a group of snarky people, ruining the clothes their hard earned money has paid for, snapping at each other, and resenting the day you were ever born. We don’t do this sort of malarkey in building bonds with friends, or to make our family dynamics better.
Let’s face it, forcing people into organised fun in a confined space at Christmas is hardly a recipe for success – so why the hell do people think that this will make an otherwise random assortment of people, thrown together in the workplace, like each other more, be more motivated, or conduct their inevitably and dramatically different jobs any more efficiently? The answer is simple, it’s not! The majority of people come in to work every day, work to the best of their ability, like their colleagues on the whole, tolerate the people they don’t in the safe structure of their office, and frankly learning to juggle, or going potholing, isn’t going to make any difference to that. In fact, if there are already any motivation issues, anxiety around work, or frictions between co-workers, this sort of “organised fun” is likely to aggravate it, and be completely counterproductive.
I’ve worked for, and with, many different types of companies over the years, and each has had their own form of team building. Some have been painful, some have been cringe worthy, and some have been downright inappropriate. Others have been fun, enjoyable, stimulating. Sadly, the latter is definitely in the minority.
Where “team – building ” works, is where it happens organically – people who like each other go out for a beer after work, or have a regular lunch in the canteen; colleagues engaged in similar work meet regularly to share best practice and de-stress; basically, empowering people. Telling people that they would, or should, be more motivated and engaged by participating in an activity, which is usually the complete antithesis of their job (and indeed hobbies, values, beliefs etc), simply does not work.
In my experience, when activities are organised corporately, the things that work best are the ones which focus on either a) focus on personal/individual developments of (or in other words, things we like doing or are interested in, like ways of making our life easier), but which take part in a group setting; and b) or benefit a group completely external to the individual or the group and which encourages them on a task which helps a cause they see has value, for example by undertaking conservation or other charity work. Of course, in both these situations, you will have those who hate the idea, but this is going to happen whatever the activity particulary when you are British, moaning is in our DNA. If you told some people that you were going to ask them to roll in a bath of money, which they could then take home, some people would moan that it was the wrong denomination. If you are going to do down the route of organisating group activities, you have to accept that not everyone will be happy about it… the sooner you do that, and stop telling them how much they should enjoy it, the happier you will all be.
I remember an excellent seminar I went to once, with many of my co-workes when I used to work in the fast paced, sometimes stressful, but generally okay, world of recruitment, which was focussed on empowering you to perform at your peak. I even learned how to break an arrow with my throat by walking into it…who doesn’t want that as a skill on their CV I ask you! Group activities also need to focus on the dynamic of the group – what are the issues in the team, what’s working well, were are there frictions which need to be addressed? Herding people into a metaphorical pen does not make them a team, it makes them a group of peeved people who would rather be somewhere else – unless they like to get herded into pens in their downtime. We are not cattle. I am not a cow.
Now that is not to say I’m not prepared to roll up my sleeves and get stuck into a good bit of outdoors team building. In fact, my favourite team building exercise was something which happened when colleagues and I went to a community farm and spent the day undertaking conservation work for a charity. It was amazing. The team was already functioning very well so the 0bjective was, more than anything, to get people out of their immediate teams and it worked really well. There was something for everyone in terms of tasks, so all interests could be catered for, and I got to spend time with colleagues I wouldn’t usually spend much time with. I loved it.
So I’m all for making places a better place to work, and to work better. But employers please, please, I beg of you… think before you send your workers out on a wet, windy day to bond. Some people simply want to “get on with it”and be back at their desks, some will want to throw themselves into activities, some may not simply be able to afford special clothing, tools, physical capability, moral flexibility, travel or time to attend the event. Pick the task appropriate for the objective, and if you really want to achieve something try and do something for a charity, they’ll appreciate the extra help and at the very least someone will get something from it.