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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Do team building activities build teams?

The season is on and the bells have rung. It is time for team building. Companies and organisations are on the roll, planning for this year’s team building parties. The budgets are set aside and they are huge. The consultants have been procured and the planning is in top gear. The deliverables are clear and the team builders are busy purchasing the paraphernalia for the great team building they are about to facilitate. It truly is all systems go.

But as the craze hits the season, we would want to consider whether this hype adds up to any positive results with regard to team building. Do team building activities actually build teams or do they serve to pacify organisations into imagining that teams are being built even when none of that is being accomplished? 

 Jethro’s example could be a classic indicator of how team building has evolved over the years. He works for one of the leading companies in the country and has just come from a team building activity. While he was on leave, he was reminded by his supervisor that he had not attended the company’s team building activities as part of his performance targets and that he needed to do so before the end of the current month.
Wise as he was, he visited the local branch of his company and coincidentally, the branch had scheduled for a teambuilding activity the following weekend. With this information, he forwarded his name to the branch manager indicating that he would be joining the team for their teambuilding activity. By the end of that day, he had participated in a team building activity and a report way forwarded to his boss and this was included in his file and worked well for him during his performance appraisal.

This experience raises significant issues with regard to team building activities. Do they actually build teams or are they just part of a company’s policies and targets that must be met every so often. How much of team building happens when staff go out of the offices to a retreat center to play and sweat the whole day, accompanied with lots of eating and drinking. Just how much of teams are developed when staff are encouraged to ‘feel’ part of a team with their bosses and supervisors with whom they never see eye to eye during normal office engagements and are expected to put on a happy ‘team’ face during the field activities?

Team building should be taken as a process and not a one-time activity. Employers should be keen on what strategies they put in place to enhance natural and organic team building instead of spending too many resources on ‘teambuilding’ sessions that add no value to the company. Team building does not necessarily happen in the field when staff are involved in a ‘trust fall’ or when staff have to get into ‘teams’ to pull each other during a ‘tug of war’ event. With the joys and ululations that accompany such sessions, little of team building is accomplished since the engagements are short-lived.

It is necessary for the companies to realize the need for concerted effort throughout the year and note that trust within a team is earned through various engagements over time and not through an event. Companies should analyse their team challenges and consult professionals on a long term strategy to achieve their required goals with regard to forming and building teams instead of spending resources on activities that don’t necessarily add up. But in the meantime, let the celebration retreats go on.


  1. Good Morning Kahihu,

    Your article on Team Building is spot on!

    In my opinion, while this is a waste of company funds, the one-off Team Building activities are being driven by two things:

    i) Consultants organisations who rely trendy management fads as a business (reminds me of the Balanced Score Card and we will soon have companies spending fortunes on Enterprise Risk Management consultants). They, aggressively market team building packages that look attractive and exciting on the surface but lack any depth. While the phrase 'team building' appears relevant, the real process of building is not appreciated. In the same way, ideas like the Balanced Score Card, Enterprise Risk Management etc. are important managmenet tools and processes where skills should be learnt and applied progressively by management not one-off programs done by consultants.

    ii) Lack of proper HR skill and panic where teams fail to perform. When teams fail to perform as expected, management may need to be seen to be doing something to address this and trendy progams like Team Building will always impress on the board that something is being done.

    As you have indicated professionals would be more useful if they help institute long term team building strategies. Other ways proper team building may be:

    i) forming varied work groups where people from different work stations/departments/branches may be assigned special tasks outside their normal duties. This may involve simple tasks like redesigning the office space or deciding on new staff uniforms.
    ii) Company participation in sporting activities that run over a long period eg. lower level football, basketball or cricket leagues.
    iii) Subsidised staff canteens, gymnasiums etc that fit in with normal working hours.



  2. I always appreciate a great article or piece of writing. Thanks for the contribution.

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  4. Interesting post! Take time to read on this article to find out how to engage your team. Thanks for sharing.


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