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How Team Building can actually ruin your team

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Last Friday my wife and I had our good friends over for dinner. We started talking about the differences between working for small businesses and large corporations.

A friend, who works for a Fortune 100 company, said: “Do you know one thing I hate about my job? …Team building exercises.”

She proceeded with a very passionate and detailed description of how much stress and anxiety these team building activities cause her. And don’t get me wrong, on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being super socially active, my friend would probably get 12 points.

“Last week they sent us to watch movies”, she said. “I love movies, but I don’t like working until 9 pm for a week to get all my tasks done, that I could not do on time because of that silly movie.”

“Can you imagine”, she continued, “this summer we’ve been sent on a scavenger hunt. It was 40 degrees Celsius for God’s sake! (104 Fahrenheit for our USA readers). Team building? Job hating exercise, that’s what I call it”.

The other guests also chimed in. They all shared similar stories of corporate stupidity and sheer embarrassment: karaoke bars, on-site dancing lessons with mandatory attendance, etc.

The common denominator across all these stories was that the team building activities were mandated by the HR department, or a manager who wasn’t even close to the team! These parties were nevertheless insisting on implementing the “team-building best practices” for the sake of the practices, without any consideration for the effect on the team.

The HR department might have had the best intentions, but the results were devastating for the team: work was not done on time, and people were demotivated.

Do you remember what it was like being a child, forced by your parents or teachers to play the piano or perform a dance in front of an audience? You feel helpless and embarrassed. You don’t enjoy it and you don’t see the point, but you can’t escape it.

Trust me, that’s not the experience you want anyone, especially your employees, to go through.

What’s interesting in this story is that most small businesses do get team building right. Here are some examples of things that work:

  • Choose activities that are appropriate and enjoyable for your team. Freshbook’s annual Halloween Costume Contest is a great example.
  • Make sure that the team workload is not affected. Do their work for them, if you have to.
  • Don’t force it on people who don’t want to participate. Certain people are wired in different ways, and it’s not your job to change them. Let them be introverting, they’re still valuable to your business.
  • Encourage off-work gatherings where people can get to know each other better: gym memberships, charity drives, etc. Again, the keyword here is optional or volunteering.
  • And the final advice: let people decide what they want to do. The best way is to just give your team a budget and let them pick and organize the desired unwinding. That’s going to be a great exercise in itself.

Of course, there are other ways to motivate and inspire your team. How does Team Building work in your organization?

Please share the good, the bad and the ugly experiences you have had!

Photo by  Rita Morais  on  Unsplash

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