Does building a raft, or swinging from a high ropes course really make a difference to a team’s cohesion and effectiveness?
Yes and no.
If you cobble together some games and put on a cheery rah-rah day, then NO.
Team building is more than just playing games together.
If you march people up and down hills, deprive them of basic amenities, and throw them over cliffs with a ‘break them down to build them up’ approach, then NO.
Getting through a program with ‘a thank god that’s over’ attitude doesn’t foster team spirit.
If you fly your team to an expensive resort for a weekend of carousing and boozy dinners, then NO.
Shared experiences are well and good, and disastrous when fuelled with alcohol. People are likely to lose respect rather than gain it in that environment.
Building synergistic teams takes time, deliberate intention, and a clearly articulated and managed plan.
Specifically, leaders need to be concerned with:
Building safety in the group – repeated, positive experiences where truth telling is encouraged, successes celebrated, and opinions are respected.
Leveraging talent – knowing what an individual’s work and behaviour preferences are best suited too, and then encouraging them to both strengthen their preference and develop behavioural flexibility.
Managing difference – honouring and respecting different worldviews, with their different opinions and perspective, remains one of the leader’s key challenges. When done well, trust and respect flows as a result.
A Team Building Case Study
The group featured in the photo above recently attended a Team Development Day. The program was carefully designed to meet the organisation’s key objectives:
- Develop a better understanding, rapport and communication between colleagues;
- Develop a common language and framework for discussing team performance and team behaviours;
- Challenge the idea of balancing risk, making mistakes and learning;
- Start discussions around positive culture in the organisation;
- Undertake a fun, whole of staff activity to develop a sense of collegiality and company ‘lore’.
The day was part of the over-arching corporate culture development strategy of the organisation. They have chosen “We create our own reality” as their hallmark belief and approach.
On the day the group undertook a workshop on behaviour preferences, team synergies and conflict, and how to improve rapport between individuals and teams. In the afternoon they were given two experiential challenges to highlight the effect and engagement of different behaviour preferences.
The activities? The first one was to get from point A to point B, using some cardboard steps, with a few restrictions and parameters. The second activity was the creative challenge featured in the photo. They were in 3 separate groups, with 3 parts of the same picture and they needed to reproduce the picture using dots – dots applied by fingers, toes, nose. Both activities required sound planning, team engagement, and plenty of both enthusiasm and attention to detail.
The day was interactive, engaging, and fun.
The organisation will progress the objectives of the day with a culture survey, developing a culture charter, and planning further activities to focus attention on culture trouble-spots and emphasise culture strengths.
This organisation is rewarded for their efforts with low staff turnover, positive employee engagement, and robust, honest conversations – and they deliver exceptional results for their stakeholders.
So is Team Building dead?
I believe there has never been a time more needed for genuine, interpersonal experiences that honour difference while celebrating unity. People crave belonging and a sense of tribe, where they can be appreciated for who they are AND embrace the purpose of the team.
Experiential team building programs deliver unique experiences that get to the heart of team dynamics quickly. They dissolve social barriers and reveal general compassion and acceptance of others. The activities may be non-real, but the feelings are very real. These types of activities provide rare opportunities to speak the truth in a supportive environment, where lasting, improved behaviour change can occur.
For experiential team building programs to be successful they require these key factors:
- Clear objectives
- Be part of an overarching organisational plan for team, culture and professional development
- Have an over-arching model to frame the activities
- Have experienced, insightful facilitators who can pinpoint team challenges and strengths – and be able to speak the hard truth about what they observe.
Shared experiences in a special environment with unique activities is a corporate adventure that makes turning up for work that much more enjoyable. We spend an awful lot of time at work, and I think we should enjoy it, and the people we work with.