Those that play together, stay together...
A recent survey carried out by Vodafone UK and YouGov suggested workers feel that some organised team building activities can be a waste of time. The findings show that most would much prefer being able to communicate with each other better in the office rather than being ‘forced’ to build rapport with co-workers through adrenaline rushing experiences. They believe that it would be more valuable to go down the pub together than jump in a canoe or swing through the trees on ropes.
In my experience, the aim of team building of this rope-swinging type is to build trust within the team. This is an admirable objective since trust is at the heart of effective team work. The rope swinging activities are designed to provide activity where everyone is on an even footing and they have to rely on each other. In reality, this rarely plays out – particularly in adrenaline pumped activities, where the less adventurous can feel exposed and humiliated.
The problem with many rope-swinging types of team building experiences is that they are all too often just that: one off experiences. So while the fun or terror of swing on a rope may be memorable it is common that little is done to extract learning from the experience and equally little is done to show relevance to how the team operates day to day.
To achieve better teamwork, businesses need to get the basics right first. The best team building initiatives involve companies using a facilitator who can help them commit to the work needed to build and maintain an excellent team and to give the team knowledge of the skills they need to use to improve how they work together. Ideally participants should have some practice in using these skills in a safe environment. The best team interventions involve:
- Being clear what the shared goal is – it is rarer than you might imagine to find a team that has a shared understanding about its goals
- Clarify about the roles and responsibilities of each member of the team, understanding each other strengths and limitations and leverage this
- Having the skills to hold each other to account and to manage conflict appropriately (ensuring there is enough to ensure solutions are tested but not so much as to be destructive)
- Being able to have conversations within the team that provide both challenge and support
Those embarking on team building (or buying it as a service) tend to forget that relationships cannot be built in one day and attending one team building event won’t change much back in the office unless there is commitment from the whole team to make changes and knowledge of what changes will make a difference.
Finally, one of the most useful things a team can do as it embarks on this journey is spend some quality together, getting to know how each other ticks - and going down the pub could be a useful and easy commitment to stick to.