Nov 20

Why we hate “team building”

Remember that team building thing you did last year?

You know the one, it was some kind of adventure-race meets marshmallow and spaghetti towers thing. I think you even got a ribbon or something.

The intentions were great. You were going to work on communication and trust, those two all important aspects of functional teams. And you had some fun, people were laughing and building relationships outside of the office. Important stuff.

But then Monday morning rolled around, and with it a return to your desk with the inbox piled high. The meetings that never seemed to end and a plethora of administrative details to chase down. You had every intention of maximizing the “learning” that you had done at the team builder, but days turned to weeks, which turned into months. And unfortunately, nothing changed.

Sound familiar? It’s why we hate team building. Which is a bold statement considering we facilitate workshops on communication, trust (and a bunch of other topics) every year across North America.

We hate team building workshops because too often they don’t result in actual change for participants or for organizations that support staff in attending them. The experience might be great, but without also teaching the skills to execute the learning, these opportunities end up being a colossal waste of time and money for the groups that can afford it the least, nonprofits, charities, schools and voluntary organizations.

Which is why, in large part, we’re setting out to change that (or at the very least, offer something complementary to more traditional professional learning experiences).

Here are our top 4 principles of effective team learning experiences;

1. They’re not solo endeavours. The vast majority professional work takes place in teams. The best workshops are done in teams, and not fake, “let’s sit at the same table and pretend we’re a team working on a theoretical scenario that for some reason involves spaghetti and marshmallow’s” kinds of teams. Your team. In your context. Working on your challenges.

2. They’re not one-off events. Changing our practice is hard, and requires consistent feedback and an iterative process. One shot wonders are very rarely such. The best experiences that we’ve been involved with include an action and execution period where the learning is consolidated and implemented.

3. There are accountability mechanisms built into the process. When you know that you’re going to be held responsible for implementing the learning in a meaningful way, you’re considerably more likely to actually follow through. And these accountability mechanisms don’t have to be fancy or formal. Peer coaching, mastermind groups, even an email to a colleague can all provide the necessary boost to take the learning and roll it into practice.

4. The fourth, and possibly most important, principle in designing optimal team learning experiences is the requirement that they be experiential in nature. The best and most potent workshops involve participants as active members of the experience. They invite people into creating a meaningful relationship with each other and the facilitator as well as creating space for reflection and meaning-making with the content.

So there you have it. Next time that annual “team building experience” pops up on your radar, stop for a moment and consider if it’s actually meeting your needs, and how you might adjust your view of team learning and development to encapsulate some of the 4 principles outlined above.

And if you’re looking to break away from the model where your organization, faced with trying to have a positive impact on limited resources, ends up paying extraordinary amounts of money for things like workshops and conferences, executive coaching and consultants, then we’d love to chat more.

About The Author

Jeff is an experienced leader in the nonprofit, education and community sectors. His vision is to help people (and organizations) change for the better. From leading multi-disciplinary professionals to facilitating change management, keynote addresses to small group facilitation, Jeff has a knack for engaging teams in the conversations that matter.