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Team building – your views


Following our report on a recent Office Angels survey which found that employees struggle to see the point of many team building activities, TrainingZONE members had lots to say on the subject. Here, we've collected together your views - and they make for very interesting reading...

If you're a Training Manager, we're particularly interested in hearing your views on the relevance and importance of team building - add your comments below, or e-mail them to us at [email protected].

Not sure about a 'global thumbs up or down' regarding team-building for any and all organizations. It depends upon what your organization needs. We've recently launched a half-day team building session that is mandatory for all management as the foundation for a customer service leadership development program. We called it "From Silos to Systems." Mostly the goal was to have managers get to know each other. We're a moderately large academic medical center and famous for treating each other with generally poor service internally.

We also asked that participants come to the event with an aptitude for learning. Those that do, usually benefit, those that don't (feel they don't have anything to learn about anything, period), won't benefit. I've learned some people are so stuck in thier comfort zone, they resent being asked to consider their habits. So naturally they will be your biggest critics.

One thing I view as important, is to have a brief period after each exercise to constructively discuss how the exercise learnings can be applied at work. Otherwise, what is the point. People want to see the point, not just have fun and games.

In addition, team building should NEVER be set up to embarrass or hurt any participants self-esteem. "Daring" exercises are never necessary. Lessons can be gained by keeping the activities of the type where all can participate and being in top physical condition is not necessary. Stay on the ground! Thanks for asking.

Doug Fine, Director, Organization Development and Professional Learning, MCG Health Inc. Augusta, GA, USA

Teambuilding is invaluable if the required output is to be obtained from a motivated and confident group working together to achieve the corporate aim. There are different methods of achieving the aim: it is really up to the company training authority to establish what is needed. In my experience, you need the organisation responsible for the teambuilding to be exposed to the company before the actual teambuilding begins. Often, the company has not appreciated where the problems actually lie and their interpretation of what is needed is not always the appropriate solution. It can be counter-productive and I suspect some of the adverse comments you have quoted are results of this. Frequently, even the very senior management are unaware of the true problems (between themselves and their people) or what can be done to improve output.

My advice is to select the teambuilding/leadership organisation carefully and bring them in at least 3 months before you need the module. They must understand the culture and company aims. If you can, start at the top and work down through the company. Three days should be enough and it should be a balance between practical and ethereal. It really can work, be fun and develop tremendous zip and belonging. (I work for Flagship Training Limited and we work with the Royal Navy to provided Corporate Management Training to Industry. They have excellent practical facilities - not the traditional ones, tremendous experience, great ethos, and that helps to make it interesting, challenging and really rewarding).

Yours, Stephen Mackay.


It all began in 1922 with the Hawthorn case at Western Electric. From this, Harvard started their group dynamics work which gave a push to Team building growing out of the work started in Bethyl Main in 1944. Team building then worked its way through non-directive team leadership. This was the darling of the pyschologist for year with Alex Bavelis during the war years at MIT developing a game which would identify a leader from a group of candidates. Doug Mcgregor came in with Theory X and Theory Y to classify leader styles, and we had the 8x4 and the 9x9 matrix...this then lead into the work at ADL under George Prince giving us synectics which calls for a "juggler in the 50's, and then the "facilitator" came on the scene driven by the Boston Consulting Operations (Si Tillis)...all of that effort gave rise to the so called "outward bound" stuff in the field, and on the black board "Mind Mapping".

Up until 1967 none of these techniques, no team building programme produced any practical benefit. Especially pointless was all the labeling effort of giving names to people on a team ..labeling had no positive effect- shakers and blenders. It is sad to say that all (I mean all) team building exercises do not produce practical results...that is not to say they are not fun and interesting, exciting and sometimes dangerous but they produce zero effect and unfortunately are only pleasant distractions from the dullness of everday work, exactly like a company christmas party.

Team work is only required to deal with development work--i.e. doing something more, better or different (ie development work) this type of work calls for a plan which has to be approved...all other so called team work activities like an assembly line is developed by classic Hawthorn case first line supervision. Sad but true.

Albert S Humphrey, Chairman, Business Planning and Development Corp.

I would agree wholeheartedly with the survey. Those that enjoy silly games see it as the equivalent of a few days at Butlin’s, while others live in dread. A money making scheme for some that has been off-loaded onto individuals without any thought given to learning styles, and yet even colleges that should know better in some instances also view these exercises as useful. Usually suggested by the extrovert in the team that pointedly either refuses to acknowledge different learning styles, or takes a perverse pleasure in seeing others uncomfortable and has no interest in acknowledging that some people make superb observers and are just as valid as those that make excellent exhibitionists and gymnasts.

Jane Bowers, BB Training Ltd.

After reading the article regarding 'teambuilding' and whether or not it is useful, my own views are very simple. Yes it is useful if, like all good developmental interventions, it addresses the specific requirements of the group/clients in question. All good interventions must be tailored to specific need if they are to produce specific, tangible and quantifiable results. Too often 'teambuilding' programmes are simply ill considered booze ups, hippy get togethers or accelerated training programmes for the Royal Marines. When designing a teambuilding or any other developmental intervention, a good designer will ensure it produces the results the client wants. See, simple really isn't it.

Kind Regards, Paul F Waller, BA(Hons) FCIPD Learning and Development, Consultant P & L Associates Ltd.

Hi there

My thoughts for what they are worth. We get asked to organise a lot of things like this but we always take time out to check the wishes of the group concerned. There is nothing worse than folks loosing sleep prior to a teambuilding day worrying about what they will get asked to do. We are also keen to ensure that all activities that occur actually can draw out issues or behaviours that are useful to discuss as a group relating to real work tasks! I don't think in the current climate folk want to be involved in activities (or pay for them!) when they can't see the relevance back at the work place.

All this being said, we continue to see some real positive change in how folks perform as a team when they have spent a day away reflecting on issues and working together at these events. I think it forces folks to talk about things that are more difficult to raise when dealing with tactical day to day work - so the effects of teambuilding days are more subtle as long as they are managed well.


Sandra Webber, Head of Consultancy, Kudos.

Much of the anecdotal evidence we have gathered suggests that traditional team building may sometimes do more harm than good. When it doesn't work -- which is often -- it can result in animosity between team members. When it does work, it creates a group who become highly cohesive internally, but may be dysfunctional towards external people -- "the others". After a while, the team becomes too cosy and engages in groupthink, which may in extreme cases result in corporate deviance (illegal or immoral activity that arises because no-one questions the way the group is thinking). Dysfunctional behaviour within the team is not challenged, because no-one wants to rock the boat.

As members leave the group, the remaining core becomes more and more self-absorbed. Newcomers can't break in to this "team within a team" and the rate of turnover amongst newcomers increases. In many cases, the only option for the organisation is to break up cosy teams. These problems can be overcome with a pragmatic and sensitive approach to continuous learning, but it takes time and effort to install such processes.

David Clutterbuck, Clutterbuck Associates.

Hi there,
I was interested to read the change of general mood in the team training areas. I've been in many team training sessions and most were exercises to perform, and had no direct relevance to the home workplace. The theory is fine, but needs to be implemented at the local immediate level. Learning how to bond and work as a team in a practice session with strangers is always distancing. I've even had a team leader conductor who didn't know the realities of a theoretical life threatening situation and insisted on going by the book. I'd been through a similar situation and knew first hand. That didn't count.

By all means encourage team building, but direct it to the local work environment. If you have a 'team' where the 'boss' or one of the team is too busy to be bothered with 'that sort of stuff' then there's a breakdown straight away.

It would seem that the rise of smaller craft style workshops to build teams strikes right at the core of team building, supporting and encouraging sharing, comprehension, personal development in small skills to build on growth, awareness, consideration, trust, and sense of approval that is immediate, ... you can see what you have made with the help of others. We need to foster a sense of self worth and belonging, with a flexibility to change and adapt to the situation, to include others, to work with less than a given number, to adjust, discuss, and arrive at a concensus that is acceptable.

Beverley Driver.

Team Building, the terminology, might be better served by a different title. The word "building" has the connotation of " you are going to do something with or to us " where as Team Effectiveness or Greater Indvidual Achievment through Team Methods, Productive Synergism, etc. might delete the stigma or perception of we are going to have a touchy feely or stress out bunch of exercises and information that congeals us into a lock step group.

The same is true with the term Goal Setting which does not, by its title, convey what you want to accomplish which is Goal Achieving.

By changing the title you also give a new direction to the context which will redirect the focus of the cirriculum. I have done this in tailoring productive " application " oriented training rather than knowledge based "pass/fail" methods. When going back over the draft of your cirriculum its absolutely mandatory that the test of "application" be held to the all facets of the cirriculum focus, content, exercises and measurements.

My experience tells me that all is for naught if these courses are not conducted top down in organizations.

They are also most effective when the facilitator has done their homework and pre-determined what goals management says are critical so that towards the latter part of the training period exercises in creative productivity are conducted.

Jay Brandon CEO, Training For Results.

Working with operational teams earlier in my career, I learnt that my interest in the theories of team building was never matched by the participants and that by introducing these theories, even at a discussion level, usually had the result of "turning them off". When asked individually for feedback they suggested that they felt under scrutiny or self conscious. Since then we have been more subtle in our approach and carried out team events as part of a team recognition program and found that the ultimate enjoyment and team spirit resulting from this "fun without agenda" day has reaped great rewards, in terms of bonding and colleague appreciation.


Anne M Davies, Training and Development Manager, Holmes Chapel.

We do a lot of team building with various companies (corporates and SME's). Some want a one-off session, others budget for a whole programme of sessions. Either way, we provide bespoke team building sessions and make the content relevant to meet desired business outcomes, but also (and this seems to be the tricky bit for many trainers) meet the teams involved before the design stage. This allows us to tailor the exercises to suit the personalities coming along.

We achieve great successes with this, not just for ourselves because clients want to keep using us, but also for the clients and the delegates. Clients use us time and again because they see behavioural differences straight away that help them meet their needs and targets, while the delegates ask for us to come back because they found our sessions interesting, fun and helpful.
I think that those surveyed may well have been on the receiving end of untargetted, one-size-fits-all team building where the cost of developing the training has made it prohibitive to change the content or structure. In a similar vein, corporate trainers, offering big budget programmes are often inflexible and bound by red tape.
Perhaps it's time small training companies got a bigger slice of the corporate pie!

Carol Barnes, International Quality Management.

Hi there Stephanie!

Well, you've lit the blue touch paper (why IS it called that?) now stand well clear, if the recent correspondence on UKHRD is an indicator. The team builders are every bit as noisy as the greater spotted NLP'ers!

There's a serious point here though. A lot of team building was done in the 90's as sort of "retro-fitting"; that is to say older employees who had been teamed were sent into processes to make them work as teams. Of course, these generations - especially the baby boomers- (a) didn't do their work best in a modern "team" way, and (b) didn't learn best in kinaesthetic-type processes. So they tended to point this out to their companies, and "fun 'n games", as these processes were regarded, were regarded with some suspicion.

However, we are largely past the team working "retro-fitting" phase now, and the people we want to meld into better teams are increasingly late generation X and early generation Y, both of whom learn by involvement in activities, and certainly the under 25's, actually do learn best through games and the activity-analogy route. It is significant that there is a boom in the number of "learning experience" companies appearing at present, and equally significant that their customers tend to be in companies with a younger workforce.

A year back I predicted on UKHRD that we would soon see "learning on the high street" (not LearnDirect!, 'nuff said) but it would have to be fun to do. I also predicted that such learning would often be an individual purchasing decision, and that a new breed of "easylearn" activities would appear. If you want proof that the world of learning is about to change sharply in this direction, look at the sort of event going on at the Orange Studio in Birmingham!

I could go on at some length, but I think it was Dr Johnson who said something sound about writing and money...........

George Edwards, Head of Strategic Development, Institute of Leadership & Management.

In my view the types of activities that were mentioned in your editorial are indeed an anachronism unless very tightly aligned with the culture of a company. In my experience (I have been organising and delivering events for about 10 years) - it is rare that training providers spend enough time understanding the key levers that can help deliver improved team performance. Without this fundamental knowledge how can a programme address the needs - either from an organisational or individual perspective?

Personally it is my opinion that to offer truly creative and innovative programmes it is imperative to start at the beginning by offering a bespoke service, rather than sell a product or defined programme - regardless how innovative they may sound. Weak managers simply send staff on such programmes - effective managers help design them.

Yours faithfully

Ben Keayes, Elemental Development Ltd.

As a serious provider of management development outdoors, I can only sympathise and empathise with the 50+% of people who attend teambuilding programmes and find them "childish and embarrassing" - because many alleged teambuilds are just that.....

Teambuilding is something that needs to be addressed seriously and thoughtfully, and shouldn't just be:

  • Outdoor pursuits at silly prices
  • "It's a Knockout" derivatives
  • Moronic games, for example (and I believe people PAY for this....), lawnmower racing

  • Some providers of teambuilds (and other experiential programmes) don't have even a basic understanding of the processes involved in experiential learning, and I'm sorry to say that neither do many buyers, which leads to a kind of unspoken conspiracy of ignorance...... and the messages that are thus conveyed by the resulting programmes can actually be harmful, and might include:

  • (If it's arranged as a competition, e.g. paintballing) - "Get them before they get you"
  • (If it's silly lawnmower racing type task) - "The company's got more money than sense"
  • (If it's tough oudoor pursuits with people applying pressure on others to abseil, cave, whatever, or look a wimp) - "They're trying to brainwash us"

  • That's not to say that there isn't a good case for building effective teams. Of course there is - teams cover for each other in stressful times, help each other, co-operate rather than compete, value openness and so on......

    The messages, though, should come from the group rather than be imposed from above. This implies that tasks should be supplemented by thoughtful review in which ways that the team could work better are gently pulled from the delegates rather than pushed at them, and where their own discoveries about how to work as a team are privileged over the boss's (or the trainer's) preconceptions.

    I'd venture to suggest that the problem with many so-called teambuilds is that they're not thought out properly, and focus either on mindless fun and games or on the imposition of the prejudices of whoever's currently in charge. They're also sold as a commodity (one course fits all) rather then being specifically designed to address the particular needs of each team.

    They're also sometimes seen by the buyer as a "quick-fix". Sadly, a day in the hills (or in a hotel's grounds, or on a 4X4 proving ground, or on the water or wherever... possibly followed by a boozy night in a decent hotel) doesn't make up for months and years of bullying, cajoling etc. at work. I'd suggest that embarrassment (at the least) is an appropriate and healthy response by the victims of such slapdash and lazy attempts to address genuinely serious issues.

    A shame really - we do need to build healthy and effective teams; it's just that doing so takes a little more thought and effort than many providers or purchasers are prepared to put in......

    Regards, Bill Krouwel, QED Management Learning.

    I use fairy tale enactment for my team building work. It not only diagnoses how well people perform togerther in a task it helps them bond with each other very strongly. But I don't recommend it to the inexperienced - it may seem like fun, but it is very powerful, and anything powerful is dangerous to the uninitiated.

    cheers, Nick Owen.

    Dear Editor,

    It does not surprise me that many people find teambuilding activities of questionable relevance. Interventions in this area are often non-specific and 'soft', aimed at either general collective self-discovery (e.g., using the Belbin Team Role Inventory and other individual questionnaires) or taking the team outside its emotional comfort zone to break down barriers and enhance communication. These activities, while sometimes fun (and sometimes not), are of little use in themselves. Unless the team has first developed a good understanding of its context and purpose in the wider organization, its values and its competencies, the team as a whole cannot learn from individualistic and non-specific exercises. Individuals can, but the learning will not get embedded in team conduct back at work.
    Sincerely yours,
    Dr Phil Smith, People & Organizations Group, Cranfield School of Management.

    In my experience team building activities do work and show long lasting benefits when they are tailored to the needs, style and situation of the team. I have found them to be effective when the issues that the team members work on are real and chosen by them. "Games" are much less useful. It is very important to respond to where the people are and be flexible.

    As a training provider, I like to meet the manager of the team and the team members before a team building event. People are usually anxious about attending any new activity, so it helps them to meet the facilitator and learn a bit about what may happen. They also like to talk about the situation and what they want to get out of it. This helps to create an appropriate design. When they feel listened to and understood, this builds their confidence that the event will be helpful. It also build some trust which helps the event go well. I prefer to meet people individually. This is sometimes not possible, so then we will use some of the methods, like working in pairs, that we might use in an event at the pre-meeting.

    With this approach, each team building event is different, which makes them exciting to deliver and attend. I do often stat by helping the team create a shared and attractive vision of how they would like things to be in their team and in its relationships with its internal and external customers. Then the people choose the priority issues to work on and work on them together. They look as they go at how they work together best and learn how to do it better.

    This approach is much more business focused and hence more acceptable and relevant than a "bonding" session. It is something that managers, having experienced it, can do for themselves.

    Nick Heap, New Directions.

    Many "team building" exercises are childish, and tend to favor certain personality types. There actually is a place in our organizations for people who do not enjoy these experiences, and as a trainer, I think it is my responsibility to allow for the differences in personality. Not everyone is going to enjoy or respond to these "bonding exercises" especially if there doesn't seem to be a purpose to them. If included in training, then sensitivity to learning and personality types should be taken into account, and a correlation made between the purpose of the activity and the benefits to the participants.


    Mike Willand

    You wrote that a survey said people question the point of team building activities, and that they found them, 'childish and embarrassing'. Having not seen the survey I wonder what the respondents were actually asked. Market researchers have known for a long time that respondents rarely tell interviewers the truth when they are talking about themselves, and that specially constructed check questions are needed. Not many people are likely to say "it made me feel uncomfortable/challenged" and it's easier to take the 'macho' line and say it was 'childish and embarrassing'. To the limited extent that you have reported it I have to question the validity of the research.

    Having said that even if the 'childish' response was what the participant really meant I'd have to question the validity of any type of training that allowed participants to always work in their comfort zone.

    As far as the activities are concerned Team Building often confused with socialising. Just because people get together it doesn't mean that they understand each other better or can work better as a team. Some activities could just as easily reinforce existing prejudices. Providing effective facilitation and review is carried out then the actual event is not so important, although I'm not sure how filming a short movie, human table football, making clay pots and dancing competitions could ever really be team building. All have these have far too high an individualistic element to really work.

    Kevin Marsdon, All About Teams

    Last year we ran 3 "teambuilding" events for our department of around 200 people. The sessions took place in September, October and November and most staff attended all three.

    We bought some games suitable for teams of 4-6 people focussing on teamwork, problem-solving and communication and ran a different exercise each month in anything from 12 to 20 sessions depending on the number of teams required for the exercise.

    The format of the session which lasted roughly 2 hours was

  • food available appropriate to the time of day
  • Briefing
  • Exercise
  • Debrief - to review how the teams worked together and how lessons learned could apply to the workplace - making this as much fun as possible
  • People were a bit wary in coming to the first session as they did not know what to expect, but generally had a lot of fun and appreciated the chance to get away from the pressures at their desk and to do something different.

    They were more up for the second and subsequent sessions.

    Generally we received very positive feedback. The most common response was that people appreciated the chance to work with others from different teams and to have the chance to match faces to names. They also liked the fact that people of all levels were mixed up and placed on equal terms.

    The effect of running the sessions has been noticeable in the fact that people do relate to each other better and the culture has changed away from work being a very serious place to somewhere where fun can happen as well.

    Andrea Grocott
    Training Manager

    You can add your own views on the subject by posting a comment below.


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