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Why team building events don’t work


Teambuilding events can make or break a team, says Judith Germain. Here she tells us why they can cause more issues than they solve.
Most companies understand that enabling individuals to work in teams can be a sure-fire way to improve the company’s performance. When an air of competition is allowed to permeate the culture it can become rapidly unhealthy leading to aggressive working practices that disable cooperation and productive and efficient work performance.
It is understandable, therefore, that companies want to ‘fix’ failing teams or find ways to improve the performance of teams following mergers or mass redundancies as soon as possible. Unfortunately, companies can often seek a ‘quick fix’ and by doing so determine that a team building exercise over a day or so will solve the problem.
Most people’s perception of a teambuilding day is something akin to a military intervention with either assault courses, with complex problems to solve or paintballing where you are encouraged to compete against fellow work colleagues. These type of events can pose concerns around being very male orientated, difficult for disabled employees to participate and can reinforce stereotypes.
Often these events are seen as a desperate attempt to improve motivation and morale and without good communication the event can be stalled prior to anyone’s attendance on the course. A lot of employees are fearful of what to expect at one of these events and are often reluctant to spend time with their colleagues. It is important to dispel an anxiety prior to their attendance.

Here are the most common reasons why team building events often do not work:

  • There is often misunderstanding as to whether the company wants to build a team for a specific purpose or to engender a team working environment. This is an important distinction. When a company is considering teambuilding events they are usually hoping to create a lasting environment that enables employees to understand each other better and to improve their performance in the team. It is this goal that is often not factored into the team building event.
  • The team building event is not aligned to the company’s objectives. For example these events concentrate on the attendees having fun and not on achieving set goals. They often do not look at the desired competences required by the company.
  • The event may focus on competition over all else. Whilst in a hiring situation competition can provide a useful insight into someone’s character, within a teambuilding setting it can be divisive and destructive if appropriate care has not been taken. This is often because completion brings out the worse in people. It’s possible that having seen someone at their worse you no longer want to work with them!
  • The team building event is a one off event without any changes to the company structure, mind set, culture or procedures. This is where organisations believe that a one off event (building bridges out of planks for example) will be the only solution to improving the performance of a failing team. The team becomes confused as to the purpose of the event.
  • The team are very busy and would rather concentrate on clearing the outstanding work rather than ‘running through fields’ with their co-workers. They can see the team building event as another example of ‘the management’ not understanding the pressure that they are under.
Recently we were hired by a HR Director who wanted us to deliver a leadership training course that had a large team building component to it. When questioned it became clear that team building wasn’t the biggest issue that he was apprehensive about. He was concerned that the new management team, whilst technically competent were too used to working in silos and not as a consistent strategic team. The biggest issue with the management team was their inability to lead their teams and be able to consider the impact that their decisions were making on the rest of the company. The consequences that the company were facing was reducing market share, increasing employee turnover, poor morale and managers that felt uncomfortable with their enlarged management roles. This was having a significant impact on the profitability of the company and the managers’ poor leadership was having a ripple effect across the company and impacting on the once positive supplier relationship.
In order to enable the company to have more empowered, effective leaders and to reduce the downward trend and have an improved team we designed and delivered a leadership course that also had team building at its core. This meant that rather than having team building sections – we concentrated on increasing the leadership competencies of the team by ensuring that a team working atmosphere was fostered. Having an evening component as part of the course enabled the attendees to relax with each other, put into practice the behaviours that they had learnt and enabled the team to begin to grow together.
It is important to have effective and productive teams working within your organisation. Whenever you are considering running team building interventions to ‘fix’ problem or failing teams, you should consider whether your intervention will meet the strategic and operational of the business.
Judith Germain is founder of Dynamic Transitions, specialists in improving the leadership performance of organisations key brands or key influencers. She provides strategic mentoring for senior executives and business leaders and delivers innovative leadership programmes. For more information visit

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