Leadership

Team Building exercises -- Are they too contrived to work?


Everywhere you look, you see articles and books that claim to have the secret of effective corporate team building. In fact, consultants have carved out an entire industry devoted to the subject. I've been on both sides of this issue -- I've been on a team and I've managed a team. And I have to say that I seriously question whether a happy and productive team can be built using artificial means.

In my categorization of "artificial," I'm not including team lunches. While they are a mechanism by which you can build team communication, the growth that goes on within them is organic. I'm talking about some of the more contrived activities that you read about in all those pop management psychology books like trust falls and bonding weekends. Look, I've dearly loved some of my coworkers in my lifetime, but do not expect me to spend a weekend with them. I'm already spending most of my waking hours with them. If we can't build a strong team in that environment, raosting marshmallows together isn't going to do it.

I guess I think that great teams are usually built naturally, just from being on the frontline together, trying to achieve a common goal. I guess there are some team members who are too competitive to bond over a common goal, but paintball outings sure aren't going to help. (But if you think about it, it may be a helpful diagnostic tool for a manager. When everyone is ready to leave the paintball outing, and you see one person is coated in paint, it might be pretty easy to pick out the person the others have a problem with.)

There's also an issue with the nature of some "team outings." Some people have a great time bowling, for example, but other people might be more reserved and the whole exercise will make them uncomfortable. If you're uncomfortable, it's less likely that you will feel like you're part of the team.

Of course, that's just my opinion and I'm sure that I will hear from a gazillion people who have used team building workshops successfully. If so, let's hear about them. But if you've felt uncomfortable with team exercises, I'd like to hear from you too.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

54 comments
raviputcha
raviputcha

Socializing with your team members outside your work environment is definitely beneficial. Some companies are willing to invest time and money in helping employees do that plus create a structured, simulated situations (team games) to achieve that. I don't see what is wrong - i took part in them and it definitely helped me and others. There can be virtual teams, extended teams of people whom you rarely meet physically, socializing with them definitely improves your understanding and appreciate their point of view - interactions with others after team outings and games are changed and improved. What I find here are some weird conclusions - based on anecdotal evidence by disgruntled folks - totally disagree and I'd rather ignore it . This article is sensational and is pretty useless.

BlueKnight
BlueKnight

The best teams are formed by managers who really know how to select the right people. I've worked on fair teams, good teams and one truly excellent team, and in my opinion it all points to the management, not only in hiring, but also in the selection of team members for a project. We all get along well as employees, but certain project groups work better together than others. The team I've worked with for the past 4 years is THE best. We all are skilled in the particular system we work on and our individual skill sets complement each other. I'm a pretty good analyst, but my strength is in the more technical areas and writing. Another team member is a great analyst, but is not at all technical. A third member is not technical, but is a pretty good analyst and an excellent bug shooter. Our fourth member is good all around but is best in programming. Our team was formed by a manager who knows the importance of team chemistry as it relates to both skills and individuals. We all get along great, we can discuss anything without egos getting in the way and if we do things together, it's because we want to, not because somebody thinks it will make our team stronger. You couldn't make this team stronger, and it is a real pleasure to work with these folks. The end result is that every project we've worked on has come in on or under budget, and on time or early. There's not another group in our organization that can say that and they can't figure out how we do it.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

All the posts reminded me of a distributing company I worked for in the 80s. Each year they had a company picnic and all were highly encouraged to attend. We did all kinds of foolish "exercises"; volleyball, sack races, barbecue lessons, and of course the 12-ounce curl. All voluntary of course. I don't think there was any manipulation, but somehow the drivers and warehouse people managed to settle some of their problems. Or so it seemed to me.

kevin.dwyer
kevin.dwyer

I have yet to see a team form around an exercise. The pyschological and psuedo-psychological tests help understand the diversity in a team and form a basis for discussion about valuing and utilising the diversity. They do not significantly influence team formation on their own. They require a concerted effort in a project environment to utilise the output to advantage the team. Trekking and outward-bound type experiences sometimes have a limited short life-span effect. I have seen them have an impact on two individual's relationship. But I have never seen one that had a long term impact on a team. Putting people together on high intensity projects where they have a common and difficult goal and developing other mechanisms of getting people to appreciate each others strengths and weaknesses by doing, has a much greater impact on team formation than reflection on its own or spurious phsyical activity.

AV .
AV .

Toni, I have to say I agree with your take on team building. I think its a waste of time and money. I've participated in a contrived team building weekend with a large IT department in a fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. We were all flown to a certain location and made to play silly games. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with each other. Our days together were planned from start to finish. Some of the games we played were board games, climbing a 15 foot wall and having your co-workers pull you over, the "trust fall" (falling backwards and having your co-workers catch you), being blindfolded and led around by your co-workers and being passed through a wire fence by your co-workers. I just thought the whole thing was ridiculous and a big waste of money. It was just plain weird and I resented the fact that I had to participate in the strange little exercise. It did absolutely nothing to create the team atmosphere they wanted. What did work was having informal lunches, but if an IT department is spread out in different states, its especially challenging to make a team. Traveling to different locations on occasion and videoconferencing also helped. AV

mdhealy
mdhealy

At an HR event some years ago there was one exercise that stands out in my memory. Participants were divided into teams and given the job of solving a fictional crime; each of us was given a dossier and then an hour as a group to discuss the case. What they did not tell us, and we had to figure out as a group, was that EACH member of each group was given a slightly different dossier, so that each of us had ONE critical fact not known to the others. So the teams that did best were the ones that got EVERYBODY to participate!

#1 Kenster
#1 Kenster

Our organization once did a "Team Building" activity where all members of the staff helped to come up with our Mission Statement. We sent two people to class for a week to learn how to become facilitators at the meetings. We had meeting after meeting wasting (IMHO) well over a thousand hours of work time to come up with a one paragraph mission statement of about thirty words telling us what we already knew. Nobody seemed to feel that we had built a team except the manager who's idea it was. The mission statement will probably have to be rdone after our next re-org.

devils_advocate
devils_advocate

Teams need to know what the vision is and how they contribute to making it happen. All team activities need to stay focused on these topics. As for team building exercises, there have been plenty of studies showing how working together and achieving a goal bonds team members. Exercises that do this can work and help bond the team. Mandatory dinners and activities don't makes sense - if the vision and plan haven't been communicated during work hours team leaders are not doing their jobs.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

If they are too contrived to work, why do the best and largest companies continue to invest hundreds of millions globally in such processes, training, personal development and team development? Ever wondered that maybe it's just you, or your company, who doesn't have the vision, communication nor skill to make them work? Now perhaps you could learn the communications and skills to make such processes, and your contributions to them, work. Oh, but you'd have to do some sort of skills inventory first to find out what your base level is, in order to determine your best method of improvement. Now you could hope your manager was an honours major in psych, and an excellent communicator to boot. That they could evaluate you fairly, consistently, without bias to their opinions of other members of the team, and without jealousy or preconceptions about you and your contribution. (Because all managers are like that, aren't they?????). [i]I guess I think that great teams are usually built naturally, just from being on the frontline together, trying to achieve a common goal.[/i] Rarely have I read something so naive on TR! If it is just a rant then go for it!Everyone deserves that opportunity and sorry for overreacting. If it is meant in any level of seriousness then it is no wonder that the person's skill level and ability to articulate the goals of such exercises results in continual failure. Methods that have proven continually successful in great organisations [b]when implemented correctly[/b].

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

When I was young our boss called for volunteers to work overnight and strip and wax the floor. The 4 of us who worked that night become better friends somehow through the experience. My current supervisors (3 of them!) are helping build the "Arizona Trail". They invite others to join in. Nobody feels their arm twisted but anyone is invited. I think that's the bonding experience that consultants and management is trying for. Spending a weekend with people you work with should be voluntary unless it is part of work (the inevitable weekend emergency). Informal lunches are a great way to socialize and learn about each other. The occasional emergency project is another. That's when you find out what people are like under stress. Paintball might be fun but lets go fishing instead.

Tig2
Tig2

I have always gone about building my teams based on respect for the abilities that each player brought to the table. It seems to be very effective. I am a major supporter of the team lunch or "snack in". It allows us to define a specific "no work zone" where we can talk about something other than the project. Bonding, by any other terms. I think that team building exercises that are scheduled outside of the normal work day are an un-necessary burden to the team member. Most folks have a "Honey Do" list as long as their arm of tasks that have to be accomplished over the weekend. To insert a work function in that time is the equivalent (in my opinion) of telling the team member that their priorities are completely unimportant. Not a particularly supportive or bonding message. And as my excessively left brained partner frequently points out, the lion's share of IT folk are, at least to a point, pretty left brained. They just don't see a value in that "touchy-feely crap". And they don't want to be forced to play.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

If what people are doing within the organization is not causing people to join together as a team, nothing you do ouside of the workplace will make a difference - you need to change the dynamics of the workplace.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

So, you had a team of people drafting a description telling the management what you do? Rather than team-building, this would lead me to seriously doubt management. The mission statement should flow in the other direction.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Its is only really important when a reorg happens and the mission may or may not change. Its also much more important for larger groups than small ones. One thousand hours is incredible. If the team can't sit together for 30 minutes and craft one, then the org is totally messed up. James

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've been on a couple of teams and facilitated another. You can form an effective team by meeting for an hour once or twice a week, but it takes so much longer than giving those employees over to the project non-stop. Bite the bullet, put them on it full time, and tell their regular supervisors to get over it. If not, you're sending the message this isn't as important as your regular job, especially if the supervisors won't allow the team member time to work on the project outside of meetings.

StillWaters
StillWaters

if you believe that everything companies spend lots of money on are automatically successful. Team building occurs when there is respect for one another, not during some artificial bonding session. Case in point. One coworker became a jerk after being given a leadership role. He was tasked with coordinating a team building exercise. No one wanted to be around him, but went anyway for a good time. End result: same as when we started. Companies would be better served to insist upon and then monitor employees' behavior toward one another. I have found it can't be taught and is better legislated. Employees need to work toward common goals, which is the responsibility of management to establish and communicate (with some involvement by non-managers). There may not be an "I" in team, but there is a "me". All the exercises in the world can't remove the "me first" attitude.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I guess I just lack the vision to make these team building excercises work. Here is the one I was involved in yesterday. At a department-wide function, our dependable HR Team Builder showed up and requested that everyone organize into groups of six standing in a circle. She then had each person reach out his right hand and hold the right hand of the person opposite. Next, we were each to use our left hands to hold the left hand of a different person. Finally, we were instructed to "untwist" the group without letting go of anyone's hand. After about 30 seconds of uncomfortable wrenching of arms, one member finally said "Forget this" and let go. The rest of us followed suit. Moments later, our Team Builder Leader declared one group to be a winner and passed out stuffed animals to the members of the group. Given my absolute, total lack of vision, I ask any of the defenders of Team Building Excercises to tell me, "What was the point?"

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I guess I think that great teams are usually built naturally, just from being on the frontline together, trying to achieve a common goal." It's not naive, and it's a team-building method used by one the great team-building organizations in the world today, the U.S. military. Usually service personnel are from very different backgrounds. There are usually at least a couple of them with very specialized skills, sprinkled among a majority with skills in common. As a team they have a goal, and each of them has a skill required for the task. (If a skill isn't required, the person usually isn't assigned to the team in the first place; another team principle.) They have to cooperate to get the job done, and they know it. They also know their rest of their team (squad / gun crew / recon team / whatever) have received training adequate to accomplish the job. You want a team? Stick a couple of dozen military personnel out in the woods for a few weeks with a defined objective. They may not all be best buddies at the end, but they'll be able to work together. The best part is you can mix them up with members of other teams as much as you'd like. Give them a couple of weeks to adjust to each other's quirks, and you'll still get the same acceptable results. On the front line is an even better team builder, but it's costly in more ways than one. Studies do show that soldiers don't demonstrate valor because of some political principle. They do it to protect the other guys in the unit, guys that may have been complete strangers a few weeks ago. mdj420nova mentioned cross-training. That military group will place an emphasis on this, since they know they often can't wait for HR to find a replacement if one of them is unable to continue working. I'm always appalled at the number of large organizations that employ only one person who knows how to do a task. What do you do if she hits the lottery or he gets shot by a jealous husband? Cross-training is a great team-building exercise, since it shows you how someone else's job connects to your own, and how what you do affects the performance of others. Military leadership goes through some of the same management trends as the civilian world, but warm fuzzy team-building exercises are one of them.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

"Ever wondered that maybe it's just you, or your company, who doesn't have the vision, communication nor skill to make them work?" You are exactly right there. It is a combination of my org and I who don't make them work. But it seems to happen every time. Upper management gets "hot to trot" about some new fad and forces all of us to attend a 1day workshop. They seem to think that just by attending a class everything will be magically better. BTW, I find most of those workshops interesting even though I don't consider myself an extrovert. But the follow through never happens. If your asking why doesn't the team members make it work? Well... these ideas are usually geared to management; they don't seem to be that useful for the actual workers. If we were in sales it might be different but we aren't. "Methods that have proven continually successful in great organisations when implemented correctly." I think that is my point. Every few years there is a new fad method. They aren't necessarily bad, but I have never seen good implementation. In the last 15 years we have had 7-8 such seminars, workshops etc forced on us. While they don't bother me that much some people (esp introverts) are painfully reminded of their deficiencies in playing with others. Most of the people who run the workshops are extroverts and seem blithely unaware (or don't care) how much they embarass the poor little nerds and geeks. Sorry, I didn't mean to rant. That's just my opinion.

DasTwitcH
DasTwitcH

but not for all. Like any catch-all solution, it's guaranteed not to work for your entire audience, and usually not even the majority, although try getting someone to admit to the boss that the course that cost however much per head did nothing for them except make them feel embarrassed, isolated, picked on, singled out and uncomfortable. A point was made earlier that IT people tend more toward the introverted. I've found this to be generally true, and that team building through shared adversity, or over a couple of beers at the pub after work/Friday lunch is far more effective at breaking the ice and allowing them to scope each other out without risk, and with an easy escape if necessary. That easy escape is necessary for those who don't feel comfortable in larger groups. The large corporations use these courses (I worked for one for years, and I've been on a few) use them because they work for the people who make the decisions to send their employees on the courses. It's self-perpetuating. Those who rise to positions of management, especially in sales or target-driven IT environments are generally those who have the outgoing, extroverted, corporate personality so important to the success of these courses. Basically don't blame the employee or the company for doing something wrong if it doesn't work for them. That's belittling and counterproductive. Just find a way that works for your team and yourself. It's not that hard if you allow your TLs or low-level supervisors to choose an activity, as they're in constant daily contact with the rank and file under them and understand their team best.

GSG
GSG

I'll work with any member of my team, whether I like them or not, and do my usual outstanding job. But force me into a team building exercise with this person and I'm liable to go over to the dark side and take this person out. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. Bwaaahaaaahahaaaa

Server Queen
Server Queen

don't necessarily work too well with introverts. I tend to be extraordinarily resistant to anything I see as unduly manipulative, touchy-feely, intrusive, etc. Give me a kindergarten exercise in a staff meeting, and I guarantee you'll get a kindergarten attitude. On the other hand, treat me like an adult, and respect the way I prefer to relate (I'm very introverted, as are many techie types), and you'll get an adult response. When it is appropriate to work as a team with others, I will do so. I don't need to make paper dolls with them in order to see the need. But the vast majority of what I do, back-office infrastructure stuff, is individual work, and team-building exercises in staff meeting are a waste of my time. I find that kind of thing very stressful, as I do almost any forced socialization. Any true introvert will find forced socialization draining. That's the definition of an introvert; a true extrovert finds solitude draining and recharges from doing things in groups. Tests designed by extroverts tend not to take that into account; that forcing an introvert into social interaction will cause them unnecessary stress and tension. Neither personality type is inherently superior, but try to convince a manager or salesperson of that! It's like trying to convince a true morning person that people who are most alert at night are not slacker sloths.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I've found that assigning large jobs to a group of people, then let them decide who will handle what parts does more to bring people together than any teambuilding outings or get togethers. This is also a good way to get new employees into the group and up to speed with the other members. Rotating members in and out of different teams makes it easier to get others comfortable with other members and more tasks. As a result you'll find volunteers for groups and the need to assign others disappears. Some will always work better with certain others but that will always be the case. Positive results of colaberation will result from happy teams. Try not to single out groups or individuals and the entire workforce feels part of the process.

Why Me Worry?
Why Me Worry?

to see which employees would get along, and what do you know...my managers turned out to be compulsive perfectionists as well as a few other corporate suck up coworkers. I on the other hand was more of an easy going realist who takes things easy and keeps his cool under pressure...(complete opposite personality to that of my managers and other coworker suck ups). Such meetings only serve to create more tension and anxiety in an environment where people with different personalities and expectations are already on edge and at each others throats because they can't see eye to eye on the same issues. Yes, we are all different, have different work habits, ethics, and opinions, but I'll be damned if I have to put on a fake smile and phony personality to conform to a nazi corporate policy that dictates how everyone must behave and break their backs for a bunch of perfectionists and hardasses without human decency or respect for their fellow employees.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

... but that's okay. Your 'self interest' clouds interpretation pretty much the same as anyone else. Would you mind my asking a couple of questions about your ideal strategies? [b]Companies would be better served to insist upon and then monitor employees' behavior toward one another. I have found it can't be taught and is better legislated.[/b] And, tell me, does that just work a treat? I am sure that everyone in the entire company is 100% confident there is no room for misinterpretation, subjectivity or bias in that strategy! Are you truly and seriously suggesting that good behaviour can't be taught? Are you suggesting that the 'team' and its members have no part to play in determining what is deemed acceptible or otherwise - that it is just simply "legislated"? [b]Employees need to work toward common goals, which is the responsibility of management to establish and communicate (with some involvement by non-managers).[/b] This is a sitting-on-the-fence attitude. Do you advocate top-down or bottom-up goal setting? Is there possibly an iterative process involving both? To what level would you recommend a team participate in their own goal setting, to ensure that their 'common goal' is actually in line with the department's / division's / company's objectives? Seems to me you've had a bad experience recently. Try to lift yourself above it and work out solutions for the future.

Tig2
Tig2

Unless you work in HR. Wayne, I have read a lot of your posts. I may disagree with you about Scrum but you have certainly built my respect. But I will bet that if you were to poll your teams, you would find that you have theirs as well. Project Management often has to lead through manipulation. That is very difficult and may be well nigh impossible. Now I lead through unashamed bribery. The chocolate on my desk virtually insures that I will see my team with some regularity. It works.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

I nearly wet myself laughing. Especially at the phrase: "our dependable HR Team Builder". I think there is a parallel to defending the role of modern architecture. I can say what I like and why I am passionate about it, but some buildings are just plain f'cking ugly. You win!! :) edit shpellink.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

(Just to see if we're actually getting to a similar point, scarily enough) Yours is a brilliant example of high performance team building. Just a couple of questions to put some perspective on it? * Does this happen in the first day or two of recruitment? * Or, before such a team activity happens, has extensive and highly specific training gone into both the grunt and their leadership? * Do they possibly practise those specific skills - I think the term "drill" comes to mind? * Are all Marines complete extroverts, or is there a reasonable balance of different types of characters? Now, given the comments on this thread, can you actually imagine telling a group of "IT people" (as seems to be the common grouping used by other folks) how they talk, how they walk, what hand methods of communication are necessary and must only be used etc etc? Better still, can you imagine telling this second group that, no matter what, when the boss looks at you and says "you must do this" to unquestionably go back to their desk and do it? And come back the next day and follow the order again? High performance teams do those things consistently and your example is certainly that of an extreme high performance team. In particular, setting a clear expectation of the outcome, giving people the necessary training to perform that skill, and then drilling, and practise, and then more drilling and practise. I was, for four years, in the Army reserve during uni days - it paid the bills, and (once) I could do things to a diesel engine that I never imagined possible ! Never faced a zone - it was a particularly peaceful time in South Pacific in those days. There were great times when we did the bush thing as teams and units. Sometimes as part of bigger "exercises", sometimes just as a unit for a week or two. Common goal or target or objective, all the stuff you talk about. Maybe our army is different but I can assure you nothing was left to osmosis. Everything - sometimes frustratingly so - had a "right way". Learning that way first, then practising your bit as an individual, and then spending time practising it as a team, and then spending more time on feedback re the performance, and then doing it again and again and again. The question becomes how to work towards such a discipline in a workforce of diverse characters, with differing personal motivations, without everyone wanting to throttle you or simply walking out the door. I'm passionate about high performance teams. I learned much of the attitude and approach from my time in the army, and it then becomes a matter of getting that into the particular skill-set of the people. I work with companies who want high performance to spend a lot of time doing this stuff, then working on team plans and individual plans. In some cases my payment is hooked to the improvement or reaching the objective - risk-reward contracts. Since they tend to come back year after year either it's working, or I'm bullsh!tting them completely or they are just idiots. Most likely a combination. :)

JamesRL
JamesRL

At one of my previous employers, we made a point of cross training, even if it was not for the purpose of training a back up. We had help desk people, desktop support people(who went desk to desk) and data centre people. We sent them to spend time in someone else's shoes and gain some perspective. You think that was touchy feely? Naah, I can tell you it paid big dividends in reducing the inter-departmental bickering, and in improving the lines of communications. It also had some side benefits of exposing people to possible other roles they might like to fill. When big crises hit (flooding in data centre, power outs, massive virus attacks) I know we were stronger for it. James

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

You said: [i]If your asking why doesn't the team members make it work? Well... these ideas are usually geared to management; they don't seem to be that useful for the actual workers. [/i] I didn't actually ask that. I did point to the fact that (I beleive) when things don't work it isn't just "them" or "their fault", which I've always got the feeling that people often use as the excuse. There is a shared responsibility. Shared equally? Highly unlikely. Is it often due to poor mgmt approach or the quick fix or the "we just need to be seen to be doing something"? - I agree wholeheartedly. But I think overall, from what you are saying, we agree. When things are planned, communicated and executed properly they can work. If not, failure or waste is likely. But that isn't really the fault of the tool, the class, the new 'fad' or whatever. Thus I feel that the statement "too contrived to work" is fundamentally incorrect and thus enables people to target responsibility incorrectly.

Toni Bowers
Toni Bowers

I had IT employees in mind when I wrote the piece. Your first two paragraphs nailed what I probably didn't say very well to start with.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

[/i]Just find a way that works for your team and yourself. It's not that hard if you allow your TLs or low-level supervisors to choose an activity, as they're in constant daily contact with the rank and file under them and understand their team best.[/i] ... if the objective is to chill out, team bonding, let off steam, whatever. Mind you your particular example [i]or over a couple of beers at the pub after work/Friday lunch is far more effective at breaking the ice and allowing them to scope each other out without risk, and with an easy escape if necessary[/i] .. still is fraught with the opportunity for the extroverts, or better pool-players perhaps (maybe the guy that can jump up and play some toons on the guitar?) to somewhat overtake the situation. But what if it is more serious about real performance, not just simply getting on together. Say the word comes down from above, improve performance/output/contribution (whatever word you wish, but hopefully I've got the message across) by 60% or sack the lot and go to India. (I saw your profile says 'Aussie'. I could give you names of department heads in ANZ Bank in Melbourne for whom the target is >100% or the outcome is Bangalor.) So now we're not just talking the touchy-feely stuff - well perhaps we are, it's just changed it's name to sacky-firey. Could the "team" possibly have a part to play in this process, it's planning and execution? (Assuming the answer is "yes"): Does your average TL have the manifold management skills to actually acheive this without any external assistance whatsoever? If you're interested I'll tell you what my mate's team has done to stave off the sword of Damacles for yet another year, and increase their own bonuses to boot.

Tig2
Tig2

My favourite "team building" exercise is to drag everyone outside with their laptops and picnic on the lawn. Especially in MN where a really nice day is a special treat. Oh- and it isn't mandatory. There are some people who prefer not to. Fine by me. I was once in the unusual position of leading a team of smokers. Not planned, just worked out that way. We did meetings in the smoking area a lot. I have declared "work from home day". Very effective on holidays that the day care provider got but we didn't. Treat people like people and you don't need contrived "team building". The team will come together.

BigBlueMarble
BigBlueMarble

This hits home for me. I'm BEYOND introverted. "Reclusive" is more accurate. My team is quite bonded, and though we all telecommute, we keep things fresh with daily online chats and weekly teleconferences. The problem - and it gets more obvious as time goes by - is that I'm not one for the Friday happy hours, the boating excursions, and the casual lunches. It's not the team; it's that I don't like to do these things and prefer to stay home and work. How does a reclusive personality diplomatically abstain from team gatherings without raising any "not a team player" or "someone has issues" banners?

oldfield
oldfield

A good team contains an array of different personalities - leaders, followers extraverts, intraverts thinkers, do-ers spontaneous, reasoned .. an array of different ways of appraching a work problem - to focus on one character type with these team building activities alienates the majority. It is not just down to intraverts and extraverts - there is a multifaceted side to human nature and these exercies are way to directed to one type of person - usually the person who designed them.

GSG
GSG

I have to be in a stupid meeting for 3 hours, and you're using an hour of it for a stupid kid's game. I'd feel a little more teamwork if we could, as a team, get on with the work. Those things make my butt tired. Oh, and I'm an extreme introvert as well.

hiteshnr16
hiteshnr16

I concur with serverqueen. Such exercises are not totally helpful and infact would result in an incompetent team. A team should be made based on a persons skills and not only based on the level of comfor. The level of comfort factor however cannot be ignored completely.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

... you could be shown a development process or programme that treated everyone like adults, that did not demean any individual's (reasonable) level of intelligence, and gave you a framework that enabled you, in whatever fashion works best for you, to improve a certain skill area? Of course, only if you desired that skill in terms of where you see your own progression? Would that work for you? They exist - indeed there are probably hundreds of courses adopted by thousands of consultants available that aim and have been proven to achieve this. That a particular company, division or manager opts for a "quick fix" or a cheaper style of course is not, per se, the fault of management consultancy or the aims of building effective and continually-improving teams.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

mjd provided some excellent recommendations. Read them and follow them!

yu_lei888
yu_lei888

I am sure a good team can be built ,It is just a matter of communication

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

From my experience they seem to be off. Maybe I just don't like to be labelled. It seems management types go through fads like teenagers; TQM, "Human Effectiveness", etc. I have no idea what the current fad is.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

... If, PG, you had read the whole note from which you felt the need to get somewhat defensive, then you would have seen the underlying statement of [b]"if executed correctly".[/b] That phrase, in itself, requires days and weeks and maybe years of planning, preparation and execution to make any successful team development event. Every single process, be it backed by years of research or be it the latest 'fad', has evidence of working well (i.e. beneficially to individuals and the team and the company - given that the latter two aren't necessarily the same). They also have hundreds of examples of working poorly. To the point of humourously and ludicrously. As to my intent in my note? - let me put it to you like this. I accept your interpretation of my intent is there. Can you accept this? As a professional practitioner of some of those methods, seeing a 'head-line' that says "are they too contrived to work?" and then a story followed by other posts showing the wounds of similar bad experiences, may just actually put me (like you) in somewhat a defensive frame of mind? I didn't think I attacked to the extent that you point to. I clearly framed it such that, if the author was just having a well-deserved rant, then I apologised for my over-reaction. Check the note. So I set a framework that (I hoped) set an expectation for the what and why I had written. Again, I didn't take offence to you not seeing this clearly written, as we read things according to our own mood. In your note you wrote (following the heading) [i]"(you are naive...) if you believe that everything companies spend lots of money on are automatically successful"[/i]. Your interpretation was incorrect. I didn't say that whatsoever. There is, however, a straight line correlation that: if large and successful companies [b]continually[/b] invest in team building and development exerices, [b]and[/b] continue to grow and be successful, then the statement "are they too contrived to work?" would lack any real evidence whatsoever. Are such exercises misused? Yes. Do Newby managers get over-enthusiastic and implement things incorrectly? Guess what. Are these processes used as band-aids to hide real problems? Yes. Are there blind believers that feel holding hands in a ring of people and then uinravelling the ring, has some sort of secret benefit and message that no one else fathoms (to use Wayne M's example)? Unfortunately those fools exist. Worse still, evidence is that they are increasing in number. I appreciate your response. In an academic sense, and as someone with 40yrs + experience, how would you PG rate this example? First, it is hypothetical and somewhat cheeky - please take it as such and feel free to berate me to your heart's content. Next, to set the scene, imagine you are the owner pulling the money out of your pocket each week to pay this team discussed below. In other words, their performance has a direct and [b]personal[/b] impact on you. Complete and utter self interest on your behalf. [i]Case in point. One coworker became a jerk after being given a leadership role. He was tasked with coordinating a team building exercise. No one wanted to be around him, but went anyway for a good time. End result: same as when we started. [/i] Would you seriously be thinking that you are getting maximum value for money? *Do you sigh and sit back? *Do you fire the lot and start afresh? *Do you fire the newby-manager and send a message that is fairly easily understood to anyone contemplating management? * Or do you work on a plan to improve it? Or, on a deep-and-dark-conspiracy note, did you (as the owner, remember) and the newby purposefully run this event in this fashion? Did you have a hidden objective of working out which of the team had the smarts and the gumption to a) provide valuable feedback and (heaven forbid) b) provide a suggested better way ahead to make the team work better with the newby at the front? See, setting strict guidelines and monitoring performance (to paraphrase your first note) can and does take many guises. We just never know ! I can assure you I am often asked, and paid to, provide feedback of each individual's contribution and attitude in class/group/team session, back to senior management (whatever that may mean in different companies). It's not all just about the actual material. edit: some spellink

StillWaters
StillWaters

You stated "If they are too contrived to work, why do the best and largest companies continue to invest hundreds of millions globally in such processes, training, personal development and team development?" You clearly believe there is a direct realtionship between money spent on an initiative and its applicability. No denying that in your statement, and that is the primary thing I wanted to address in my response. I have no idea what you mean by "work a treat". To the rest of your comment/question let me be clear. I have nearly 4 decades of experience in a variety of situations. Each and EVERY time team building exercises are attempted the result is the same. Jerks are still jerks, and people who get along still get along. Those who are in it for themselves have a heart problem. They are selfish individuals interested only in their success and promotion of their ideas. Where teams are fractured, the only thing that has worked is for management to dictate behavior. I wholeheartedly wish it were not so, but it is. My encounters have taught me that. Lots of coaching - no results. People will not be team players by coaching, since it requires a basic attitude to exist that does not. They may change, but it almost always happens because they see the coaching as a mandate for change. The incident I cited is but one of hundreds. Given that, I cannot buy into the idea that team building "events" work. The teams I've been a part of that have succeeded have done so because the members begin with a team-oriented approach. Improvements can then be achieved by coaching. As to goal-setting, yes, I believe that non-managers must have input for the majority of them to work. The gap between those who manage and those who do the work is often so wide that risks/issues are not factored in and the goals become impractical. Again, it's happened much more than not. I'm not saying every time, mind you, just a goodly portion. You spoke of the future. It's my hope that in the future you can state your opinion without attacking the author. You used words like "that's the most naive", and "... maybe it's you ... who doesn't have the vision"). Those are meant to hurt, not help and really weren't necessary.

Tig2
Tig2

I freely admit to bribing with chocolate! Honestly, I have found that if I am willing to remember that we all are working for the same outcome- a successful delivery- and that the people on my team are PEOPLE and treat them like people, they are all quite willing to work with me. But food remains a powerful motivator!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Never underestimate the motivational power of free food.

Tig2
Tig2

Is a book called "Leadership Through Manipulation". The author points out that because project teams are tactical rather than strategic (in general), you have to go an extra distance in order to really get time commitment. In highly matrixed orgs, I would say that is more true than not. The author's point was that perspective is everything when considering how to get the job done. I have managed a number of very talented teams over the years. I have been very fortunate in that regard. They tell me that the chocolate helps... :)

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

TiggerTwo, thank you for your kind words. I am sure your team appreciates your ability to disagree about opinions while enjoying the discussion and walking away with respect. That is one of the true team-building skills. P.S., I'm sure your meant "persuasion" rather than "manipulation" in regards to management. I can't see you as a "manipulator."

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

* Does this happen in the first day or two of recruitment? Not Day 1 of recruitment, no. But within the first couple of days of basic training, each new soldier is assigned a partner ("battle buddy"). They will be paired for the rest of the basic training period (10 weeks, give or take a couple of week depending on the branch of military). The new soldiers will sometimes work together at the squad level (8-10 people). They aren't given complicated team tasks at this stage, but they haven't been taught specialized skills yet. * Or, before such a team activity happens, has extensive and highly specific training gone into both the grunt and their leadership? That depends. At the basic training level, the team has undergone minimal skill training, and their leadership is usually the best available, especially at the "first-line supervisor" level. If you're pointing out this is not a "spontaneous" forming of a team, I see your point. At higher levels, yes, the team members and leadership have had training, although it's not uncommon for none of them to have worked together before. * Do they possibly practise those specific skills - I think the term "drill" comes to mind? Regularly, at both the individual and group level. But practicing an individual skill in the military is often no different from performing individual civilian tasks on a daily basis. A day at the keyboard and a day at the rifle range are both just a day utilizing an individual skill. Practice at the group level (an "exercise" or "operation") is more complicated, and that's the type of activity many of these corporate team-forming exercise try to emulate. The civilian versions lack the intensity (and resources) that's hard to simulate outside a group of people that have to drill or work together every day. Some sports teams are similar to military organizations in the way they approach teamwork - work on individual skills, work on small group drills, work as a team. * Are all Marines complete extroverts, or is there a reasonable balance of different types of characters? I was Army, and a "weekend warrior" to boot. (I do know lots of good jokes about Marines, but I can't post them in a public forum. Besides, everyone knows Marines can't use computers :-) ) However, not all military personnel are extroverts. Many introverts have a harder time getting started in initial training because they are in closer quarters with more people for a longer period of time than they've previously been exposed to. I don't have any breakdown on the percentage of recruits who fail to finish initial training or why those who don't finish didn't. I have worked with introverted soldiers who were as effective as team members as the exrtoverts. "can you actually imagine telling a group of "IT people" ... how they talk, how they walk, what hand methods of communication are necessary and must only be used etc etc? No, but I can imagine telling them what language to program in or development environment to use. I certainly can imagine having to work where they mandate a dress code. And I can imagine combining your list and mine, since the military has computer "departments". "Everything - sometimes frustratingly so - had a "right way"." Yeah, but is that any different from corporate mandates or procedures? Or much different from having checklists? When I add a new user, there are specific tasks that must be accomplished, often in a specific order. I can't request an SAP account for the user until he has a network account. I can't add them to our help desk system until they have an e-mail account, which I can't do until I created the network account. I can't properly configure the computer for him until I've done the other things. "The question becomes how to work towards such a discipline in a workforce of diverse characters, with differing personal motivations, ..." And here is where my example falls apart. In the U.S. military today, everyone volunteered. In many companies, people work there because a parent did, or the workplace is close to the house, or they went to the employment agency and that's who was hiring that day. You're right, it's a question of the motivation. And you have a valid point. The modern serviceman receives training on teamwork skills throughout his career, and regular opportunities to exercise those skills. That does make it easier to form an effective team when individuals are regrouped. So, no, perhaps there isn't as much spontaneous team forming as I initially proposed. But I don't think this level of teamwork can be reached by corporate "teamwork" training.

martine.k.smith
martine.k.smith

... what your mate's team has done to stave off the sword of Damacles for yet another year, and increase their own bonuses to boot. Thanks, Martine Smith Oracle DBA - Security

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

and certainly have in the past, and most likely I am destined to repeat, being part of (and perhaps even all of) the problem! :)

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

I do believe that most companies would benefit from a long-term effort from a management consultancy to improve the work environment. I have also, however,experienced the so-called "experiential learning" activities that Toni (and others here) have justifiably mocked. The problem with this approach is that it reverses cause and effect. While it is true that people who get along and like each other enjoy doing silly activities together, it is not true that doing silly activities together will cause people to like each other. These activities do not translate back to the work place and do not cause change. canIberichnowplease, I would suggest you would be better served if, instead of being defensive, that you acknowledge and join in and laugh at bad management consultancy practices. This would make people much more receptive to the message "... but all management consultants are not like that; there is a better way!"

Why Me Worry?
Why Me Worry?

I was talking about those silly and useless meeetings in which team members are profiled to determine their personalities and likelihood to get along with others of an opposite personality. These social experiments are better left for kindergarten and not the office environment.