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.


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.

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