When organizations seek teambuilding, they often default to the cursory short-term ‘fun activity’ at the expense of more deliberate, long-term satisfaction. No doubt, short-term fun is better than dismal long-term satisfaction arising out of doing nothing, but many organizations too often seek to do some form of teambuilding, not realizing that they can have short-term fun and foster long-term cohesion if they are willing to invest more than just money.
The term ‘teambuilding’ has grown to include any number of activities that allow people to see each other in a different context by virtue of that activity. This may include a team lunch, a dinner, a round of golf, a scavenger hunt or an orienteering outing.
I find it very interesting when I am invited to a three-day conference and learn that a four-hour block of time has been designated for teambuilding. It suggests that the remainder of the time is something other than teambuilding. Following that logic, are the discussions about strategy and execution that arise at times during the conference not about building their team?
Ironically, sports teams don’t have the same identification with the word ‘teambuilding’. Everything they do together on or off the field of play is about building their team. A basketball team doesn’t schedule a ‘teambuilding’ block on their agenda. This is not a distinction they make, though they may share a weekly team dinner or play golf together.
Corporate ‘activities’ are often entertaining, engaging and serve a function in the development of relationships, social structure and culture. The value sought in teambuilding is derived not from the activity itself (a common misconception), but rather from the discussions inspired by those activities which give rise to better performance through increased self and team awareness. Quality discussions are considered separate from teambuilding activities, though in a successful program, they should go hand in hand.
Even with this knowledge, organizations often choose activities over discussions because the collective short-term comfort of co-workers is an easier default compared to the necessary introspection, vulnerability and self disclosure it takes to create a cohesive, trusting and meaningful environment where great teamwork lives.
No one in their right mind wants to be vulnerable and practice self-disclosure in the context of their job; as a result, many executives and worse yet, committees, choose teambuilding that relies exclusively on the activity. To dilute it even further they bring in the greatest short-term team-builder on the planet – alcohol. The effects on team performance will likely be marginal at best but this combination often masquerades as ‘teambuilding’.
Chances are that a weak team going into a teambuilding activity together will most likely emerge on the other side as a weak team unless there is conscious discussion inspired by the ‘activities’ and fueled by a commitment to learn about self in the context of their unification.
Yet another problem with relying solely on an activity to improve team performance is that most people will revert to their most comfortable means of interaction in the context of that activity. Loud people will be loud, quiet people will be quiet. Disinterested parties will converge, and nothing will compel them beyond their defaults, nothing to pull them into the context of improved performance as a team. Nothing is structured and still, nothing is deliberate.
Discussion (dialogue) is the critical missing element, especially if those discussions lead to self-discovery and disclosure in the context of teamwork. We are constantly searching for the right blend of experience and discussion. How can we create a powerful activity and have the discussion be the most significant ‘teambuilding’ component of their experience?
FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE!
The right balance of activity and discussion depends on several factors:
• The gap between how the team performs now and how well it could perform in terms of improving results, the quality of relationships (including both those with colleagues and with customers) and the processes themselves.
• The key decision-maker(s)’s ability to see that gap.
• The key decision-maker(s)’s commitment to narrowing that gap
If there is no potential – gap – and no commitment from the decision-maker(s), then the decision can be – and usually is – an activity based only on short-term fun.
If there is even a modest recognition of potential (gap) and a commitment towards achieving it by the decision-maker(s), then the activity chosen should include meaningful and deliberate discussion time. At minimum, the time devoted to dialogue should be one hour per three hours of ‘activity’ time. However, with proper facilitation and structure it might be the reverse: one-hour activity and three-hour discussion.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ACTIVITY
Every teambuilding activity under the sun, whether structured or not, can be a metaphor for the business in which the team is engaged, including results, relationships and processes. The connections are more apparent in some activities than in others, but they exist in all.
A teambuilding activity where people can readily ‘see’ themselves or ‘catch themselves being themselves’ makes it easier to self assess and generalize to areas of work and team performance. Cognitive assessments (Meiers-Briggs™, Forte™, SDI™, Insights™, etc.) easily inspire relevant discussions because they allow participants to ‘catch themselves being themselves’. And, it is implied that the discussion will have to do with team performance.
Activities that are available to the general public will be more difficult on their own as catalysts for discussion. Not many groups expect to discuss/debrief a baseball game or a dinner and draw meaningful conclusions pertaining to self, team and business from that experience.
The activity will provide an opening for discussion, but they will need a guide to take them through it.
Which baseball player that you saw last night at our “teambuilding off-site” would you say best personifies your contribution to our team? What did you see them do or not do that made you choose them? What do you think they practice most? What are their strengths and weaknesses on the team?
Think of all the connections between people and the relationships along the way required to get the food that was on the table to its place in front of us. Take two minutes and be ready to define as many team members as you can, responsible for your (the customer) experience last night. Then, be prepared to talk about how you define ‘team’ based on last night and how you apply that definition to our industry/business.
There is little doubt that both empirical and scientific data support that teambuilding activities can accelerate the process of team performance (teamwork).
Without the right activity and commitment from decision-maker(s) to structured and well-facilitated discussions, people will gravitate towards the same context with which they are familiar, and in many cases will accelerate any dysfunction that already exists.
By contrast, a carefully selected activity that focuses the energy of the team in a direction specific for the challenges its members will face, when combined with the guidance of an experienced facilitator, will create a teambuilding activity that provides fun and lays the long-term foundation for group cohesiveness, open communication and job satisfaction.