Does team building really work?

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When I hear the phase "team building" it conjures images of work colleagues engaging in the kind of activities British stag and hen parties use to fill the space between drinking sessions. They can ...


Read More Richard Boston, LeaderSpace
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Do away days actually add any value for the HR function?

Less than one in five (18%) workers believe that the opportunity to bond outside of work improves their working relationships, according to research by indoor go-karting company TeamSport.

Only one in ten (11%) report that away days help them be more confident in their role, while only 14% said they help improve their communication skills with managers.

So do away days actually add any value for the HR function?

Yes

Fiona Tayler, corporate events manager of TeamSport:

“Team building away days should be a crucial consideration for any business that is looking to improve the communication and overall morale of its employees.

Off-site activities create the perfect opportunity for co-workers to become more motivated as a group, and can even help to break down any political and personal barriers that they may have.

Many clients often feed back to us on how these corporate events can give them a clear understanding and new perspective of their employees on an individual basis, as well as the company as a whole, often seeing a huge improvement in team productivity and working relationships as a result.”

No

Rob Briner, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Bath:

“It may have some small short-term effects but in general it doesn’t do much, unless it’s based on building really specific skills or knowledge that are directly relevant to the performance of the team.

My sense is that most team building is based on increasing social interaction and co-operation through setting very short-term ‘fun’ but challenging tasks. While some people may enjoy that sort of thing, others may hate it, and, overall, there’s no reason to think this will have any impact on performance in the workplace.

So, like any training or development, if you first identify a really specific need for knowledge, skills and/or abilities and design an activity around developing these then you might be in with a good chance of doing something that’s effective. However, most team building that I’m aware of doesn’t do this.

As with any intervention, it’s worth thinking about the downsides: wasting time, creating conflict, making people uncomfortable, forcing people to do things they can’t, and so on.”

Comments

I'm with Rob here. I think these events can strengthen 1:1 relationships, but rarely contribute to effective team dynamics. This is often because w hat we call a team maybe a collection of individuals with the same boss and not with the same objectives. I remember so called team building events of 20-25 years ago very vividly and they were seminal personal experiences and extremely enjoyable. They made longlasting relationships. But I don't think they made any difference to our business effectiveness. So motivation scores certainly - its one of the more interesting cost benefit equations.....


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I have to agree with Rob and Andrew here - if we are talking about the kind of team building event where you go off site and the team engage in an activity that is totally disassociated from the real work environment. However in my experience team building 'away days' that are focused on live work issues or challenges, and which are based on the team dynamics and relationships that are in play in the work environment, can add significant value. Expert facilitation is a pre-requisite as is a collaborative approach to the development of the event that secures the positive engagement of the team in advance.


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When I hear the phase "team building" it conjures images of work colleagues engaging in the kind of activities British stag and hen parties use to fill the space between drinking sessions. They can be a lot of fun, as Rob and Andrew agree, and perhaps motivating - except for the people who are hating having to learn to sing together, freeze in an estuary as they save a sinking ship, herd chickens or drive a go-kart quickly around a track. The key lies in the interplay between Fiona, Rob, Carole and Andrew's views: an intervention that has real, lasting value will be one that is designed and facilitated well. It will get at what's really blocking the team from delivering on its full potential - whether those blockers are task-based, strategy-based, process-based, capacity-based or relational; whether they're interpersonal or intrapersonal; etc, etc, etc. The intervention will help the team be more than the sum of its parts - when many teams are less. It will also determine the extent to which 'teaming' is actually necessary to deliver optimal value to the team's stakeholders: creating a truly high performing TEAM isn't easy and for many groups it's a distraction. The reality, too, is that any successful intervention will take place over a period of time. It's generally foolish to expect a meaningful and sustained shift in an individual's behaviour, mind-set and performance in a single day. It's even more foolish to expect a meaningful, sustained shift in a whole team of people.


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I wonder whether part of the problem is that we label an activity as team building when actually what we are doing is simply spending time away from work getting to know one another better. This is important to bring a more human touch to our work relationships but we should treat it for what it is - some time out together to show the team that they are valued and to thank them by providing some enjoyable time together. Forcing people to participate in activities they don't like isn't team building - it's coercion and sometimes humiliation and likely to produce the opposite effect to that intended. Genuine team building is not a one off away day but a series of activities over a long term period. I don't believe that you can reasonably expect the effects of one away day to transform a team in a sustainable way without sustained efforts built into everyday working. So let's be honest about whether we really are team building or simply enjoying some offline time with our colleagues. And for me the interesting challenge has always been how to manage team members who don't want to join those awaydays. Does this mean they are not engaged with the team or just socially anxious or worried about travelling? What's the right approach here? They may be extremely valuable and productive members of the organisation but just not"into" group events. Interested in others' views here.


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As someone who runs a corporate events activity company, I can definitely say that I've seen them work. People come in shy and not really looking forward to spending the full day "bonding", but then they have fun and work in teams and get to know each other better and learn to work better together. Even if it's "offline time" like Jenny says, this is still bonding and working together. Nothing is worse than working with people who you can't talk to and so having time to work together in a fun way is definitely beneficial.


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