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Why Traditional Team Building Doesn’t Work – Plus Funny Video to Share

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Most Team Building Does Not Work – Team Activities Team Exercises Team Events Trust Falls Ropes Courses

Have you ever been a part of a trust fall team building activity? Or how about a ropes course or obstacle course that you were told would bring your team together and unite you? How about a team bowling activity, rock climbing or even bungee jumping?

My guess is that most of you have been a part of some type of “traditional” team building activity. The type of activity where you work together as a team to accomplish some type of non-work-related goal.

The problem is… they don’t work. By themselves that is. But they are the perfect complement to other types of more important team development. I will talk more about this later.

Traditional team building doesn’t work by itself for several reasons:

1. The activity normally has nothing to do with the team’s current job. The activity is more team fun than real team building. Scavenger hunts, racing cars, river rafting, or team golf are a lot of fun, but they have very little to do with moving a team towards a team related goal.

2. There is very little time invested and very little return. There is usually a lot of money invested in traditional team building activities, but they only last for a small period of time. Traditional team building normally last an hour or a day at the most and any type of team building effect (e.g. unity) quickly evaporates as soon as teams get back to their day to day jobs.

3. It can be embarrassing and alienate some team members. Many traditional team building activities are competitive. They focus on agility and skills that many team members may not have and that are not relevant to their jobs, possibly causing embarrassment.

While these are all disadvantages, you shouldn’t completely ignore traditional team building. I am actually a big proponent of traditional team building. Earlier I said that by themselves, they aren’t effective. But when traditional team building is coupled and frequently paired with more non-traditional team building—with non-traditional team building constituting the majority of the focus—it is very effective.

Non-traditional team building is focused on improving team member commitment, trust, communication and efficient healthy conflict. Improving these components requires activities that include a number of somewhat structured, difficult, passionate (but respectful) discussions and activities.

There are several team development companies and facilitators (including myself) that offer this type of non-traditional team building. If you are looking to purposely build your team, I highly recommend you invest your time in doing it right.

Make certain that your next traditional team activity is coupled with non-traditional team building. Don’t just focus on the fun, but also focus a majority of your time on the things that matter most to your team.

Do you agree? Give me a thumb up or thumbs down in the comments below. And if you have time, let me know your thoughts 🙂

Here is a very funny video clip that highlights when traditional team building can go wrong.

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Leave a Comment

  • Dan Anghel November 28, 2017, 3:57 am

    Obviously correct !
    Any team building session should be customized to the necessities of the team you want to have for achieving the planned goal.
    Thank you MR for sharing with us this clarifying article on team building.
    P.S. Unfortunately, in my forty years of experience I have seen only one effective team building (done with USAID).

    Reply
    • Michael G. Rogers November 29, 2017, 11:21 am

      Thanks for commenting Dan. With the one effective team building you mention, what made it effective?

      Reply
  • Todd November 28, 2017, 6:12 am

    Thanks for sharing the video. What a nightmare!!

    I think the biggest bang for our team building buck is not stand alone and irrelevant traditional team building activities. These are often not customized to the particular group, and there often lacks appropriate sequencing of activities. However, a well designed sequence of activities can lay the groundwork for great processing that is very relevant and can help move a team through difficult waters. It’s up to the facilitator to build the bridges between the “what”, the “so what” , and the “now what”. I have trusted this process for many years, and when done well, gets amazing results.

    Reply
    • Michael G. Rogers November 29, 2017, 11:22 am

      Great points Todd. I love the “what”, the “so what” , and the “now what” approach. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

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