A 2014 study conducted by a team at Yale concluded that sharing experiences with others amplifies the effect of the experience.
Read that again carefully. It ‘amplifies’ the effect. That is to say that if the experience is pleasant or exciting, we will perceive it to be even more exciting than if we completed it alone. The part we sometimes gloss over…and the part that leads to some leaders giving up on team building…is that if the experience is unpleasant, the fact that we share it with others will make it even more unpleasant.
While some of us enjoy seeing a movie alone every now and again, the norm is to go with a partner or a friend for this reason. We want to share, we want to have out experience and our feelings validated. Either way.
So, how could a team building activity possibly be seen as an unpleasant experience? Quite easily, in fact. There are even studies that go so far as to say that team building doesn’t work.
Team building activities and events can go awry if the activity or experience isn’t tailored to your group and their needs if the activity is too far out of your culture ‘comfort zone’ and if it is seen as a quick fix or cure-all. Let’s look at a few simple (and not so simple) things that we need to keep in mind before deciding on a team building activity:
1. It’s not an activity, it’s a strategy
“Hang on, you just said ‘activity’, didn’t you?” That’s true. That’s why I said to look at this list before booking it! Many managers and leaders, not to mention organizations, see team building as an event or an activity that they can put on to provide a shot in the arm of motivation for their employees. Any single activity or experience you provide needs to be decided on as part of an overarching people strategy, otherwise, you will pay a lot of money for a (potentially) fun experience and the thrill will wear off quickly.
So, make sure you know why you are looking for the team building event. What are the outcomes you are looking to achieve? What behavior will you expect to change? Is the activity you are looking at going to achieve this? What else are you doing to make sure these learnings are supported? This leads us on to the next critical factor:
2. It’s not an activity, it’s a culture
You’ve finally talked the powers that be into paying for a team building event because you know the team needs something. The problem is, however, that if the learnings from the activity are not backed up when the employees return to their role, we run into challenges and the impact can be lost quickly, or worse, it can turn the whole experience into a negative process. As we learned earlier, a shared negative experience is amplified as much as a positive one.
This means one of two things needs to happen. We either need to be ready to change our culture at work to support the learnings, or we need to choose another activity that better aligns with our culture. Sending a team off to an exercise to build collaboration, only to return to an office that is rewarded for achieving personal goals and social interaction at work is frowned upon will only cause an amplification of frustration and ultimately impact your employee engagement.
3. It has to make sense
Make sure your team building activities are relevant to the team and that the outcomes are well defined and explained. People always do better when they know the ‘Why’. If we randomly send the team to a team building event ‘because team building is good’, you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle. Some will be dealing with the anxiety of dealing with something out of their comfort zone and some will see it as a time waster. This can impact your productivity, not just from everyone being out for the day, but for days or weeks before and after the event. You also lose precious time at the event as the facilitator works on bringing people on board.
Be clear on why. Be clear on how the activities will achieve the ‘why’. Be ready for people to be uncomfortable…after all, that’s partly why we’re doing it!
4. It’s not an activity, it’s a series of fortunate events
To finish, let’s build on the first critical factor. In the busy modern world, we need to think a little differently. Taking days out of the office can cripple teams and set them back for weeks, meaning that your team is more focused on the work they have to catch up on rather than focusing on the experience.
Keep in mind that team building is an ongoing practice. Workshops, training courses, professional development, meetings, catch-ups, social events and shared tasks or projects are all part of team building…and they don’t all take weeks of preparation and cost half of your expenses budget!
The beauty of thinking about a series of activities or events in your strategy is two-fold:
- You build a culture as the behaviors are supported
- You can create a range of experiences that are short and sharp and fit in with your team’s workload
Don’t get me wrong, as a person who has completed a special forces obstacle course, abseiling, rock climbing and scavenger hunt activities, I can say I absolutely love them and there is a place for them. That place, however, needs to be as part of a carefully crafted strategy that takes into account the needs of your team, the needs of the organisation and the outcomes you are looking for.
Once you have all of this plan, the ‘big bang’ activity will actually be the amazing event you had hoped.
Matt is a Principal Consultant at Glass Rock Consulting. He is a passionate, authentic, engaging facilitator, coach, learning and HR professional. Matt has over 15 years’ experience in delivering Human resources. Learning, Communications, Projects and Change initiatives for a range of companies across retail, sales, IT, customer service and corporate support. He lives in Sydney, loves his family, music and a good laugh.