Themed activities have their place as bonding experiences for stable teams with good relationships and culture. We enjoy running these at the right time for our clients, and they can be great fun. By contrast, an arbitrary team build that is thrust upon people with strained working relationships or inexperienced leadership may very well be doing more harm than good.
Diagnostics and leadership comes first.
Quality team building and team development needs to be anchored in ongoing leadership and healthy culture back in the workplace. If a team has issues in this regard, then one-off team builds could be akin to a faith healing - plenty of bells and whistles but empty of lasting value.
It may be seen by sceptical and jaded people as glossing over poor leadership and culture or as a fumbled attempt at a quick fix not addressing real underlying issues.
Beware of putting the cart before the horse. Working on deeper relationship, leadership and cultural issues first (which may still include some fun activities) will have deeper impact and value for money in the long run.
Professional people can also be critical thinkers, accustomed to working with facts and evidence to solve important issues. A lot of team building can thus be hard to take seriously and make them cringe a little. Like any effective business tool, starting with evidence-based and credible analysis first, then adding fun will likely get you much further.
Try not to delegate selection to a busy PA.
Ideally leaders should be planning such interventions themselves and not passing them on to well-intentioned PA’s. A Google search for an ‘amazing race’, ‘sip and paint’ or a ‘barefoot bowls’ session may not obtain the outcomes that you are actually seeking.
Activity content should be designed in tandem with evidence-based tools like the Belbin Model and its reports to see what’s really going on in a team. What are our actual strengths and weaknesses? This doesn’t exclude fun team building, it just relegates it to being part of the process, not the process in and of itself.
Some team building activities get improperly used (consciously or sub-consciously) as band-aid fixes on what are deeper issues. This becomes an ‘elephant in the room’ for many smart operators and teams.
What's actually going on within the team?
Leaders and managers need to look deeper and have difficult conversations about what’s really going on in the team with regards to its actual strengths and weaknesses.
Actual underlying issues could be:
- Unresolved / unstated conflicts
- Lack of mutual understanding and role clarity in the team
- Poor team structures
- Low psychological safety
- A lack of balance in working relationships
- Low focus on developing inter-personal respect
- Lack of talk about workplace behaviours, conflict, feelings
- Poorly trained or selected managers and leaders
- Low focus on collaboration, trust and risk taking
Getting the order right.
1 - Get the diagnostics done first (we use The Belbin Model).
2 - Tailor the right team building sessions to suit actual team needs.
3 - Have the necessary conversations that will link it all to real-world outcomes.
Meaningful workshops that use evidence-based insights help teams to go beyond the activity buzz and identify what a team will actually Sustain, Improve and Fix back at work.
SUSTAIN what you currently do well.
IMPROVE what you can of the things you see can be made better.
FIX the root causes of issues impacting working relationships and performance.
Throwing a random team building session at a team may not do much, it may just point out the inability of current leadership and culture to actually build and develop real-world teams and morale whilst widening any cracks in relationships lurking in the team.
Working with managers and leaders first can often be an ideal approach, and then work with the broader teams with managers included. Well-tailored approaches can then be created with some properly targeted fun.
Our advice is to get the research and basics in place first, then develop strategies for team development initiatives that add lasting value back in the workplace.