The team-building paradox

The company I recently I started working for is doing quite well and from next year we’re doing the team-building thing. I’ve done it before at previous companies and I just don’t see the point.

Take paint-ball for example, as that’s always on the team-building agenda. You split your staff into teams and then they shoot each other. Well, where’s the building? It can and as Murphy usually has it, does happen that your mates are your opposition, and feelings can genuinely be hurt - but even if you hate everyone you work with and are buying your own high-compression scoped rifle, how is this team-building? At best, the winning team has built some sense of comraderie… but the losing team? And all the winning team did was beat their colleagues. I feel there are FAR better ways to spend the money, where people will appreciate the money and the effort and the company really would feel closer as a unit.

Is there anything to back up the idea of team-building or is it just a corporate idea that has become engrained and an accepted activity to participate in where the results are never really examined ?

It’s just one of those things that companies come up with sometimes that’s faddish. The only good I can see coming out of something like that is that it gets people doing things together in a non-work setting(even though it’s sponsored by your job), which might bring people closer.

It’s just a random act of management.

They could just give everyone the afternoon off and take everyone to the park for a picnic. But then the staff would just relax and start to relate better to each other and empathise more. Much better to put them in some dark, dank derilict warehouse (your experience of paintballing may differ) and have them fight each other.

At a (barely) subconscious level, management want you to compete, not cooperate, regardless of what the current management fad is. Because managers are successfully competitive individuals, so why would they start to want to reward cooperation? Nothing in it for them.

Seems to me a bad idea to teach your employees to improve their marksmanship and view the others as targets.:eek:

I’ve long thought that the ultimate team building was culminated at Jonestown.

When I worked for a huge multinational the team building seemed to always be preparation for drinking the metaphorical Kool Aid. There were times, I remember '73, '86 or so, '92 perhaps, when they needed to get rid of large numbers. Each time when it was all over one sort of employee lost, rather like in a paintball game or old classic Japanese movies.

I think the best team building thing I saw was a few years back, a local company (I forget the name, too lazy to go digging for it) got some of its people together to build a house for the Habitat for Humanity.

I think it’s kind of silly. Every time I’ve participated in one of those exercises, half the “team” has been layed off a few months later. So what’s the point?

What about the obstacle course team building. That is great. Zipline and all that jazz. Also how funny is the catching of people when they fall backwards. Haven’t ever dropped anyone, but… Definitely have wanted to.

I am stealing this phrase!

My sister participated in a great team building exercise during a sales conference. Her company bought a hundred or so kits for this prosthetic hand, and everyone at the conference was put into teams to assemble the hands. There are some incredibly moving videos on YouTube about the LN-4 prosthetic hand. Here’s one example.

I did paintball with my department, and it was a lot of fun. Besides getting to shoot the boss, having fun with your colleagues generally improves your relationship with them–you’re more than just coworkers if you’ve done something non-work related together. It’s not more serious than that. You can argue with paintball as a choice–we did white water rafting the next year–but generally speaking it worked to build team spirit, meaning that we had a shared experience that wasn’t about closing support cases, which made working together more comradely and less cog-like in some way.

Seeing a pattern here?

I just finished a few days of team building (as a participant) with my new job. Since this board seems to have more worker bee types than management types, let me offer a contrary perspective.

For my company, team building activities are an opportunity for you to meet coworkers from different offices, learn a little bit about coming together to solve an unfamiliar problem and find out about the culture of the company and what they expect of you.

If you are the kind of person who does not want to interact with their coworkers, the place where I work is probably not for you.

Here’s the thing, team building events are NOT supposed to accomplish specific goals.

What a team building exercise does is show you that through co-operation, a common goal among co-workers is do-able.

This is the thing, so many companies have people that don’t get on well. And you have unpleasent people who make it their day’s work to let everyone around them know how unhappy they are.

Team building isn’t going to correct this, but what it does is show that people CAN get along.

Too often co-workers will say “He’s a jerk, nothing I can do.” But if you participate in a team building exercise, say paintball and you have Mr Jerk on your team and you win, then you will say “He is a jerk but we worked together on a game so there’s no reason why we can’t do it at the office.”

OK that is the theory anyway. It shows that co-workers CAN work together.

The issue is it’s not CAN but a matter of WANT TO, when it translates back to the office.

These exercises CAN be useful as a TOOL, not as a solution to solve a problem and this is where most companies fail. A TOOL shows you co-operation is possible, but it doesn’t bring that about by itself.

You as the managment still have to show employees how to use it.

It’s under copyright already, by Scott Adams/Dilbert, of course.

We went through team-building once. Some of the videos included in their cast the actor Phil Proctor. As a longtime Firesign Theatre fan I thought this was a bad omen, like when, after Bill Clinton first took the oath of office, the band struck up Sousa’s Liberty Bell.

How is attending a compulsory company-sponsored event with your coworkers not “work-related?”

I spent a few years as a whitewater raft guide, and did plenty of trips with customers doing the corporate team-building thing. The problem was that it was kind of like saying to a group of kids, “okay, everybody start having fun now!” It was all very strained.

There’s definitely something to be said for pulling people out of their routine and having them interact in new ways, but there are better ways than making them pretend to have fun while paddling a raft or shooting each other.

Are you kidding? Company paint ball? Are they hiring for IT? Hell, for janitor? Sounds like a lot of fun.

One place I worked was going through a crisis of irrelevance - no one was sure what we were doing or why. The VP in charge of our center brought in change consultants (fine until they started asking about change in ways he didn’t like) and all the departments did team building. If we weren’t teams already, this didn’t help. Real team building happens every day, not once a year in the park.

The next place I worked didn’t have this problem - the goal was clear. We did play paintball, but it was for fun, not for team building.

It’s just a way for consultants to make money and for managers to pretend they are managing without actually doing so.

Best team building I’v been on by far is an open bar with edible buffet food. It can be a little awkward but light years better than any of these planned activities with goals. I work on a global team: there are always some new members, some of the team members are really good work buddies for years, and every time we informally work out a couple of burning issues, vent and build a pick up the phone and call relationship with someone halfway around the world. Every one of the official planned team activities I have done have been universally a pain in the ass.

It’s like paintball. If it’s all about having fun and maybe getting to blast the boss, then it’s good. If it some sort of contrived work together as a team it usually and transparently sucks ass. Last team building I went on was beer and bowling for 2 games and about 10 of us. It was kinda fun (I won the first game :slight_smile: ) and over before it would have become boring and/or strained.

I was at a corporate event and we had a S. African woman who had climed Everest give a talk about it. It sucked big time because every other slide was some trite team building or management or corporate strained analogy with climing a mountail. By the way, the absolute best by far corporate talk I’ve ever heard was by Apollo 13 commander Jim Lowell. No trite management speak or strained analogies. He took the official congressional report film with his own words. Understated awesomeness.

If it’s mandated that I’m there, it ain’t “team building”, it’s work. And it’s time I could spend productively doing my goddamned job rather than padding some consultant’s wallet.

If it’s not mandated, then…dudes-I have a life and it’s not at work. Not a chance I’ll go. I’m at work to exchange my labor for money. The end. I have no company loyalty–that’s not part of the “work=money” equation. I don’t need to be friends with my co-workers. That’s also not part of the “work=money” deal that has me at the office for 8.5 (or however many) hours/day.

I’ll be polite, friendly (in a business-like way) and professional. I’m not interested in making friends at work (although if it happens, great.)