by Wayne Bennett, CEO of TeamWorx Team Building
Definition of Team Building and Value
Not everything a group does together outside of work is team building. I often hear people refer to activities like going bowling, playing games at Dave and Buster’s, driving race cars, or drinking together as team building. Although these and other offsite activities can have positive benefits, including getting to know people better outside the office, they lack a crucial element that makes team building different.
In a team building program or event people are on teams for starters. If your activity has no teams you probably aren’t doing a team building. More importantly, a team building event must challenge people to make decisions together that impact their performance.
Without interaction between teammates towards a common goal, it is not team building. The true value in team building comes because people willingly choose to engage in problem solving and leadership, and the format is created to learn from these interactions.
Rarely in our normal workdays do we have the opportunity to distill how we communicate from the details or information we are communicating? In other words, we rarely learn on the job to become better teams because we are focused on getting results. We are focused on getting the job done.
In our jobs we also have a myriad of variables to sort through that influence performance. There is usually resources at stake, jobs on the line, real consequences and politics that shape and form every decision. It’s difficult to distill pure teamwork, communication, and leadership out of this ongoing living entity.
Conversely, team building programs allow teams to concentrate on the actual dynamics of their current communication styles, leadership styles, and overall effectiveness as a team, and on new ways to improve. It acts like a lab, taking many of the complex and real life variables out of the equation, and allowing teams to focus on the skills they use every day to make critical decisions.
The genius of a good team building event is that it recreates the urgency, interest, and engagement of work situations, while making it fun and disarming for participants.
The result is that people act just like they do at work under pressure, or in team interactions, except much, if not all, of the complex work specific variables are on a temporary vacation. This disarming effect has two important consequences: (1) individual and team dynamics become clear, and (2) these dynamics are much easier to discuss and improve when separated from the real life concerns usually attached.
Our team building events at TeamWorx measure performance. There are winning teams, and some “non-winners”. Competition engages people in a way that momentarily frees them from their protective social personas. People will engage fully and authentically to help their team win, putting aside the complex and complicated defense and marketing systems we normally employ in social settings – especially at work.
It is easy to spot good leaders, great communicators, and excellent teammates in a team building event. If they are great in work, they are usually great at the event, and the opposite is also true. Team building is an unparalleled way to see how people act with others.
If you have read my other blogs, you are familiar with the intense self-rationalization human beings are very capable and, in fact, very likely to perform. So at work, if I am not selling as much as Susie who sits next to me, I can come up with a myriad of excuses that explain to myself why I am not selling as much. Susie has the “good accounts”, the boss likes Susie more, Susie doesn’t have my kids to deal with … etc.
However, when each team is doing the exact same team challenge, with the exact same time allowed, in the exact same room, and they do it better than we did, there is little wiggle room even for our powerful self-PR departments. And, because it is a fun event detached from real life consequences, we are able to think about and discuss how we could actually get better. There is little to no cost for recognizing we didn’t do as well as other teams, and how can we improve.
A great team building event will use all aspects of human nature to accomplish a very interesting and powerful result. The fun and competition of the event disarms participants and allows them to act naturally, while the challenge of solving the team building activity or doing better than the other teams engages people in a similar or same way as their jobs.
Of course none of this happens at a wine tasting, golfing, fishing, or any of the other mistermed events often called team building. Remember team building requires teams interacting together at the very least, and in its proper form team building is an incredibly valuable tool to assess talent, improve communication, and find new leaders for your organization.
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