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Do team building exercises actually work?

Posted by: Megan Troster

Team-building exercises are often sold as a powerful way to unite a group of colleagues.

So, if the exercises are planned well and carried out strategically, with a clear aim and purpose, e.g. to improve a teams problem-solving or creativity skills, can they have a positive impact on worker productivity? Rather than just giving your employees a nice day out of the office, managers need to spend time thinking about their team’s strengths and weaknesses and a good place to start is by identifying problems that may be at the bottom of worker productivity. Do team members need to get to know each other? Are there conflicts between certain people that create divisions within the team? Do some members focus on their own success and by doing so, harm others in the group? Do some members of the group need to boost their morale, or are some team members resistant to change affecting the group’s ability to move forward?

Enterprise Director at Vodafone UK, Peter Kelly (2012) stated that British companies spend a huge amount of time, money and effort into building a better workforce. Vodafone’s research confirmed that people place more value on an open, collaborative and flexible way of working every day than on one-off team building exercises. Most employees believe that participating in more company team building events would not help improve their work, and also suggest that they find the whole experience toe-curlingly embarrassing. Employees feel that communicating at work is more effective than being forced to build a rapport over adrenaline experiences or ‘trust’ exercises. Of the workers that were surveyed, 66 per cent have been made to take part in a team building activity and 54 percent of these felt that this activity had not improved relationships with colleagues.

Events such as speed-boating and bungee jumping are considered least effective, followed by trust exercises such as back-to-back drawing game, or games that involve blindfolding and being led by colleagues. What employees found most successful however, and also not surprising, are social events like going out for a drink or meal, closely followed by volunteer work/charity events. Team building events that happen outside of a work setting, over a weekend perhaps are successful but the effects are short-lived. The impression afterwards is that you feel the exercise has gone extremely well, and has brought you and your colleagues closer together but come Monday, when you face your inbox and so do your colleagues, very little has been achieved and not much has changed in terms or bringing the workforce together to boost morale and overall productivity. Further, employees losing a weekend of free time to additional work commitments may not be the best way to start what is suppose to be a positive team building event. 

What team building attempts to do is to change the behaviours of the team without actually getting to the root of why those behaviours exist in the first place. Therefore, the problems will often appear to be fixed but this is temporary and it is likely that at some point the same issues will arise again. When problems go unaddressed for a long period of time, people can often get frustrated. When there are problems related to fundamental elements of an organistation such as leadership, policy and values, these can become deep rooted and ingrained in staff. Once you uncover the root of one problem, it usually discovers another and suddenly you have grown adults behaving like 7 year olds declaring ‘’He started it!’’ So why consider team building if it doesn’t work? The answer is because it seems to be the most logical thing to do. Does there have to be problems or issues within a working environment to warrant it? Organisations might not have a strategy or even a reason they may just want to get their workforce away from a desk and out of the office for the day. 


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