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Team Building Activities: Not For Everyone June 3, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Communication, Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I used to force people to engage in team building activities; specifically those structured exercises that are intended to teach something about working together more effectively. I originally joined in as a willing-but-skeptical participant when facilitators asked everyone to get out of our chairs and stand in a circle to throw a ball back and forth, or pair up with someone else who was blindfolded, or work with a team to figure out how to drop an egg off the top of the building without breaking it (the egg, not the building). It seemed to be something that progressive, forward-thinking managers were supposed to organize on behalf of their teams in order to uncover revelations and breakthrough thinking that would inspire teamwork, innovation, and productivity. That’s what I hoped for, but I see now that I was putting a lot of faith in a process that relies on accidental discoveries.

I’m sure these games must have worked for some teams otherwise surely the concept would have died early on. I don’t think I ever experienced a revelation when I was a participant, but I saw other people who seemingly got caught up in the excitement, or at least had something to say when the facilitator asked for “lessons learned.” At the time I concluded that I was trying too hard, and that I shouldn’t deny the teams I would later manage the opportunity to learn their own lessons just because I didn’t get it.

This may work for others, maybe as a way of getting people to think differently, but I know now that it’s not for me. It doesn’t fit my management style and I feel pretty silly doing it. I do want to inspire the team to work together collaboratively, to be innovative, and to develop their own ideas for higher productivity, but I’m not comfortable with using symbolic games that reveal hidden truths indirectly. I’d rather go directly to the team and tell them what we need instead of hoping to get there through a side door.

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