Building Teams or Playing Games?

There is a lot of content to comment about in this month’s Forum magazine (Association Forum of Chicagoland), and some of it is pushing my buttons.

Particularly the article about teambuilding. The article argues that fun and interesting team building exercises (ropes course, cooking class, art project, urban adventure, etc.) are “unique but valuable ways to build a team at your organization.”

I don’t buy it.

I think they are unique and probably valuable ways for people in your organization to get to know each other a little better and have fun together. But that does not build a team. It will probably move a team in the right direction, but I highly doubt it will significantly impact team performance.

This was one of the 101 things, by the way, that I wrote about in the We Have Always Done It That Way book. I think game-playing teambuilding activities are fine, but at best people learn a few new things. Building a team is accomplished when the people on the team actually solve the tough problems they face. They may need to learn a thing or two about their group dynamics, communication, trust, etc., but that is more effectively done in the context of the group solving real problems in real time, in my opinion.


  1. 31.08.2006 at 9:21 am

    Jamie, you’re right (except I don’t think these things are particularly valuable even for “getting to know each other a little better and have fun together”).
    See, the trouble is that I find the whole concept of “forced family fun” breathtakingly stupid but I wonder if it’s because the concepts usually mentioned — ropes course, cooking class, art project — strike me as unbearably dull. (But then I’ve never found a team-building concept that works quite so well as “happy hour.”)
    Which makes me wonder how people come up with these things anyway. If the HR person likes to cook, does he/she honestly assume everyone else will enjoy a cooking class as well? Or, even worse, do they put activities to a vote — thus forcing those individuals who voted for anything BUT some idiotic urban adventure to spend the day doing something they hate while grinning and bearing it?
    Setting aside the fact that these sorts of activities have absolutely no — zero, zip, zilch, nada — value to any organization that doesn’t sell cooking classes or art projects, they are bound by their nature to do the very opposite of their stated purposes. Different people like different things. Forcing them to do things that other people like is a rather boneheaded way to try to build a team.
    My advice to the advocates of such silliness: Get everyone offsite, talk/work through some actual real organizational issues, have a nice and expensive lunch — but for god’s sake don’t force people to socialize and don’t try to make people go through some silly, unrelated activity just because you think it sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon.

  2. 01.09.2006 at 7:39 am

    I am in agreement, Kevin. I particularly like the quote, “Forcing them to do things that other people like is a rather boneheaded way to try to build a team.” I do think there are staffs out there who have done these game-playing things and liked it, otherwise there wouldn’t be companies out there providing it. So there must be SOME instances where people learn and derive value. And at the big picture level, I am a big fan of experiential learning. But I still agree that building a team is most effectively done by solving real problems and dealing with real issues.

  3. Ruth Cole Burcaw
    01.09.2006 at 9:49 am

    Truly effective experience-based learning is a combination of adventure- or challenge-based activity and classroom training. Follow-through is essential for true learning to take place and outcomes need to tie back to learning objectives. Team building for team building’s sake will be largely ineffective. The ability to solve real problems requires outstanding, extraordinary leadership and sadly, not every organization has this internally. A skilled facilitator can engage the group and help them with their challenges through challenge activities. Getting outside our comfort zone is not always a bad thing…and a little fun can be good for the soul — and the team. Just two cents from a totally biased experience educator!