It’s happened before and it seems to be happening with increasing frequency. It’s the focus on instant results.
“Hurry sickness” is a disease that is now plaguing corporations all over the globe. It is not surprising that this has been showing up in team building sessions in North America for well over a decade and it’s not getting any better. It’s spreading. Yes, it’s important to adapt and to be responsive to the client’s needs but when the thinking is flawed, is this the most prudent course of action?
Scenario 1: One of my Canadian clients expected instructions for a complex team building exercise to be provided in 5 minutes instead of the 20 minutes that I had recommended. My goal was to provide instructions, give groups an opportunity to review them, formulate questions about anything that was unclear, and get answers.
In this instance, I provided the client with the instructions and suggested that a member of their team deliver them. I wasn’t going to be the black lady at the front of the room screaming out rapid fire instructions to a 99% white male, senior executive audience. We all know how well that would have been received.
The instructions were rushed and people were confused. I was glad that I had made the right call and I wasn’t the person at the front of the room to be blamed for this fiasco.
Scenario 2: Even though 1/2 day had been allocated for full debriefing at the end of a 2 1/2 day team building retreat, when we assembled for debriefing, the CEO demanded “Let’s wrap this up in 30 minutes and get back to the hotel.” I reviewed with him and the group the process that we had agreed to and the timeframe that had been allocated for the debriefing and application exercises. The CEO insisted on the ridiculously short timeframe. I let the group know that I would do my best with the time I had been given. I apologized in advance as there would probably be loose ends and unanswered questions at the end of the session.
On the fly, I simply skipped the debriefing questions and asked the groups to:
- identify one specific thing that they had learned or 1 tool that they had found useful
- identify one specific way in which they would apply it when they returned to work
After the session, one of the VPs whispered in my ear “See what I mean. We face this every day.” I felt for him and gave the CEO private feedback that, by taking such an approach, he was setting the members of his team up for frustration and failure. He listened but I doubt that he will change. This was not a North American client by the way.
Scenario 3: I met overseas with my foreign client to plan their team building session. (They had flown me half-way across the world and put me up at 5 star hotels to do this.) They had requested a 1 day design and I had let them know this wasn’t possible for the simulation they had selected. I had designed a 3 hour briefing session to set the context and do some targeted business exercises for a group of executives. This was to take place the day before the outdoor portion. (I wanted to ensure that the executives did dismiss the outdoor simulation as fluff and a waste of time.) There was push-back and resistance and it was a fight to even get the client to agree to 2 hours.
Scenario 4: The same client was also resistant when I proposed a highly condensed and targeted 2 hour debriefing. I wanted to have the teams:
- answer 4 – 5 targeted questions in their groups (30 – 45 Minutes)
- select a spokesperson
- use a panel format to go through the questions and give the teams an opportunity to share their responses to each question and identify best practices. (30 – 45 Minutes)
- analyze a specific business issue using the tools from the simulation (30 minutes – the optimal timeframe for this is one hour)
- use a provided storyboard format to prepare a short mini-presentation with their results(15 minutes – the optimal timeframe for this is one hour)
- present their mini-presentations to the whole group and identify next steps (30 minutes – the optimal timeframe would have been an hour)
For scenarios 3 and 4, my alliance partner (who would be doing the outdoor activity, transfers and meals) took me aside and advised “Just do whatever they ask. There is a lot of money to be made here. Why should you care whether or not they learn anything? Just take the money and run.” Sounds drastic but that is exactly what many team building companies are doing. I am the only one who has a problem with this from the point of view of ethics. I somehow have a problem with taking money and not delivering value. (I would love some reactions from executives and team building consultants.)
At the end of the day, who wants to wade through a pile of evaluation forms with a sea of comments like:
- That was too rushed.
- Sorry I didn’t get the point.
- What was that?
- I didn’t have enough time to think and process the experience.
- The timeframe for the group exercises was much too short.
- The facilitator was harried. Gee! I wonder why.
Who wants to wear the blame after they have repeatedly cautioned the client that the timeframe was too short?
I am attempting to resolve the situation by doing something I haven’t done in about 20 years. I provided the client with a detailed agenda with timeframes for every minute activity and exercise. I indicated that the timeframes for the individual components were realistic and could not be condensed any further. I asking them to review the agenda with the CEO and delete all topics, exercises and content they felt did not add value for the executive team. Only time will tell if this is an effective strategy.
These scenarios are puzzling.
- Why spend a fortune on team building and allocate a timeframe in which it is virtually impossible to achieve results?
- Why pay top dollar for an expert team building consultant, fly them half way across the world and ignore their advice?
(It might be better for some companies to save their money and get an internal rookie employee who will just take orders to deliver the team building.)
Companies are pushing and burning out employees and expecting them to produce results in ridiculously short timeframes. When team members try to set realistic boundaries, they are branded “inflexible” and “rigid”. As a result, companies are losing some of their best people and experiencing alarming short-term disability costs due to the number of people on stress leave. It is not surprising that this is showing up in the approach to team building. There is absolutely no need for this. I hope that every CEO reading this who expects “instant results” from their people will seriously re-think their orientation.
If you found this discussion to be of value, you may also find the following blog content to be beneficial:
- Team Building Cutting it Short: What’s up with That?
- 1-Day Team Building: Is it Enough?
- Team Building Tips: Set a Realistic Timeframe [Part 2]
Photo Credit: ztephen