Yesterday, I had a really interesting exchange on #eventtable chat on Twitter. You see, I was the guest and the topic was Creating Effective Team Building Retreats.
We talked about some of the topics that have been covered on this blog.
- Core Building Blocks for Team Building
- Team Building Pitfalls
- Why Companies Are Cutting Team Building
I was very clear about the fact that I feel the industry is missing the mark by having suppliers of strictly recreational activities lumped together under the banner of team building. You see some organizations are forgetting that businesses exist to generate profit. Their primary mission is not to provide social activities for employees. It’s a trap into which many organizations fall. When the good times roll, there is a heavy emphasis on corporate play days that are justified in the name of “team building”. This is followed by massive cuts in team building budgets whenever the economy dips.
A few hours later, I was bombarded by hostile tweets from paintball aficionados attacking me and insisting that paintball is real team building. The nastiness and aggressiveness of some of the comments was a clear indication that this type of activity does little to build the skills that are needed for teamwork, communication, and collaboration in business. Can you imagine having a group of employees go on commando style attack like these weekend warrior types every time they disagree with a co-worker? This level of aggression would turn any organization into a war zone.
I am not buying any of it. How can pelting co-workers with paint cartridges and inflicting pain improve teamwork and boost the bottom line? I’m not picking on paintball. I love horse riding, polo and games on horseback but I would never try to build a case that these activities are “real” business team building.
For the past decade, the term “team building” has been dumbed down to mean just about any activity that brings a group together whether it is going out for drinks after work, walking on coals, or, the latest, riding a bucking bronco machine.
The bottom line is that ANY recreational activity by itself will not and cannot produce bottom line results. The exception is if your business is a recreation centre or sports complex and your core business is to generate revenue through these social and recreational activities.
What Business Team Building Looks Like
So if recreation by itself is real team building, what does real team building look like?
First let’s set the context. In business, employees are members of interdependent teams. In many instances, teamwork is required to produce results and results are not generated by individual workers operating independently. Work groups and teams go through predictable phases of development. Each phase has specific tasks that must be completed to ensure team health and effectiveness. Team building can help teams navigate these phases.
Business team building is about bringing the team together & using their collective genius to achieve results. Expertly facilitated team building can help business organizations generate specific and measurable business results.
There are many different circumstances in which teams come together to achieve results. Think of athletic teams, orchestras, chefs and chef’s assistants working together, dance troupes, TV & film crews, and theatre companies. Businesses can learn valuable lessons by identifying key success factors for many different types of teams. However, simply playing in a band, cooking, or dancing is not business team building.
Here is what “real” business team building looks like.
- There are clear and specific business objectives.
- The CEO or another senior executive team drives the initiative.
- The CEO or another senior executive sets the context.
- There is a facilitated business simulation or some type of shared team experience which may or may not include recreational components. (In some instances such as teams experiencing a lot of conflict, recreation would be inappropriate.)
- There are often brainstorming and problem solving exercises.
- Team Projects are a fabulous vehicle for linking team building to the real business world.
- There is a debriefing to uncover how team building relates to business
- There are business applications exercises to apply what has been learned to the organization’s specific business opportunities, issues or challenges.
A theme that reflects the challenges and opportunities of the real business environment is a great way to tie everything together. This theme can drive and shape the recreational components. It should never be the reverse (i.e. building team building around an activity just because it sounds “cool”. Save that for team socials). Here are just a few examples:
- Visexecutaries: Seizing Opportunities in our Shifting Corporate Landscape, an Apprentice inspired business simulation with a real project.
- Quest for Black Gold, a business simulation in the desert to help companies uncover hidden business opportunities.
- Wilderness Survival, the perfect vehicle to explore:- re-charting your course.
– re-gaining focus.
– blazing new trails.
– getting off the beaten track to leave the competition behind
– discovering new uses for products and services.
- Mountain team building, reflecting the peeks and valleys of corporate performance can include activities like abseiling.
- Desert Team Building, focusing on surviving in the midst of turbulence or uncovering hidden opportunities through an oil drilling team building simulation
As for paintball, football or foosball for that matter, merely tossing around a ball or shooting paint cartridges out of a canister can in no way shape or form be considered to be business team building. For sure, recreation can and in most instances should be incorporated into team building retreats and shorter team building sessions. It relaxes people, helps break down barriers, promotes bonding, and sets the stage for real team building to begin.
The Role of Recreation in Business
Is there a place for strictly recreational activities in the corporate world? Absolutely. Companies would be dreary places to work if no one ever laughed or smiled. There is a place for company picnics, Christmas parties and recreational outings…even paintball if it floats your boat. The key is that, unless your business is a country club or a recreation centre, the budget for recreation should never exceed or be close to what is spent on “real ” team building to help the organization achieve its mission and purpose. Public sector organizations and non-profit organizations need to keep this in mind too. Recently, a number of them have come under fire for squandering significant amounts of taxpayer or fundraising dollars during “play days”. It’s a matter of degree.
Much as this might upset those who peddle paintball and other recreational activities, recreation is not team building. Marketing recreation as team building is just as misleading as marketing icing as cake, gravy as meat or dessert as dinner.
For more discussions about this issue, also consult:
- What every CEO should know about team building
- Why recreation and entertainment are not team building
- The Height of Stupidity in Team Building
Keep Executive Oasis International in mind the next time your company requires team building, an executive retreat or corporate event planning in Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, or Jodan.