Team Building: How to Avoid Team Building Gone Bad

Every time I say that I’m not going to do any posts about the difference between team building, team fun, and team frivolity, something new pops into my inbox or social media stream.

This appeared a few minutes ago in the stream of someone I am following on Facebook.

Looking for a fun new team building activity or party idea?
How about HUMAN FOOSBALL!

Take a peek.

Party idea? Sure.  Team fun? For the right group this could be a blast…tons of laughs. Exercise? Absolutely. Team building? I don’t think so.

It kind of reminded me of the human rubber band that crosses into the territory of team frivolity and the human slingshot which is just plain silly.

My only question is how does company could cost-benefit justify spending money on this? Hey, if it’s just for fun, whatever floats your boat. Anything that gets people laughing and gives them some exercise couldn’t be all bad…but it’s not team building.

So I started wondering, “How frivolous can we take it?” Are we going to see human “whack a pooper” like in the Super Jackpot Party slot machines.

I’ve learned that whenever I say something “off the wall”, I have to come back and post an update”Guess what folks, crazy as it may sound, yup, somebody is doing it”. So give me a few seconds to do my homework this time.


Guess what folks, yup, you guessed it.

Now this is team frivolity of the highest order. Are people really that bored? My only question is…..WHY?


I would never recommend any of these activities but it is important to remind companies that go this route in the name of “team fun”, it’s very important to have an alternative for team members who have physical challenges.

Michael Cardus of Create Learning and I recently did an interview for NPR called Paintballing The Boss: Office Team-Building Exercises Gone Bad. While I shared a lot of team building tips with the interviewer, understandably, only one small part of what I said made it to air.

None of the activities mentioned in the NPR programme or so far in this blog post represent real team building. Yet, a lot of what was discussed is passing for “corporate team building”. In fact, it’s not team building. It’s team fun at best or team frivolity.

In the interview, I also mention adrenaline junkies imposing their idea of fun on the group. This Bookings.com commercial is a fabulous spoof of the adrenaline junkie. What a great send-up! Anyone else have a good laugh every time they see it?

When it is appropriate, I am a big believer in using activities or gamification as part of the mix for team building. Use activities and games under the wrong scenario and you could have a real problem. For example, if a company has just gone through massive lay-offs, if the team has a lot of conflict, if team members have burning issues they need addressed, definitely don’t start with games or an activity.

Unfortunately, many companies who have had a habit of substituting fun and games for real team building eventually show up in the headlines announcing massive lay-offs, sometimes on a global scale. It reminds me of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. A more prudent approach would have been to pull the teams together for facilitated brainstorming sessions to generate ideas to resolve the companies issues.

Main Take-Aways:

  • Team building is not an activity. While sometimes team building includes activities, it’s not always appropriate.
  • Fun and games are not team building. When appropriate, gamification can enhance team building, provided all of the essential building blocks for effective team building are already present.
  • Substituting activities for team building  gives team building a bad name.

How to Avoid “Team Building Gone Wrong”

So how can companies make sure that team building does not “go bad”?

  1. Be really clear about your objectives.
  2. By all means, schedule some time for fun but never think that an activity is a substitute for real team building.
  3. Avoid anything that is extreme or risky. As I have previously cautioned, extreme activities that could jeopardize the safety of team members have no place on the corporate agenda.
  4. Be sure that you allow enough time for team building.
  5. Start with an executive briefing to set the context and clearly communicate objectives. (The operative word in briefing is brief so keep it brief.) Optimal Timeframe: 15 – 30 minutes
  6. By all means, use an approach that is fun when this is appropriate.
  7. Debrief all team building thoroughly. (Minimum: 1 Hour including preparation and discussion.)
  8. Carve out enough time for business application exercises. (Minimum: 2 1/2 hours)
  9. Segway into a business meeting or have a member of the executive team return for a much deeper look at company issues, challenges and opportunities building on what the groups generated through business application exercises.

Flckr: Imran Khan


Check out the Executive Oasis International Website for
Real Team Building That Delivers Bottom Line Results AND Fun!

Team Building

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