Three Reasons Why Team Building Doesn’t Work


I don’t believe in traditional team building anymore. Why? Because it doesn’t work. I know this because I used to facilitate a ton of it.

Traditional “team building” involves games and activities designed to (supposedly) help teams learn a concept or improve a skill — specifically the “soft skills” — like communication, collaboration, and creativity — that are so desperately lacking in many teams.

So, we play games, have a few laughs, and then “debrief” the activities afterwards. You know, to pull out the “learning” we were after.

Over time, I have realized that traditional team building rarely works the way the leader, or team, wants it to.

Here are 3 reasons why team building doesn’t work:

  1. It’s artificial, contrived, and not like real work at all. Yes, a fun activity encourages people to participate more fully, but most real work doesn’t even come close to being anything like a fun game. Trying to draw parallels between building something with Legos and working with real deadlines and real consequences is a real stretch for most participants.
  2. It’s forced on participants. After hosting team building events and team training workshops for over 15 years, what I have observed is 20% of the participants are really into whatever you’re doing, 60% are just going through the motions, and the last 20% are pretty much hostages who would chew off their arm to get out of there if they could. Putting together a networking event or corporate day out is likely to be more beneficial as the staff can mingle between themselves and figure things out on their own. Watching some sort of sport usually bonds staff. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy rivalry and using firms like DTBSports to put together a works day out may bring your team together, not to mention it’ll boost morale.
  3. It tries to fix something, or someone, in one day. I can’t even count the number of times I talked to a leader of a team who wanted to do some sort of team building to address a long-standing, systemic problem with their team OR as a last-ditch effort to “fix” a bad apple or two on the team. I could write a book about why this is a bad idea. Chapter one would be titled, You Can’t Fix Long-Standing Problems by Playing Games. Chapter two would be: Don’t Team Build Your Bad Apples, Fire Them.


So, what DOES work to build better teams? The short answer: Team Bonding. But, what is team bonding? Team bonding retreats are shared team experiences that encourage team members to interact in a non-work kind of way. They are free from skill-building or problem-fixing expectations. They exist simply to create shared experiences that encourage relationship building (i.e., create bonds). Team bonding retreats can also be quite memorable and often become an important part of company lore and culture. Check out the link above for some creative team bonding ideas!

Do we need stronger skills as teams? Absolutely. But I believe with all my heart that skill building is far more effective one-on-one. However, if you want to build a stronger team, build stronger bonds.


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