12 Misconceptions of Workplace Team Building

Hot Chocolate River - Problem solving and accountability

Hot Chocolate River - Problem solving and accountability

On my journey to establish a professional business based on team development and team building, I have come across those that are skeptical of the benefits of team building in the workplace. I have asked many about their experiences in team building and have received answers that vary from going out to a bar together to participating in activities that do energize the group but do not produce any lasting results. I would be skeptical too if these were my only experiences with team building. I’m here to set the record straight and redefine team building so that workplaces can get the most out of their future team building experiences. Below are the most common misconceptions I have come across when it comes to team building.

1.Getting together with my team is team building.

Team building is not just an activity you do together. Yes, I am talking to those of you who consider just going to the bar together as a way to build team cohesiveness. While it may be fun, and depending on how much “fun” you have it can be quite enlightening, it still does not help the team work better and harder together at work. Events like this could be considered good ice breakers and a way to get to know one another to start to build trust. If we are not intentionally building trust, we will only acquire a certain level of it and this includes other outings that have been considered team building.

2. Team building doesn’t work.

Team building works because it is experiential. Without getting into the history of experiential education, experiential just means that we learn by doing. We learn better skills when practicing them. In theory, your team may have the know-how to be efficient, but with practice and in-the-moment feedback, your team can make group corrections to be even better.

3. Team building did not address the problems on my team.

Team building is intentional activities with processing. As mentioned in number one, putting people together in the hopes of things sorting themselves out only goes so far. We must be intentional with the activities we choose. This comes down to how the team is currently working together and if there are specific attitudes and behaviors that need to be addressed. Picking or creating activities that are specific to these attitudes and behaviors is what team building is all about. Targeted activities allow attitudes and behaviors to come out during the activity. When they do, we are able to address them in real time. We are then able to reflect on our experience and it gives us the opportunity to create and practice new skills for real lasting change.

4. Team building is always outdoors.

It doesn’t have to be outdoors. Team building can take place in any environment you choose. If you are like me and live in Florida, this may come as a relief to you in the August heat. Some of the activities may change to accommodate the space, but they do exist and they exist for certain levels of physical fitness.

5. Team building is for those who like extreme sports.

Traditionally, team building has included sports such as backpacking, caving, rock climbing, and kayaking. This is due to the high level of physical risk included and there is nothing that quite gets a group together like a life and death scenario. It does work, but there are more kinds of risk that people encounter on a regular basis and they are mental and emotional risk. Being put in a position that requires a person to confront another can be highly risky. It can get the adrenaline pumping and ignite the fight or flight response. How many of you avoid conflict? Thinking of all the risks opens the door to an array of activities. Some as simple as a facilitated discussion.

6. Once the team building is over all of our problems will be fixed.

It’s not a one and done. I don’t know about you, but for me, it takes some time and practice for a new attitude or behavior to be commonplace. That means once you go through team building, you have to practice the new skills. That goes for everyone on your team. Just because your team went through it doesn’t mean that everything will be fixed. Like every relationship ever, you have to want it and work on it. You may even want to consider incorporating a way for everyone to be accountable for continuing the work. Perhaps you want to schedule a follow-up team building experience to work on new problems and reinforce skills learned last time.

7. I will sign my team up for team building, but I am too busy to participate.

Ok, leaders, this one is for you. The leader needs to be involved. I have spoken with many people who have told me that leaders, CEO’s, managers, etc. have signed their team up for team building, but do not actually participate themselves. This boggles my mind. You’re a part of the team! The leader has a huge role to play in the cohesiveness of the team and sometimes it is the leader themselves who can most benefit from the team building. It allows them priceless opportunities to build trust, better their communication skills, see how the team actually works together, be involved in conflict resolution and so much more! So for the sake of your investment and your team, get in there.

8. Team building is uncomfortable.

We want you to be uncomfortable! Feeling uncomfortable when chasing down your coworker in a good ol’ fashion round of blob tag? Good!  If you’re not uncomfortable at some point during your teambuilding workshop then your facilitator is doing something wrong. Whether it’s the physical proximity or just not wanting to play “silly” games, do it anyways. It is in this discomfort that we humans learn the most about ourselves. It allows us to break down some of those barriers we maintain so we can react to people and situations authentically. A good facilitator will be able to notice these moments of raw reaction and be able to address them in a safe and appropriate way. Trust the process.

9. We have a perfectly good meeting space in our office.

I’m sure you do but leave the office. I know it’s cozy and familiar and if you need to write that one email you can just “go to the bathroom” to do it. I and many other facilitators will insist on getting outside the office. Be it a park or hotel conference room, this new and different environment will put everyone immediately on the same playing field and also creates focus on the workshop itself. We need you focused, your team needs you to focus. On that note, turn off or silence your phone. Heck, let’s get really crazy and say don’t even bring it with you!

10. Team building brings up too much conflict.

Conflict isn’t a dirty word. Sometimes conflict is required in order to make progress, so I wouldn’t say that team building brings up too much conflict it just allows us to have conflict in a healthy way. There are several stages of group development and one stage is storming, a.k.a. conflict. It’s a natural stage and the more people who get on board with healthy conflict the easier it will be to come to better decisions made at work, not to mention less negative backlash from employees. We all just want to be heard and taking out our natural inclination to be defensive helps resolve conflict quicker.

11. My team isn’t having issues right now so we don’t need it.

Well, that is awesome, but team building can be used as a preventive tool. Why wait when drama and chaos are abounding? Why not nip it in the bud and get everyone on the same page in the beginning? Team building is a great way to set expectations and boundaries. Doing so allows problems in the future to take up less time because you’ve done the work up front.

12. Everyone at my job works independently, or remotely so we don’t need it.

Every one of those independent/remote employees is working towards a company goal, at least I’d hope so. It is in these environments that team building is most needed. We don’t know what to tell the left hand if we don’t know what the right hand is doing. Communication is already difficult in companies where everyone is under the same roof. Imagine the communication issues when everyone is in different locations doing only what they do. In these scenarios, it is imperative to make time to connect with one another. Get together once in a while! It’s difficult to create trust, the foundation of a team, through technology.   

I hope this list has eased some of those who are skeptical of team building workshops. Do you have other questions or concerns about team building? Let me know, I’d be happy to discuss them with you.