Velas Coaching

7 Reasons Why Team Building Does Not Work

team building failI recently looked up the term “ team building ” and found the definition to be rather straightforward: “An ongoing process that helps a work group evolve into a cohesive unit. The team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks but also trust and support one another and respect one another’s individual differences.”

I was surprised by the simplicity of the concept, and the fact that many companies still don’t get it right. A quick search on Google shows countless different ways to conduct team-building exercises, but the majority of them focus on process rather than mindset. I’ve seen many team-building events throughout my career, and it my experience, most of them fail due to one or a combination of the following reasons:

  1. The team lacks a clear and compelling reason to exist – Creating a robust vision for the team delivers many benefits. Having a shared goal drives the team members to go above and beyond what is required to achieve that ultimate target. If the purpose is compelling enough, the team is more likely to work together. What purpose do they serve and why is it important?
  1. The process does not have any relevance to the current job – Too many organizations confuse team building with what I call “team fun activities.” Activities like bungee jumping or rock climbing, or perhaps racing cars, are not team building activities. They’re fun for the participants, sure, but they don’t build teams. Team building is about zeroing in on the goals that have been set for your team and focusing on events that relate to those goals. It’s answering the question of where you are now and where you want to be as ateam.
  1. Forgetting about intention – If team members go into the exercise knowing that everybody has good intentions, they’re more likely to accept and embrace the process. Besides having a primary goal, the purpose of the team is to increase trust among members. Trust is the ultimate catalyst for working together effectively. Priming your team members to accept and give trust is paramount to creating an effective team-building experience.
  1. Making it about one individual rather than the team – Self-centered, uncooperative, inflexible, and stubborn individuals will drag down the success rate of any team-building exercise. If the team building process is aimed at fixing a particular group member and teaching them to work together with the group, then get him/her a coach. Don’t let it become the primary focus of the group.
  1. Forgetting that it’s not about competition, but gaining trust – Imagine telling your managers: “We need to work together and accomplish team goals, so please kick each other in this highly competitive team building event.” It doesn’t work, does it? People learn less when they’re competing because they’re focused on just one goal: winning. It might be fun, but it’s not a team-building event.
  1. Neglecting the wisdom of the team – A group of people is smarter than an individual, no matter how brilliant or better at solving problems this individual might be. Over time, teams outperform even their most intelligent members. As many great companies working with awesome teams have discovered, teams make better decisions if provided with the right information. Team building should be about the team.
  1. Focusing on the past as opposed to the future – Current team-building exercises start with the assumption that something needs to be fixed. The team is NOT working together for various reasons. In other words, it focuses on the past. A more useful approach is to ask, “What do we need to do as a team to get where we want to be?” All team members select a particular behavior that, if addressed by everyone, will benefit the team. Also, each member focuses on one personal behavior (something that differs from the team behavior already selected) that can be improved to help the team. This approach focuses on the future, not the past, and research has shown that it is more effective and time efficient. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.

Is there an alternative to a traditional team-building event? Yes, team building without time wasting in which the key to the success is the emphasis on changing behaviors that could derail the overall success of the team. Participants work on developing and reaching team goals, but also personal goals. For a more in-depth explanation of team building without time wasting, please download the paper below for a take on an effective alternative approach to team building.


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Luis Velasquez MBA, PhD

Luis is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. Formerly a University professor and research scientist, Luis holds a dual Ph.D. from Michigan State University; and an MBA in Organizational Leadership.

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