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Teambuilding Gone Wrong - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Teambuilding Gone Wrong
Here's an article about many things that go wrong with corporate teambuilding.


Things that I see going wrong with it:

* Many companies do teambuilding by rote. They don't know what they're doing, so they do it wrong, and it doesn't work.

* You can't make a team by throwing random people together. It doesn't work. I literally watch the show Dark Matter for its brutal honesty on this topic. Remember, you can make something happen but you can't necessarily make it work.

* You also can't make a team of assholes. They don't work and play well with others. If you have even one asshole, your teambuilding efforts will tend to fail.

* Similarly, most people don't know what teamwork is or how it works. Teamwork is a set of skills. If individuals lack these skills, they cannot work fluently in a team. If the skills are not taught, few people will develop them. Teamwork skills are rarely taught in local-America. People are thrown together and told to work as a team. That's not teaching, and it doesn't work. So they flounder and conclude that team projects are stupid and abusive. Teamwork also requires different roles. While it's possible to have a team of all similar people, in practice most goals require a mix. If you have not assembled the team correctly, it will not succeed.

* Most people also fail to understand trust. In order for people to trust each other, they must establish important foundations such as ability, integrity, and benevolence. If these are not present, then trust is not appropriate. In this context, teambuilding exercises are abusive and undermine morale. If they are present, trust takes time to develop. In this context, teambuilding exercises can help people learn more about each other, which helps trust grow faster. Bosses often don't care about this, and want to force progress, but this is not an area where that works. Unethical shysters will happily lie about this and take the boss' money to fake up a teambuilding workshop, though, so the problem continues.

* Teambuilding events are often poorly focused. You can get away with this in a corporate atmosphere. You want to see a version that really works, look at the army. They lay out tasks and goals of a soldier, break down the necessary skills, teach those, and then use things like the Leadership Development Course to make people work together. The challenges within the course relate to activities necessary in soldiering, such as analyzing terrain, using available materials, crossing bodies of water, climbing over obstacles, etc. Similarly first responders learn teamwork for survival as well as job performance. Check out some drills from EMS and firefighters.

So in order to make a teambuilding exercise work, you need:

* Competent, responsible people. Nobody will trust bad coworkers, nor should they.

* Who know each other, or are starting to learn about each other, and are willing to work together.

* Supervision and accountability to ensure that participants behave decently or are removed promptly if not.

* A clear understanding of organizational tasks and goals, and the skills required to accomplish those communicated to employees through a mission statement or other documents.

* Knowledge of necessary skills. With luck, your employees already know a lot of this, and you can just run a test to identify the gaps you need to fill by teaching absent skills. But if you're dealing with students, you have to teach those skills from the ground up.

* Explanation of how the teambuilding exercise will help participants put together the skills they know with the other people so as to accomplish the stated tasks and goals.

* A good set of teambuilding exercises to give people opportunities to work together. These should be safe, interesting, and relevant to the profession. If the relevance is not obvious, explain it. Frex, one terrific exercise is giving people any assortment of weird objects to manipulate, often blindfolded or with one person able to see but not touch them. The point is to teach people how to communicate clearly, and what really need to learn is the skill of Naming New Things. Which is about 50,000 years old but people forget it surprisingly often. Explain that the exercise teaches communication, then give an example of how good communication helps on your job and bad communication causes problems at work. People are more invested when they understand how it will benefit them, like being able to order and get the parts they need.

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