What you hear evesdropping

When visiting the big city the other night, I had occasion to have supper alone in a very cool downtown restaurant. I overheard a couple beside me, clearly co-workers, talking about life at work. So of course, I listened in.

The woman was clearly frustrated. She said that it was no wonder that their organization was dysfunctional, because they did no team building. The horror of team building exercises I have been forced to endure during my era in corporate life raced through my head. The only people to profit from formal team building is the consultants who come up with these absurd team building activities.  I have been forced to climb trees and walk on ropes strung between two large trees, scramble through woods on treasure hunts, do absurd, completely unrelated games, dress up in silly costumes and perform skits, practice improv comedy techniques — if you can think of an embarrassing experience, I have been forced to experience it in the name of “team building”.

The hard fact is that you can’t build a team with a weekend away from the office. You can’t improve team work by doing activities that are unrelated to the work of the team. You can’t build a team in the short term. There is no quick fix for poorly performing teams.

The research shows that teams go through several phases in their development. Forming, Norming, Storming, Performing and sometimes, Dissolution.  Skip any one step, and you have the recipe for an ill-performing team. Conflict in teams occurs when there is relationship conflict (who — interpersonal or style); task conflict (what, i.e. conflict over goals); and process conflict (how; i.e. how is the team going to achieve this task).  It takes time for teams to learn to work together. Building teams is not separate from the daily activities of running an organization, but an integral part of getting the job done. It happens as people learn to work together, trust each other, and communicate effectively with each other.  I recently found a useful blog from Harvard Business publishing that provides some suggestions on team building without time wasting.

Team building takes place during the hard work of doing business, not having fun at some resort. Let’s all strike one more blow for eliminating useless time wasters in the workplace.


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