This blog is a guest post by Simon Mac Rory as a companion to the November, 27 Voice America interview where he talks about his latest book, Wake-up and Smell the Coffee: An Imperative for Teams.
Alison Green, advice columnist, consultant and author of the Ask Manager website had a very interesting article on the BBC news website recently entitled Why corporate team-building events can be terrible – (see article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45260246). I couldn’t agree more with her and in my recent book “Wake up and smell the coffee – the imperative of teams I address the very same issue in a chapter debunking the myths around team work. Here is an excerpt from the book on the issue.
Offsite teambuilding can take time away from ‘real work’
Suggest a team building session and immediately the outdoors springs to mind. Contrary to popular opinion, I am convinced they do not help in delivering an effective team. There are many variations of this with some even run by ex-special elite soldiers. Primarily they are based on the completion of group exercises and challenges, supposedly developing team spirit and team effectiveness.
A trust circle at an off-site event!!!!!!
Every team member is encouraged to participate equally by the facilitator, the work team leader no longer has the same level of power as this is ceded to the facilitator. The team are given clear and precise goals and directions. This is not the norm at work. The degree of psychological safety is higher at these events (controlled by the facilitator) and everyone’s opinion tends to be heard. No idea is considered too wacky as most of the tasks are wacky in the first place. Credit for new ideas and novel solutions is given as the ideas are developed. The team become increasingly successful at the tasks as the day progresses, based on this more engaged way of interacting.
When they return to the workplace they are faced with the leader reasserting their control again, not being heard, lack of clear goals and roles, suggestions and solutions being knocked, and ideas being stolen.
What is actually happening with these outdoor events?
The number one problem with these sessions is their capacity to create an expectation that the team can work better together. The sessions are carefully constructed – I know because I used to deliver them at one time – precise instructions are given for each exercise along with clear objectives. For starters, this is not the norm in the workplace. Often the exercises bear no resemblance to any work-related task that the team carry out. As the day progresses the tasks get more difficult and most teams do complete the tasks successfully because they are designed to be completed successfully.
The outcome is a team that are in high spirits and delighted with themselves in their success. They are full of energy and drive to get back to the workplace and prove their effectiveness with this new-found capacity to work together. But, when they get back to work, lo and behold nothing has changed. If fact, very quickly the frustration levels rise as the team members recall how well they worked together at the offsite, but just cannot make it happen. The frustration levels rise accordingly and often the very opposite of what was intended is the reality. The team are less effective and more fractious.
The offsite is a false environment. Not only do the tasks not represent the normal work of the team, the conditions in which they happen are also not representative!
Real team development that delivers sustainable development and effectiveness happens in the workplace. Teams that take time to think about how they do things rather than what they do can always develop more effective means of working together. Teams that address goal and role clarity, planning and evaluation, composition and structure, appropriate leadership style and participation, conflict management and performance recognition, communication and trust are the teams that will not only deliver more but will create a psychologically safe environment as a platform for their effectiveness. All of this takes place in the workplace and not in the outdoors or at wild and wonderful offsite events.
Team development is not about time away from real work, rather it is about the time correctly given to reflection on ‘how’ the team does things, rather than ‘what’ it does. It can, and does take place in normal work hours, where it is far more effective and does not serve to embarrass and compromise any team member. Think carefully before organizing any outdoor events/offsites in terms of the team members and their various dispositions. Remember, it is not about fun; it is about addressing the real issues that drive team effectiveness.
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About the Author
Simon Mac Rory is a specialist in team development. He works with senior staff leaders to help them discover that edge to becoming a truly highperforming team. Over his 30-year career he has worked globally with a blue-chip client base in both the private and public sectors.
He founded The ODD Company in 2011 to deliver TDP (a cloud-based team development tool and methodology) to the international markets. Simon
operates the business from London with a Dublin-based development and support office.
Simon received a doctoral degree for his work on the application of generic frameworks in organizational development and is a Visiting Research Fellow at Nottingham Business School.
Follow Simon on Twitter @SimomMacRory