A recent survey carried out in Britain by Vodafone UK and YouGov.com suggests team building doesn’t work. Surveyed workers indicated they feel some team building activities can be a “waste of time, and at worst, are toe-curlingly embarrassing.” The majority surveyed (66%) have participated in some form of team building and more than half (54%) don’t feel the experience helped them in working with their peers.

Participants in the survey indicated they would like to learn to communicate more effectively at work rather than being “forced to build rapport with their co-workers by sharing adrenaline experiences or performing 'trust' exercises.”

The catchall term team building seems to be the major flaw in this study. Categorizing all activities attempting to improve team functioning as “team building,” would be like labeling all health services as “medicine.” To carry this analogy to the extreme the term health providers would include everyone from untrained sales clerks in health food stores to brain surgeons.

Anyone can build a website and offer team building programs. Obviously it’s a “buyer beware” situation, as there are no licensing requirements or regulation. Some of the “toe-curlingly embarrassing” events cited in the survey included enduring bikini-clad “bed baths,” massages from colleagues, and lingerie parties. I can only imagine what Human Resource professionals in the United States would have to say about these absurd experiences.

If we drop the obviously risqué extremes mentioned in the study, there remains a continuum of events. At one side you have programs designed primarily for fun and entertainment. I call this team bonding. On the other side of the continuum are workshops / curriculum backed by research and conducted by experienced trainers with a goal to modify behavior in the workplace. For descriptive purposes I label these programs team development. Let’s take a look at each extreme in more detail.

Team bonding has a valuable role to play at conferences and meetings. Charity Team Building and Outdoor Team Building can energize the participants and relieve some of the tedium of classroom meetings. These fun events promote the development of relationships, a sense of esprit de corps, and… well, the bonding of teammates. There can be some serious lessons learned about team functionality, but the primary purpose is a few hours of fun.

Team development tackles complicated, problematic team dynamics. There should always be a measurable goal in these efforts. A well-planned program will involve a detailed assessment phase where specific positive and negative behaviors are identified. The training company will then offer a clear agenda to maximize the strengths and eliminate some of the weaknesses. Once the plan is accepted the provider should supply experienced, qualified professionals to conduct the training. These types of programs usually require days instead of hours.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Highsmith, rick@qualityteambuilding.com, is President of Quality Team Building. He has twenty-five years experience training and coaching. He has built and sold two successful businesses. To learn more about becoming a team leader visit our website at http://www.qualityteambuilding.com