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Mandatory corporate fun

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Business tips
Thursday, May 30, 2013

BY TOM COX | BUSINESS TIPS CONTRIBUTOR

05.31.13 Blog OfficeFunI was asked, “Some employees resent ‘forced fun’ outings. Is there a better way to help team members connect? What are some examples of innovative ideas for teams to connect?”

If you really want your team members to connect, there are few worse ways than “Mandatory Corporate Fun” that’s too obviously aimed at manipulating them.

Good bonding events share a few attributes:

  1. Selected by the Team
  2. Equally Uncomfortable for Everyone
  3. Experiential, preferably not Personally Competitive

Bad events will be focused on:

  1. Activities the boss likes
  2. Activities that some people are much better at than others
  3. Activities that increase competition between existing groups, i.e. mailroom vs warehouse

Why “equally uncomfortable?”

The real point of effective team bonding activities is to get the group out of their collective comfort zone, doing something they wouldn’t ordinarily do. This forces the brain to build new links, and allows team members to re-assess each other and build new mental pictures of each other.

Focus on the Goal – to Build Trust

The whole point of all this team-building is to grow team trust.

Trust is built up when people do a little extra for each other, voluntarily. (The four elements of trust are Reliability, Openness, Competence and Compassion.)

Getting people out of the office into a new space with a new activity, allows them to have new experiences of each other — and break negative stereotypes that can build up in the office.

When boring old George has a great idea, I can no longer pigeon-hole him in my head as ‘boring old George.’

When ‘lazy’ Chris shows initiative and works hard at the team goal, I start to see Chris in new ways.

The gold standard for team formation through experiences comes from my former employer, IBM, who would send small groups of middle managers on 6-week volunteer trips to impoverished African countries. Between the discomfort of camping and the novel surroundings, plus focusing on work that’s utterly different from their normal work, the groups bonded very tightly. IBM would select people from different departments and countries, and those groups stay connected for years afterward. It’s a highly effective anti-silo technique.

What You can Do

You can create team-building activities, or hire a specialty firm.

  • Focus on skills that aren’t obviously related to work — such as art or cooking.
  • Get people out of the office.
  • Avoid alcohol during the event.
  • Pick activities that involve problem solving and shared experiences.
  • Mix up groups
  • Forbid managers from leading teams — allow new leaders to emerge

Group problem-solving is superior to independent action or team competition, though some amount of competition is good, especially if you’re playing “against the course” (i.e. fastest time through an obstacle course) and not “against each other” (football, baseball, etc.)

Tom Cox is a Portland area consultant and executive coach. He helps leaders exceed their business aspirations.

 

Comments   

 
Guest
0 #1 Managing PartnerGuest 2013-05-31 17:17:14
Tom -

Good article - clear and well written, and I think this is a good starting framework for an effective team building event. A lot of companies used to do this fun stuff...

But after 20+ years of doing organizational development work, there has been a relatively recent major shift in how things are being done. There is a lot more focus on bottom line impacts and a goal of "building trust" is less and less relevant to themes of building impact and generating improved results.

A lot of companies are finding, for example, that their expensive and yearly Employee Engagement Surveys are not generating any positive impact and that they are often generating negative ones! Doing nothing after the survey sends a lot of messages and overall engagement stats are dropping even after millions of dollars are being spend on such things.

Focusing on art or cooking, or playing golf and paintball, or firewalking are NOT generating impacts on quality or performance. Having fun, like that depicted in your picture, is NOT the goal.

What we need is better alignment to organizational missions and goals, more collaboration between departments and teams within departments (HR is notoriously bad for teamwork, for example, as is accounting / operations in many cases!).

What we need are good business simulations that get people to consider what the company, the managers and the players need to choose to do differently after the program ends.

I write more on this at http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2013/04/04/team-building-failures-and-designing-for-success/ , for example.

Learning a better strategy for attacking another team's flag in paintball is NOT going to translate into developing better collaboration and communications to improve profits. You can maybe stretch that, but that band will break more often. Having that Iraq war special forces new hire to lead the attack is NOT going to translate to improving customer service or involving the low performers in the improvement initiatives.

Fun is fine. But it is about doing things differently back at work.

.
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