The top 5 reasons why most team building events are a waste of time

Team building

Here’s how some companies do team building:

Employees [of Californian home security company] Alarm One Inc. were paddled with rival companies’ yard signs as part of a contest that pitted sales teams against each other, according to court documents.

The winners poked fun at the losers, throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers and swatting their buttocks.

The good news: The company got paddled in court when an employee sued them and had to cough up 1.7 million USD.

The bad news: A lot of team building events borrow elements from this approach, setting up artificial (and often meaningless) contests pitting coworkers against each other.

This is especially ironic because companies today want their employees to cooperate more, to work well in teams, to share knowledge and to work to achieve success together. That is why it makes absolutely no sense to send them on trainings that are mainly competitive in nature. Even when these events let people work together in smaller teams, competing against other teams, the focus still ends up being on competition, not cooperation.

There’s a simple reason why these events are almost always competitive: Competition = instant passion. Setting up a competition activates a primal urge in many people to win at all costs, making them very focused and active – which looks great to the organizers.

But there’s a huge downside to this – which means that not only are many team building events a huge waste of time, they can be actively harmful to teams.

Here are the top 5 problems with competitive team building events.

1: Competition does not create an experience of success
Yes, someone will win – most people won’t. If the entire focus is on competing and winning, most participants will leave with a sense that “we weren’t good enough.” That’s not really a good feeling to have created in your employees.

2: Competition brings out the worst in people

CEO Hal Rosenbluth was just about to hire an executive with all the right skills, the right personality and the perfect CV. His interviews went swimmingly and he’d said all the right things, but something about him still made Rosenbluth nervous, though he couldn’t put his finger on just what it was.

Rosenbluth’s solution was genius: He invited the applicant to a company softball game, and here the man showed his true colors. He was competitive to the point of being manic. He abused and yelled at both the opponents and his own team. He cursed the referees and kicked up dirt like a major league player.

And he did not get the job.

(From Hal Rosenbluth’s excellent book The Customer Comes Second).

Competing brings out the inner jerk in some people, making them manic and abusive. Some even try cheating in order to win. This is not exactly a great basis for future cooperation – it might be better if people left the event liking each other more than before because they’d seen each other at their best and most likable.

3: People learn less when they’re competing
Studies show that we learn less when we compete and more when we cooperate. Here’s an example from education:

In a comprehensive review of 245 classroom studies that found a significant achievement difference between cooperative and competitive environments, David Johnson and Roger Johnson of the University of Minnesota reported that 87 percent of the time the advantage went to the cooperative approach.

In visiting classrooms where cooperative learning is used, I like to ask students to describe the experience in their own words. One ten-year-old boy thought a moment and replied, “It’s like you have four brains.” By contrast, a competitor’s single brain often shuts off when given no reason to learn except to triumph over his or her classmates.

– Alfie Kohn (Source)

4: Competition lowers performance
And contrary to what most people think, most of us perform worse when we’re competing. This is especially true for complex tasks that require us to work with and learn from other people.

5: Waste of time
These events focus more on finding and rewarding winners than on making sure that people learn something that might actually be useful at work.

This creates a sense that the events are a waste of time, and employees come to resent them because they keep them from doing real, actual, useful work.

How to do team building that actually builds teams

Here’s what the result of a good team building event should be:

  • A deeper understanding between co-workers
  • Co-workers like each other better than before
  • An experience of having performed well together
  • A feeling that “we’re good at what we do”
  • An increased desire to cooperate and help each other out
  • Specific learnings that can be applied at work
  • And maybe most of all: A sense that the event was “time well spent.”

This would actually be easy to achieve. We’d just have to change the event so that:

  1. The event has common goals for all participants, making people cooperate, not compete
  2. The event rewards those who get good results but also those who help others get good results and those who help make it a nice experience for everyone
  3. You take plenty of time to let participants reflect on how the learnings from the event can be applied in their work

You may not get the same hectic moody you get from those intensely competitive events – but that’s actually a good thing.

What you would get instead is an event that is more fun for more people – and much more useful. That has to be a good thing!

Your take

What’s the best team building event you’ve ever tried? Or the worst? How did it help or hinder your team? What would your ideal team building event look like?

Please write a comment, I’d like to know what you think.

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86 thoughts on “The top 5 reasons why most team building events are a waste of time”

  1. How about creativity?
    Have 2 teams, give them a wacky situation and ask them to find the “Win-Win or no deal” outcome of that wacky situation.

    Or if need be for a competition… make it a joke contest. Use small but meaningful rewards… like the funniest man/woman gets rewarded with a week of being pampered… something like the boss will give him his/her personal assistant for a week to help him.

  2. Nit-pick re: #2 — they’re called “umpires” in softball, not referees. Team-building exercises are a bunch of crap; most people participate for two reasons — they’re afraid they’ll be fired if they don’t, or else they’d rather be doing ANYTHING else than their jobs.

  3. Thank you for this point of view. Its one I’ve shared for years.

    At Center for Courageous Enterprise, we don’t do team building; we build community. We are leadership development consultants, and one of our core products is a 3-day experience that includes spending one entire day in Mexico building a home for a family in need.

    Doing something together, from start to finish, where no one is an expert, allows the experience to be rich in learning as well as building a strong community. The experience of doing something significant together brings out the best in people even when they are stretched to their limits.

    We begin to see what others bring to the workplace that would have been previously overlooked. Our leadership skills are tested and refined under stressors of limited time, resources and talent (sounds like your office, right?)

    At the end of the day, you are exhausted, dirty, maybe a little achy, but when you stand in front of the finished house and hand the family the key, you know you have done something significant.

    Then, we go back into the workspace and being the process of applying that learning to our everyday experiences. We think it is three days that change lives.

    Not everyone can do that, but every community has a project that needs help. Build a playground, paint a community center, volunteer in an Alzheimer’s day care, or work in soup kitchen. Don’t just play together for fun; do something remarkable and have fun doing it.

  4. I was so glad to see this post, so thank you Alex. I wanted to point out one other thing that competitive team building does – it singles certain people (individuals) out as losers. I once worked in a place where we went bowling for our team building. I am a terrible bowler. I cannot get the point of it. I was placed on a team of inveterate bowlers, and our team lost because my performance was so poor. I was awarded with a booby prize and everyone at this small company made fun of me. This experience united the team through bullying a scapegoat. Since then, I have done everything I could to get out of team-building activities. I try to schedule a day off, an offsite meeting, anything so I will not have to go through this again. I’d rather be on the fringes of the team than be humiliated again.

  5. Team building has little to do with competition, so I definitely agree that competition makes little sense if team building is your real goal. Good results in competition (or when doing actual work) are the result of good teamwork and previous work towards building a team, not from having pressure and being thrown into the gauntlet. Even sports teams practice between games without the complete pressure to perform.

    Practice is the essence of improvement. Competition is the display of what’s been gained through practice, so trying to improve a team through competition is just backwards. Coordinating and communicating well are the foundations of good teamwork. Communication improves when people have shared common experiences, and coordination improves when teams struggle together (finding the ways we all bend and twist in different situations).

    I think organizers believe competition provides both chances for shared experiences and pushes teams, but that’s isn’t the same as improving communication and improving coordination. Practice is still required, and practice requires focus and failure. Pressure to win means failure is bad, but that’s wrong. You need people to be relaxed and feel safe to fail, trusting the people around them to support and not discourage. Without that, we’re too afraid to learn from our failures, to learn our limits, and figure out what we should improve, and to let others helps us through that.

    Competition is about results, and not improvement. You can’t manifest something that doesn’t exist, so you practice first, and perform second. That’s what’s good for team building.

  6. I’ve actually found our retrospectives to be fairly helpful in team building. I started a job at a new company some 3 months ago, and about 4 weeks in I suggested they start the practice. After their first retrospective, they came up with some pretty good ideas about how to work better together.

    Now, they never actually got around to implementing those specific practices, but you could see they started to gel more — people implicitly trusted each other to make the right choices when before they always second guessed each other. A lot of time in the retrospective is spent collaborating to find the weak spots in the company process, so they naturally fall into a habit of working together to solve problems. It’s quite a useful thing. :-)

    I started doing retrospectives 3 jobs ago, and almost always get the same results. This book helped me a lot, and I bet many of the exercises work great on teams that aren’t necessarily in software:

  7. I like the retrospectives idea in the comment above. Most people don’t want to look at what went wrong or even what went right! They are too afraid that they might have to change what they normally do on a day to day basis, regardless of whether it works or not! I work in a ‘team’ but in practice, all that means is, we all do similar work at a similar time in the year. I long for us to have a good look at what , how and why we do something and together, come up with positives to move forward. I really do believe that a group of people can find solutions and have fun together but as yet, I have to find an opportunity to explore this in my current workplace.People need to see a benefit to themselves before they will commit to trying something new or making extra effort.

  8. For me improv is the very best team-building ever. The principles of improv build community, confidence, collaboration and are fun! What more could you want? Plus you exercise your spontaneity muscle and can carry the stuff you learn in improv into all walks of life. Oh – those principles:
    – accept offers, say ‘yes!’
    – look after your partner
    – let go of outcomes
    – do something
    – be obvious (be average)
    – take risks

    Cheers Viv

  9. We came up with the idea “48”. In this the “team” are given 48 hours to solve a particular problem being faced by a charity, hotel etc. The whole event is filmed in 24 style! Works a treat on paper!

  10. I once consulted with a growing software development firm. The company leaders understood they had teaming issues.

    The previoius “teambuilding” was a whitewater rafting trip with a get drunk party in the evening. Not surprisingly that didn’t work so well. Nobody said anything though because it was the CEO’s idea.

    Two years later things are even worse. Amazingly the management team waited until things were really bad to address the issues.

    The CEO pushed for the idea that one day of teambuilding was all they needed. The CEO was a long distance runner and raced in marathons. I asked him how often he trained so he could run competitively. He said he trained every day. I told him teams are the same way. Teams have to train regularly to perform well. He didn’t buy it. “I pay these people lots of money and they damn well better know how to work with each other or I’ll fire them.”

    Can you imagine what it was like working on that team? Can you imagine doing any kind of “teambuilding” event with this team? It wold be like trying to run the latest version of PhotoShop on a Windows 95 machine. Nothing they tried worked. All teambuilding attempts were hugely frustrating. The CEO and the management team came to the conclusion that “teambuilding doesn’t work”. The emperor has no clothes.

    99% of “teambuilding” is ineffective because it is treated as a stand alone event. It’s not tied into the company culture. There is no follow up.

    Imagine walking into a health and fitness facility and proclaiming you’re ready to get fit and then saying you have one, maybe two days to invest in your fitness. This approach would be a waist of resources (though the facility would still take your money).

    If you want to get fit it’s best if you create a plan that is in harmony with your goals. Know how this fits into your long term vision for your health. Commit to consistant action and know you are embarking on a life changing experience. Fit and healthy is now who you are. It’s your new identitiy (not a flash in the pan).

    A similar approach could apply to teams. But that’s not what we see in teambuilding. What we see is a trip to a ropes course (or white water rafting) once a year and say “Yes, we do teambuilding!”

    And we blame teambuilding for this?

  11. I think the idea of doing a co-operative project as a team building exercise is great.

    At my first job a very large group of us spent the day cleaning and re-painting the pavilion at a local sports ground, so it could be used by neighbourhood children. No competing, but an excellent opportunity to work together as a team and get to grips with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And if someone needed a bit of space – they went outside and picked snails off a damp wall that was going to be re-painted.

    And as well, it brought long-lasting benefit to the local community.

    So I agree with Wendy – make team building events something that not only brings the team together but is worthwhile in itself.

  12. A great article as always Alex. I have to agree with Miranda’s comment above. There’s a lot of pressure to perform for your team in this type of event and it’s easy to end up with one team that looses and then even have most of the people on the winning team not feel like they performed up to snuff!

    A few things I would encourage people to consider for team building:

    First, try to take the pressure out of it for all the reasons Alex mentions above.

    Second, try to keep it loosely structured. For example, a trip to a baseball game is great because it gives everyone a common experience but also leaves plenty of time to chat and get to know each other.

    Third, involve everyone! You’re not going to get everyone all the time but it’s important to do things that everyone is able to do. It’s fine to encourage people to go slightly out of their comfort zone, but don’t plan an event that you know certain people won’t go to.

    Fourth, have at least some of your team building/social events during work hours. Lunches can be a great opportunity for this. The important thing is to involve the people who may not make it to after work events.

    You can’t force people to have fun, but you can certainly give them the opportunity. Honestly the best team building experiences I can remember have been practical jokes – always in the best of humor of course. It may seem unlikely, but you’d be surprised how many people want to help when you say you’re going to fill the CEO’s office with balloons!

  13. As the general manager of a contracting firm, I am involved with a variety of technicians with very different skills. It’s hard trying to forge a team when each person does not understand what the other person does. The approach I’ve used in some cases is have a competition between the technicians and management, meaning me. I challenge them to find and repair problems before I can. The wager usually involves me buying lunch. I ALWAYS LOSE. I then congratulate the TEAM and tell them what a great job everyone did. By having the different specialties work together to ensure I don’t find a problem, WE build a team that depends on one another to spot problems, assist each other with solutions and the customer receives a better product in a timely manner. I rarely hear “It’s not my job.” anymore.

  14. I’m a huge opponent of these team-building events. They just strike me as a huge waste of time — as well as a bit of a farce. If you want to build your team, give them the conditions to thrive in — resources, good coworkers, etc. If you have that, you don’t need contrived events. If you don’t have that, nothing will help.

  15. Worst team building ever…manager set up chairs in a close semi-circle, then watched to see who sat in other chairs outside the circle. Apparently, where you chose to sit determined whether or not you were part of the team. Well and good, except that I happen to be a rather larger-sized person and I need a little more room than a cramped semi-circle of chairs provides. I found myself arbitrarily “not a part of the team” according to him because I take up a little more room and was trying to be considerate of the others on my team. What an asinine assumption anyway!!! My team knows that I am a part and an outsider has no credibility to determine this based on a lame exercise. Managers need to be very careful with how their employees perceive these kind of things because someone’s feelings can easily get hurt.

  16. Pissa team building and such trick to built a team doeas not work and will never work , every team need a leader . …..
    Novel idea ….. best team had strong leader regardless which category they fit in .

  17. Best best best offsite ever (and frankly i hate most of them – complete wastes of time) was by a fellow here in Canada named Min Basadur

    we had 60 of the most cynical under 25 year old why are you wasting my timers who got hooked by minute 2 and all came out saying not only did they love his workshop but learned something about themselves and their coworkers along the way.

    I kid you not…the site looks cheesy but Min is amazing….

  18. Alex,
    Thanks so much for this post. I support the idea of team building, but agree with you that it is very ineffectual in these competitions. Usually the same people who “takeover” at work meetings and loudly express their opinions e are automatically appointed leaders at these games.

    The comments from all your readers are wonderful. I think you’ve opened a can of worms here. Hopefully this will really stimulate people’s thinking and some new creative ideas to not only practice teambuilding, but to use it in practice every day. Keep up the great work!

  19. I think I would add “Trust” to your list of results from a team building event. I think a key part of a performing team is a strong sense of trust. We did have some success with an event for our internal group of 30 or so people. We decided to get out and go to a place that is really geared towards kids. We split into six teams competing in very silly competitions. An obstacle course through an inflatable course, dodge ball, and paint ball competitions. Everyone really had a lot of fun and we still talk about that trip today. Letting your guard and your hair down together can go a long way towards building trust.

  20. “These events focus more on finding and rewarding winners than on making sure that people learn something that might actually be useful at work.”

    Absolutelly agree – teambuilding when someone is awarded a prize, with winning as a main im of teambuilding is useless. We have done it only once and non-winning people were more disappointed than if we would lower their wages.

  21. When we celebrated customer service week last month, some of the fun games directed at team-building really backfired. We had a competition to decorate a box with a theme related to work. Getting buy-in to start the design was hard enough, but we had some that were over-zealous. They were so sure the winner was their box, they talked trash before the contest began, which was judged by three people in the company completely unrelated to our area. The result? A different team won and this team was angry and disbelieving. It became a “everyone is against us” type of attitude. Several other games like brain teasers and word search pages resulted in people being upset for one reason or another.

    We thought they were good ideas. You can’t please everyone, but at least please the majority, right? Now the coordinator from this year is insistent they will never do it again.

    Your article did stimulate an idea for me though. In confidence, give each person a piece of a puzzle. The puzzle could be a picture, sentence, whatever you like. The object is to tell them there is a goal to meet and the team will be rewarded. The trick is that they must communicate and work together to piece the puzzle together. Some small reward for the whole team would be done, perhaps lunch or something. What do you think?

  22. Worst ever: Paintball. People getting excited about being able to literally inflict pain upon people they disliked weeks before the event was enough to convince me not to go…

  23. Just stumbled across this – very good article. Traditional team building activities often don’t get people working together, as you say. We have devised a very unique and creative approach to get people working together rather than competing – we enable people to produce their own show! We’ve had great results – staff learn from the workshops and there is none of the competitive element associated with ‘games’ focused events. Please take a look at our site if you are interested.

  24. I see that many advise that using competition is a poor way to building a team. Hmmmm, with no purpose, plan, presence, preparation and process, I would agree. But with diligence it does work quite well. Some times to grow a team you have to expose it. Competition can expose it quite well and coaching it can help curb what could be/is a problem back in the workplace, but is left unsaid. Do I see an elephant in the room? Video tape the team in action..then let the replay speak for itself.
    Amazing as it is, no matter how rough, gruff and competitive certain team members are, most of them are “real people” and benefit greatly when helped to understand/see their their effect on the team.

  25. Great post, standard team building days do generally fill employees with dread. Spymasters is our version of a team building event that lets teams track a ‘target’ through planting bugs, solving clues etc – bit more exciting and does set out to improve team performance rather than being like the scenario with the diapers you mentioned in your post!

    I’ve added the link below in case you’re interested in seeing what we do.

  26. This is a great post. As one of the leading team building companies I would just like to say how much we can relate to your post. Our nameless/rankless debrief program actually requires everyone on the team to set aside their status, their rankings, in order to get down to the real issues. This encourages everyone to freely admit their success and errors.

  27. My IT team had a team-building day yesterday. Maybe it does say something about me, but the day left me feeling really awful about myself and quite angry with the whole thing. Another girl – who is a terrific worker as well as being well-liked by all – was in tears at one point. How can this sort of thing be helpful? We had to play this silly game that involved clans. Each clan had a bag full of items and a couple of clues – we were then told we had to make 650 dollars and the game started. It was fun at the time, but the problem was the facilitator. After the game ended he put everyone into one of 4 quadrants – and then extrapolated how this means we would perform and act in the workplace. I just didn’t see how you can make these assumptions based on a stupid game with no rules.

  28. Hello and good day. I am a professional DJ in the greater Pittsburgh Pennsylvania area. I am looking to expand my corporate DJ business by offering team building projects that are easy enough to offer at a company picnic, etc. I am also a Christian and believe in running a business with high morals and business ethics. I agree with your post, on doing events the right way.

    My question is, where would I go to learn how to run different team building games? Do you offer such a class, course, book, or video?

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

  29. As I’ve read the title of this blog I feel a bit against it already and when I read through it made me realize that its very easy to deny current issues by trying to divert attention on other issues.

    What can possibly be the reason why these workers act like this in the first place? Can be that its was just for fun or can be! that something inside of workers personal feeling towards colleagues is not good anymore due to reasons we find hard to know inside the office as we rarely mingle with each other.

    Team building is not just for fun and relaxation yet this is the main reason. But didn’t you see that this is one of the reason where we can possibly see the real issue inside and towards each workers and knowing this can help resolve things as early as possible.

    Just think about it, we wear mask in our daily lives and when we have team building then we see the child in us, and thats taking away the mask we wear everyday.

  30. Thanks,

    Great article. I sometimes wish the phrase “team building” had not been invented and usually use the term “team training” instead so as to avoid negative associations.

    Most businesses need to learn more cooperation, however I think that competition can bring out the best in people too. I saw this on The Samurai Game not long back where teams “kill” each other – let do so in a way that promotes respect…strange as this sounds! It’s related to value stage development – see Spiral Dynamics.

    My own team work is here:

    All the best from Brighton,

  31. I agree that the first example you gave was a good one and that the company deserved everything they got. However, competition as a team building tool can often be very rewarding.

    The emphasis is not on the winners, losers or individuals. The focus is on the team work it takes to reach a specific goal. When a group of 100 is split into 4 teams of 25 each team should be a group of people who would not normally work together who can discover each other’s hidden skills and communicate effectively to form one competitor.

    Individual competition is a bad idea but team building can be most effective when competition is a part of it.


    Sun, Apr 18 03:55 PM
    Washington, April 18 (ANI): Team building activities in sport do not enhance cohesion among team members, a new British research has found.

    According to the study into initiation practices in sport by Dr Moira Lafferty, from the University of Chester, and Dr Caroline Wright, from Liverpool Hope University, these activities are merely carried out for tradition’s sake.

    “Initiation ceremonies have often been described as “rites of passage’ for new players joining sporting groups or teams. Despite attempts to eradicate inappropriate team building activities there is still evidence that they take place and are perceived to promote team cohesion,” Science Daily quoted Dr Lafferty, as saying.

    The researchers analysed the level of appropriate and inappropriate activities engaged in across a range of sports and then looked at their relationship to team cohesion to discover whether differences exist between co-active sports, such as badminton, tennis and horse riding, and interactive sports such as football, rugby and cricket.

    For the study, 100 athletes from across the UK, aged between 18 and 24, were surveyed.

    Dr Lafferty said: “Our findings suggest that, despite there being no positive relationship to team cohesion, team building activities, both positive and negative, are still conducted.

    “Interactive sports players are more likely to be subjected to inappropriate team building activities, which suggests that the idea of initiation may be embedded in the tradition of these teams and is seen as part of their cultures.”

    The study was presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Stratford-Upon-Avon. (ANI)

  33. How does this make any sense? You have no evidence backing up these statements and have obviously not played on any type of sports or competition based team. Competitions and common struggles are the best determination of character and cause people to come together and learn the best ways to work together.

  34. This is an incredibly important post because right from childhood we are trainned that making mistakes are a bad thing so we grow up afraid of making mistakes. Nobody ever succeeded in life without making mistakes along the way and rather than purnishing people and dispising people for making mistakes we should encourage them to learn from their mistakes and grow to become a more competent and better person as a result, hence why i really connected with this post. Great Job

  35. I don’t agree with the article. I think team building are not focused to produce more through competition. They are meant to get toknow and connect people in the group when they are doing some probably not important tasks.

  36. I found the suggestions of what not to do great, but no ideas on what is good to try. I do believe in team competitions to a degree with one goal in mind for all teams. I don’t however think we should play the, ok everyone gets a troply- even the loosing team to make them all “feel” better.

    The world out there is tough and our companies and employees need the skills to comptete, cope and handle the challenges.

  37. A team building always need to have a good boss in front. But i feel there are no good leaders who can lead a team now. every one are on there own. You work and i pay! the world is with this concept and where in we can create a team!!bose

  38. Thanks for a great article! After working with team building based on inter team competitions I once had similar thoughts. I envisioned an activity that would appeal to my corporate customer by offering true team building. Having failed at creating such an event before for my own crew by not explicitly telling the teams they needed to collaborate in order to solve the tasks involved I decided to opt for another strategy during the product development of the non-compete game.

    I compiled a game called Winners’ Game where a group of 25 to 50 people would collaborate in eight subteams. The tasks albeit simple required the entire team to utilize a constant and intensive communication. To satisfy the customers’ constant crave for competition I set it up in a “entire team compete against high score way”. This way it would be a theorethical compete, but still a small trigger for the team to cooperate as good as possible.

    How did Winners’ Game score with the test groups and the first corporate customers?

    It turned out to be the biggest mistake in my team building career. The teams where genuinely disinterested in collaborating and grabbed every opportunity to mislead their coworkers or intentionally ignore them. When asked why they said: “We want to win”. The feedback of the game was disastrous. Our normal customer review ratings fell from the 9,2-9,6/10 range to below 4/10.

    Our ambitions came to shame and the sincere faith we had in the importance of team building activities got somewhat damaged. We immediately discontinued the Game and withdraw it from the market. We returned to our modus operandi of offering competitions and the customer review ratings returned to normal levels.

    We regularly receive letters from corporate customers telling us how important the team building activity based on competition is for them. After serving more than 3,000 corporate clients and some 200,000 people with such events we can spot no sign of the alleged idea of corporations wanting to quit competitive team building activities. On the contrary we are expanding our business.

    We concur with the theorethical idea of the non-compete team building but have failed at getting it to work.


  39. The key challenge is finding a way to ignite passion and enthusiasm, without creating harmful competition. I’ve found that team building activities using music (for example, drumming and singing) can do this very successfully and ensure that everyone is involved and has fun.

  40. I don’t agree with the main reasons quoted in the article, I am personally convinced that it is crucial to organise team building activities or sport games in order to take your staff out of their work environment and build a teamwork spirit.

  41. Hi I work in Singapore based semiconductor company. Today we had our department’s team building activity. It was compulsory to attend it. We out for a bowling as the team building activity. There were 85 people and 5ppl in each team. I’m not that bad at the game, but unfortunately I coudn’t focuss and lost the interest of the game because start having this severe pain on my lower abdominal ( already done a scan test and waiting to see the doctor to review the rwsults). So I coudn’t score well. At the end of the event organizers picked up the best 5 teams and the best player, and awarded them with prizes. I am so dissapoited that they’ve chosen the worst three players and call infront everybody and gave free bowling voucher for each. I was one of them. Announcer ( one of our coworker) make fun out of us. I was so dissapointed and felt like f…k the anouncer. Is this team building ? ( I felt like team-destroying)

  42. Hello,
    I readed with attention your interested post and in my opinion the right is in the middle. 2 important think: is not everything team building. For exemple a bowling game is absolutily not team building and of course that Miranda told that post, but please attention. The second question very important is the Coach that do the activity, they are 90% important for the final result. The problem in my opinion is not if the are a team winner or loser. That is also in business the same. The important is the way. The way to arrive at to lose and the way to arrive at to win. what’s matter? what dindn’t work in a team, what we need for to be better. De-brief. Ok try again. what’s matter now? de-brief again.

  43. I have a simple game that works quite well in convincing people about the value of cooperation:
    What I have found works quite well is dividing a group into smaller groups(of 4 or 5 members each) and let them compete with a task which is structured to only allow success in a subgroup if they cooperate. This need to co-operate is not spelled out, but structured into the game. On later reflection, competition within the subgroup is seen as stupid (not called that, but everyone laughs at their less effective responses) and cooperation is seen as smart.
    I give each member of a sub team a set of pieces of cut up shapes, with enough different shapes so each member has a unique one. The trick is to take one or more pieces out of each set and and mix them in with other sets. The whole group has enough of the correct pieces for each one to construct a perfect square. They era just told to make a square with the pieces in from to them. If an individual cant make a square with the pieces they have, they can pass a redundant piece to a neighbour. No verbal or other communication allowed, except for offering the shape, which could be refused. The first subgroup to finish all their squares wins.
    In such a situation a group can only win (and I provide a nice incentive) if they cooperate. (a group can be disqualified if they are seen to communicate in any way), but they are not told to cooperate. Not being able to communicate usually locks individuals into their own competitiveness (especially if there is a time limit given. 6 min. is usually quite enough)
    After a subgroup has won, it is natural for the others to reflect on their individual behaviours and when (and if) the penny dropped and the “innate” tendency to compete was overcome and they started to cooperate.
    In order to be most successful one really has to unlock individual “tunnel vision” and start observing what happens in the subgroup as a whole.
    The shift from individual to group awareness can become quite tangible to some and be remembered afterward for a long time.

  44. I’ve played the game mentioned by Johann, and have not found it very useful.

    It attempts to encourage people to think about cooperating, but only does so within the context of the game. Basically, it’s a metaphor for the office, but such a simplistic one that any thinking adult can grasp the concept within seconds (but still waste 20 minutes playing the stupid game!).

    Barriers to cooperation in the workplace are so much more complex than this simple game. Employees don’t cooperate for a variety of reasons, few having to do with a simple desire to compete.

    The employees may not know who to cooperate with. Who has the information they need? Who has the time to help? Who has the responsibility for the area they need help with? Etc.

    Again, team building needs to be specific to the office environment of the employees. Generic and simplistic games like this are at best a waste of time. At worst they are an (unintentional) insult to smart employees.

  45. I am a visual artist who has developed a team building event that inspires creativity and collaboration. It’s always successful to pull people out of their usual life-paths to give them an opportunity to be creative – successfully.

    In a nutshell, I teach people how to cast their hands using plaster/alginate and then paint the dried cast with an image of a painting that exists in a museum storage facility. Even when people have no experience with art and “can’t draw/paint”, they successfully leave with an accurate fail-proof highly-detailed sculpture.

    The process is what is so important. Most people don’t have experience or exposure to making visual art or knowledge of the “behind the scenes” of art-making. This process unveils the mystery behind much of the process. It gives exposure to creativity and an alternative way of thinking. Participants are able to show hiddent talents. There’s a lot of collaborative helping and encouragement that goes on throughout the length of the 2 day workshop. There is also a peaceful meditation element that hushes the room as people sit in a group concentrating while creating. It’s a powerful tool.

    Many participants have said they like displaying the work of art as a reminder of how process is often a greater learning skill that the initial result. And, the artwork looks cool too.

    I began this workshop with international school students in Hong Kong and Singapore. The results were astounding – the teachers passionate. It was an easy transfer to the corporate world, where a boost of creativity and collaboration is the foundation of change.

  46. The best experience I had was in high school with my softball team. We had a “team-building” outing at a campground where they had outdoor obstacle courses. The one that I will always remember to this day was the large human-sized wheel or spool; and we had to figure out a way for all of us to get over top of it, leaving no one behind. It was a lot harder than you think! The beginning was easy because enough of us were there to lift people over. But as the original group got smaller, we had to use more strategy and work harder as a team to get the last few people over. After we completed this challenge, we all felt satisfied as if we had accomplished something together. I believe that this simple exercise made a huge impression on how we played the rest of the season. And there were no coffee carts, fancy powerpoints or anything for that matter…

  47. There’s a thin line between uplifting and degrading in team building activities. I’ve been though both. I have to say that overall the negative results of team building are the only ones that I can recall–they overshadow any positive outcomes because they are just so negative. I have been involved in physical team building activities in which I saw older staff get injured, where I witnessed staff crying out of fear, and where I was forced to watch staff bully those who were “weak” or afraid. I have seen staff members get angry with others during word games and board games who weren’t native English speakers because it brought down their team’s score. My disgust at the bullies lead to me disliking those staff members permanently–I avoided working with these people from that moment on. I also became disgusted at our leadership for forcing us to engage in these ridiculous competitive “fun” activities and for allowing bullying to take place. The team building did exactly the opposite–it made me see the ugly side to many of my bosses and co-workers, a side that I cannot forget.

  48. It all boils down to understanding what you want to get out of any “Team building” event. Knowing your objectives before you start planning is vital to a successful event. Competition can work in some ways and for some companies but not for all.

    At the end of the day what ever objectives and messages included in the day it should always still be fun. I realise your title was only to try and provoke a response but MOST team building events aren’t a waste of time, Poorly thought out and led team building is a waste of time however.

  49. That’s one of most terrible corporate team building happenings I’ve heard of. Gross! How could someone even pay money for such a disgusting thing? That’s far beyond my understanding and acceptance.

    However, a good event must include factors that BUILD not TEAR APART. that’s the key point. If you keep that in mind any activity will be at least good.

  50. I love this article and agree completely. Clients *think* they want a competitive event because “our people are very competitive”. Interestingly, they often say this with a hint of nervousness in their voice. As event designers, we then have a choice–give them what they think they want, or share our thoughts about what “true” teambuilding should be. Most of the time they’ll go for a more collaborative approach, as long as the activity is still fun and engaging.

    I wrote an article about this some time ago that also draws heavily from our man, Alfie Kohn. Check it out here:

  51. What a terrible story about the worst kind of Team Building! Stories like that are so damaging to the industry and it’s important to state the facts of what constitutes as a truly effective, fun and inclusive team building day.

    A good Team Building day should ensure that all members of the team are on the same level, removing the labels and hierarchy found in the office. It is important to create a safe, supportive environment where everyone feels comfortable in order for the group to gel and take some learnings away from the event and back to the office.

    Not all team building needs to be competitive. Many of our activities are designed to be collaborative, meaning that all members of the team must be involved in order to complete tasks. This creates a great atmosphere and allows managers to observe their staff’s natural traits as they work alongside them.

  52. I don’t agree with this at all. Although intense competition can sometimes be damaging, it can also be rewarding. I don’t think that condemning it is right as we have run many successful team building events that are aimed at the competition and they work really well to get members to work together and try to win. Competition is only destructive if it’s actually pitting people against each other rather than encouraging that they work together. Team building activities should be a source of enjoyment and learning.

  53. I feel like company outings are a gross error for some companies.
    If you work at a fast paced work environment which has a natural tenancy for high stress situations to develop, then it becomes an issue. The kinds of outings that I’ve seen usually involve alcohol in a confined space and some kind of entertainment or lunch provided. At best, it can be a casual gathering of coworkers and at worst can lead to situations where coworkers are taking the time to vent their work frustrations out. Another bad scenario is where you have an office that has suffered layoffs or has had a lot of turnover. A supervisor orders an R&R trip to get to know the new faces in the office which can be of benefit at some companies. However if the event is to help ease tensions between newer, inexperienced employees and senior employees who’ve had to work lots of overtime in the wake of high turnover, a company outing might actually create more tension than it does relieve.

  54. From your point of view you may be right but according to me, through team building events mutual understanding does improve among team members and moreover, employees get a chance to explore them at the best of their potential.

  55. I think from your perspective it is may be somewhat right however corporate team building is a better way to develop competition among the coworkers. It helps employers to know the capabilities of the employee by giving them extra opportunities to prove their potential.

  56. We will have a team building soon and we did not require it as compulsory but we have an agreement if they confirm attending the team building activity and did not show-up, they will be paying for a certain amount. Do you think this is just based on common law?

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