Why and How Successful Companies Are Transforming Traditional Teambuilding

According to a 2015 study from Inside Higher Ed, 64% of recent college graduates believe they are well-prepared to work with others on teams.  Unfortunately, only 37% of employers feel the same way about those graduates (Jaschik, 2015).  When we assess the needs of 21st-century businesses, we see skills that become imperative to teach as part of company culture since they are not adequately being taught in schools.  Skills missing in recent graduates include critical thinking and problem-solving, attention to detail, communication and leadership  (Strauss, 2016).  While this information might not be surprising to some, it should be eye-opening to anyone investing money and energy in staff development. In particular, if you are accustomed to using the term “teambuilding” to describe outings to the bar or occasional bowling nights, it's valuable to understand the difference between such social events and the potential of a team wellness program that is highly customized, impeccably planned and professionally facilitated.

For years, organizations used social gatherings or competitions as a means of improving their teams by way of having fun. While these organizations met varying levels of success, today's most successful businesses recognize the limitations of these activities, and research suggests there is a better way. “Competitions have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in us. Competitions, by their very nature, create a culture of me against you, of winners and losers, of I'm great and you’re not. I've never understood how anyone can think that it's a good way to build up all the people on your team; that collaboration is built out of a need to be better than everyone else” (Barnett, 2016). On the social side, unfortunately, many participants with whom I have worked believe these sorts of teambuilding activities are patronizing or forced.  They believe the events show management’s disrespect for their time and needs as team members.   “The sort of one-size-fits-all solutions do little to target your team-specific issues” (Olson, 2012).  Recent evidence supports informal interactions for improved workplace communications, however, when those interactions don’t feel like a natural fit, they can do more harm than good.  Think blind date gone wrong.

In 2012, Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics Division, and his peers at Google started Project Aristotle to try to unveil the secret behind the perfect team.  In his article in New York Times Magazine, Charles Duhigg wrote, “When companies try to optimize everything, it's sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences– like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel– that can't really be optimized” (Duhigg, 2016).   Project Aristotle examined the importance of psychological safety in team communication and function.  While conclusions drawn from the study left the researchers with more questions than answers, it has become increasing clear that factors of company culture like healthy communication, awareness, goal setting, and self-improvement are vital to a team’s ability to maximize its potential.

In his recent book Team of Teams, General Stanley Based on his own experiences with the Joint Special Operations Task Force and his studies of teams since his retirement from the military, McChrystal’s message points to a skill-set derived from adaptability.  Adaptability must be understood as a compilation of essential skills that are supported by company culture. At the root of adaptability is a vital sense of attention (or awareness) that allows us to reconcile the differences between what we are doing and what is required. Next to that awareness is the grounding sense of intention that allows the team to adapt without drifting too far from company culture and mission.  By this logic, teambuilding at its best, provides the tools and experiences for team members to reflect on their own qualities of attention and intention.

Once attention and intention are squarely at the center of professional development, we have the opportunity to explore communication patterns and address the action team members take in communicating.  An article in the Harvard Business Review by Alex Pentland states, “The best way to build a great team is not to select individuals for their smarts or accomplishments but to learn how they communicate and to shape and guide the team so that it follows successful communication patterns" (Pentland, 2012).

The Wellness Adventures, Authentic Leadership and Staff Wellness Programs designed by Move Mountains target the development of personal and interpersonal attention and intention. Each program challenges those understandings through customized activities that allow teams to develop healthy communication patterns that will carry them forward and provide for sustainable growth in the team.  Our unique approach blends the wellness component into the adventure, providing for fun, while offering authentic and richly rewarding experiences.  We give participants the tools and resources to adapt to challenges in the workplace and produce sustainable results.  Our skilled facilitators masterfully weave adventure and learning together in a way that enables participants to transfer skills directly to the workplace and maintain healthy relationships with colleagues.  Our programs draw on the strengths of each team member while providing the resources to promote life-long learning in the workplace.

So often social time that can be crucial to team performance becomes a waste of time because it is forced or does not truly meet the needs of each team member. Likewise, competition can drive part of the team away while allowing a few to thrive. The intentionality of a Move Mountains program drives its success.  We focus on your company, on your team, on your mission, and we design the adventure and tools that are most likely to provide a lasting impact on your organization.  To experience unmatched attention to detail and customization and to secure a professional development strategy that will improve your team, contact us at 775-831-2646.

Works Cited

Barnett, T. (2016, September 14). Why Traditional Team Building Exercises Don't Work. linkedin. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-traditional-team-building-exercises-dont-work-teena-barnett-mba

Duhigg, C. (2016, February 25). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. The New York Times Magazine.  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=0

Jaschik, S. (2015, January 20). Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes . Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/20/study-finds-big-gaps-between-student-and-employer-perceptions

McChrystal, G. S. (2015). Team of Teams. New York, New York: Portfolio/ Penguin.

Olson, L. (2012, June 28). Do Corporate Team-Building Events Really Work?  U.S. News & World Report. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/06/28/do-corporate-team-building-events-really-work

Pentland, A.  (2012, April). The New Science of Building Great Teams. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-new-science-of-building-great-teams

Strauss, K. (2016, May 17). These Are The Skills Bosses Say New College Grads Do Not Have. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2016/05/17/these-are-the-skills-bosses-say-new-college-grads-do-not-have/#72aac9f8596e

Taylor, J. (n.d.). Activities Your Employees Won't Hate. TheMuse.com. https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-teambuilding-activities-your-employees-wont-hate

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