If you have spent time in the corporate world, you will have most likely taken part in a team building activity. These activities range from escape rooms to Lego building contests. There is a report of one company that sent a poorly producing sales division to London to learn a dance called the haka, a traditional war dance that is performed by the Maori tribe from New Zealand. While these activities can help bring co-workers together and give them something to talk about in the breakroom, do these team building activities produce lasting results?
The evidence points to “no,” but with a caveat. Mars, Inc., the global company that makes M&M’s among other products, did a study of team building and found that team effectiveness began not with relationships but with individual motivation. The human resources department at Mars sent out questionnaires and interviewed team leaders. They found that while most workers want to collaborate with their colleagues, they don’t know how to do it in a way that supports their individual goals.
After more extensive research, the folks at Mars found that while there were clear directives for individual work, there were none for teamwork. On top of that, workers were rewarded for individual work, not for collaborating. As a result of this finding, Mars developed plans to make collaborating as specific as individual work. Implementing this change at the pet care division in China resulted in 33 percent growth.
Mars is an example of intelligent team building with specific directives. Most of the time, companies throw people together in a room in the hopes that they will learn to “play nice” together. Of course, you are just a small business owner. You may not have a large number of employees, and you certainly don’t have the resources to the rent a space for a weekend and have everyone learn the haka. Still, you want your employees to work together effectively. What can you do to avoid team building pitfalls?
First, realize that there is a learning gap between what is done in a team building exercise and what happens in the office. It takes a skilled facilitator to make connections between what is done in the team building exercise and what goes on in the office.
Second, it is important to mention the embarrassment that some people will feel when participating in team building activities. Some people aren’t very athletic or coordinated. As a result, those employees may resent having to be a part of a team building exercise. If the activities happen too frequently, it may even be a reason they decide to leave.
The best way to build a cohesive team is to do what Mars did. Take the time to find out what your employees think about their role in the business. Find a way to encapsulate that in a group directive. Of course, if you find out that nothing is broken, don’t rock the boat. While it is noble to improve your business, there are times when continuous improvement creates unnecessary difficulties. If patients are happy and your practice is hitting sales numbers, then be glad that you and your staff are doing things right. Of course, if you want to thank them with a catered lunch or Happy Hour, then go right ahead. Most will appreciate that more than a team building exercise!