Teams that work well together, trust each other, and enjoy spending time together are more effective, right? It is what we’ve been told time and again. While it is true to an extent, spending money on team-building has shown to provide little pay off.

Many corporations who want to invest in team building choose to do expensive offsite activities like escape games or rope courses. Even less extravagant events like company picnics can add up. The problem is that these activities take place in environments that do not even remotely mirror the work environment. Team building exercises might build trust in the short-term. Usually, it doesn’t last. The team-building exercises are simply a lot less stressful than day-to-day work and the real-world consequences are non-existent.

Activities are Hard to Design Well

Many times, you design a team building activity that is supposed to encourage cooperation and trust, but, instead, you end up with an activity that embarrasses the team members and makes them feel pressured. There is also a fine line between team-building and socializing and it can be hard to find the right balance.

Trust is Less Important than Motivation

While trust between co-workers sounds important, individual drive has a lot more to do with success. It is more important that employees have clear goals for themselves, clear understanding of overall company objectives, a sense of autonomy, and personal motivation to succeed. Most team-building exercises do not address any of these issues. Moreover, collaboration is an ill-defined goal that most employees have trouble visualizing. A lot of time, improving motivation and improving the clarity of goals will also help with collaboration naturally.

Team Building Can Make Collaboration Worse

Most team building games have elements of cooperation and competition. While we often think of competition as a positive characteristic, competitions can make people aggressive, overcritical, and disruptive. In worst case scenarios, team building exercises can cause divides between employees and even hurt the sense of trust within the team. Often the primary objective of the activity does not come through and there are unintended consequences.

Team building is costly and hard to predict. You might be lucky and come up with an exercise that actually does help collaborate. Chances are your energy is better spent finding ways to improve accountability, personal drive, and independence in your employees. Often times, improved collaboration will follow.

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