Top 10 Reasons Your Team Building Activities are Ineffective
“I really don’t want to share anymore,” one of my coworkers said.
“Why not?” the facilitator demanded.
“Because this isn’t the place,” she replied. At that point, Kara began to cry and walked off.
Talk about your awkward moments. Fortunately, I wasn’t the facilitator or the one who made her cry. (Phew!)
Why did that turn out so badly? I’ll finish the story in a bit, but first let me share some of the other the top ten reasons why you may not be getting the desired results out of your team building activities.
Reason 1: You never set any goals.
Goals are important for most business activities and team building is no exception. For a team building program to be effective, you must start by setting goals.
– What do you want the end result to be/look like?
– What areas of your team do you want to focus on? Communication? Personality styles? Vision? Values? Leadership development? Conflict resolution? Problem solving?
– What activities match your desired goals?
All of these (and more) can be addressed, but you probably don’t want to focus on too many of these at a time. Take time to set goals and focus on results you want to see and watch your team capacity skyrocket!
Reason 2: You never debriefed the activity.
I’m a big proponent of processing challenges. There are numerous ways to do this. You can use standard questions, or you can use more creative debriefing solutions.
The processing time doesn’t have to be long and drawn out, and it doesn’t have to be awkward. You can even use other activities or an experiential process to debrief the exercise.
Whatever method you decide to use, though, just don’t skip this part of the activity. This is where a lot of a-ha moments can happen.
Reason 3: You aren’t connecting the team building activities to real-world scenarios.
Often times, this mistake happens in the debrief. This is where “a ha” moments can really begin to take shape. You want to let the team make the connections, but there are times when they will need help to do so. Asking a question such as, “So how do you see a similar situation playing out at work?” or “How would you see this team solving a similar challenge elsewhere?”
These questions can help people bridge the gap between the activity and how to implement the same or similar strategies in the future.
Reason 4: You are not following up.
There is certainly a time where a stand-alone icebreaker or team building activity is called for. Most of the time, though, for your team to gain the optimal value from these programs, there needs to be follow-up.
Mark Collard of Playmeo recommends monthly follow-up sessions for all of the organizations he works with. I think this is a fabulous idea. We tend to get busy and distracted. Following up with people, and seeing how things have gone, where they are, and what questions they have is one key to lasting change.
Reason 5: You’re too serious.
There is a time to be serious, but there is also a lot of fun to be had when doing team building exercises and programs. However, when we begin to expect people to do things the “right way” or are too intense, it can hamper creativity and problem solving.
The great thing about team building activities is that every group will respond differently. Learning how to handle and adapt to each situation is one of the greatest traits of an effective facilitator.
So relax, have fun, and don’t be too serious! 🙂
Reason 6: The activities aren’t challenging.
Another reason your team building program may not be effective is using activities that never push people past their comfort zone. If everyone stays in their safety zone, then people aren’t challenged to the point where transformation can occur. There is a fine balance between stretching people and making them panic (see Reason #8); however, the team building exercises should be challenging.
Making these too easy, or giving people the answers without really letting them struggle to find it could be a reason that you’re not seeing the effectiveness of these activities.
Reason 7: You did not adequately prepare.
Leading team building activities is more than just picking something that looks good or fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun (see Reason 6 above); however, there is preparation that you will need to do before taking people through activities. You’ll want to set goals, determine what challenges you want to work on, and what activities will best fit the issues your team needs to navigate.
Doing some prep work beforehand will make the challenges much more relevant and effective for your team.
Reason 8: Your team building activities pushed people too far, too fast.
In his book Serious Fun, Mark Collard talks about 3 different zones that people can experience during this experiential training process. There is the safety zone, the stretch zone, and the panic zone. There is a process by which people can be moved from the safety zone to the stretch zone (without reaching the panic zone) in a way that provides optimal engagement and transformation.
If you try to push people too far in a short amount of time, then they will enter the panic zone and not be able to transfer what they are experiencing to real-world scenarios. They are too busy trying to get back to the point where they feel safe.
Pushing people is fine, but there is a process to doing so. You can stretch people without pushing them into panic-mode.
Reason 9: You did not prepare the group properly.
I once experienced a team building effort as a participant where my boss basically sprung a series of trainings on us that were very personal and the facilitator was borderline intrusive. Many of our group resisted and were bitter about our director not letting us know what we were in for.
That situation was what precipitated the events that I mentioned above. So how did the story end?
My coworker eventually calmed down, came back and our team participated (most very hesitantly and with much resistance) in the activities that this lady had planned for us. There were several lessons I learned that day about facilitation that I vowed never to do. This was just one of them.
People want a choice, but if you want something to be mandatory (which is fine), then prepare them ahead of time. A good facilitator will come to you with a plan and let you know (as much as possible) what can be expected. There will, no doubt, be some surprises during the activities: how people respond, who ends up with a great idea, the ways that people will interact and try to problem-solve.
Make sure you communicate to your team what’s going to happen and what they can expect. You don’t have to give away the farm, but don’t expect them to respond favorably to an “impromptu team building day” that you had planned for a while.
Reason 10: Your activities aren’t tied to a broader plan.
Team building activities are great. They can be fun, challenging, and create a space where awesome things can happen. However, if they aren’t connected to more than just an event or training, then they just become fun exercises that will fade into people’s memories.
To get the most out of them, tie these to a broader training plan that includes small group and one-on-one coaching, leadership development trainings, and the overall vision and values of your organization.
While team building activities can be very effective, the lack of any one of these things could cause fewer positive outcomes than what you, as the leader, want. Include all of these things and see if your teams don’t experience greater results.
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