Team building is BS – Individual and team Purpose is the key

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I had one of my best team buildings with the management team of my former company many years ago. We went rafting - it was amazing. Beautiful nature and great company. It was also one of the most ineffective leadership teams I have ever been part of. Nothing changed when we came back.

So you soaked stark naked with your entire department in a Japanese bath, you’ve done the original zombie survival training with your team members to learn survival skills, and you even took them to pet depressed dolphins at a water park – all in the name of creating strong relationships and bolstering team spirit to improve collaboration and unity. Well, at least you’ve had some days out, because team building is just a waste of time and money. Events like these may get people to feel closer temporarily, since shared emotions can help bonding. But those situational bonds will cave in under the day-to-day pressures of an organization where people have to deliver results.

In 2011, senior HR leaders at Mars decided that they would try to crack the code of how to maximize team effectiveness. The resulting research – which drew on data from 125 teams – revealed that most of what we thought about team building was wrong. Quality collaboration does not begin with relationships and trust: it starts with a focus on individual motivation and team purpose. The questionnaires revealed that team members felt the most clarity about their own individual objectives, and felt a strong sense of ownership for the work they were accountable for. Collaboration turned out to be an idealized and vague goal which diluted accountability. Results also showed that leaders had to let people figure out how they wanted to work together in a way that helped individual progress and objectives. A year after the research and the training that followed, their growth had rocketed up 33%.

Strong relationships and trust do matter to collaboration, but they are not the starting point. They are the outcomes of dedicated people striving together. Connecting collaboration to the motives and purposes of success-minded team members is the key to productive teamwork.

So if you are going team building cancel it, unless you are planning to work on the purpose of the team and agreeing on simple behaviors that will propel your team to fulfill its purpose.

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mickey feher