Team building exercises...are they worth the investment?

leadership teamwork Sep 14, 2017

How many exercises have you attended where the event was a laugh, you had a fun time but the transference to the work place was limited?

Team building can be used to build relationships and trust within your team, both of which are essential components of a high performance team, but how of the much newly-developed trust and improved relationships actually get carried back into the workspace?

How much of the team building was about the team performance and how much of it was about self-awareness? The second point is crucial - we can't truly understand the world if we don't understand ourselves and the lens we are looking through.

If the team recognises the weaknesses of one or more of the team members but they themselves don't, there is likely to be an issue when they return to work! Identifying issues in a non-professional environment is a great way to reduce the emotion associated with failure. But the issues do need to be noted, identified and debriefed there and then if unintended consequences are to be prevented back in the workplace.

We know that an essential part of any learning evolution is a debrief. But how candid are they?

A detailed debrief should go into the observable behaviours, the reasons they came up and the pre-cursors so that they can be detected next time.

However, just focussing on the negative outcomes won't help you prevent them occurring next time. For example.

If the subject is over-controlling/micro-managing, there is a specific reason for this.
If they are pushing their beliefs onto others and 'going on a crusade', it is a different matter that needs to be resolved.
What about if they are creating negative drama and setting people up for a 'fight'? That is another latent issue too.
Just saying to someone you are doing XYZ without understanding the 'root causes' and addressing those means they will come back...

However, fixing the negative behaviours, or the environment which is causing them, isn't enough if we want to aim for excellence.

We also need to look at what went well and why, what were the actions, behaviours and skills which contributed to the positive outcomes.

As someone said to me on a recent training session "Following up after an incident is a no-brainer. Following up after a successful activity is not intuitive to most audiences" Therefore framing the debriefs in the correct way and digging into the issues, the learning should become apparent to the team even when looking at the positive aspects of the activity. If not, it is the facilitators role to tease them out.

Once the lessons have been identified and the potential solutions for that training environment have been created, what are you going to take back to your workspace and how are you going to be held accountable to achieve the lessons learned?

One of the best way to improve this return is to set SMART goals, get the participants to write them down, and then use the team (or a coach) to hold each other accountable for the goals the team or individuals have set.

Finally, consider that team training should be just that, it should be about the team. This excellent article highlights the downside of individual leadership training without including the team -

Going back to the big do we know the team building (or other learning and development) exercise was a success and was worth the investment?

My last role in the Royal Air Force was a Requirements Manager for a number of multi-million pound projects with numerous stakeholders which ranged from front-line aircrew who operated in hostile threat environments, to key decisions makers in the joint and single service arenas and industry experts and suppliers. One of the hardest parts of that job was defining what 'success' meant and writing the criteria in the Systems Requirements Document that the supplier would bid against. Often we struggled to get the high level (User/Capability) requirements defined which meant we couldn't define pass/fail criteria at the System level, and the contractor delivered what they could. However, we couldn't hold them for non-delivery if we hadn't defined pass/fail criteria and we would often blame them and yet we hadn't determine what success meant!

As I have moved into the Learning and Development arena with the goal developing high performance teams and individuals, outcomes for a training programme often appear to be missing from the client's brief. I was once asked to provide some measures of improvement in a proposal. I said I could, but I would need to know what they measured already if I was going to design the programme and show an improvement. They didn't measure anything...I still delivered the programme with the aim of improving self-awareness for all of the team members, an aim I achieved and they changed some of their work behaviours as a consequence.

If your team building exercise didn't produce the results you were expecting, consider whether the organisation/person delivering the training understood the gaps, they had developed a programme to fill them, and you had a means of measuring both the gap and any closure subsequent to the intervention in a timescale representative of the problems being addressed. These are all continual problems covered in this research paper.

In fact, the most powerful reason why learning transfer is ineffective, as was revealed during the ATD International Conference & Exposition 2016, is that 90 percent of training is designed without a well-defined strategy that facilitates it.

As Drucker said "Organisational culture eats strategy for breakfast" so make sure you understand the aims, objectives and the limitations of the development opportunities you are putting in place. This means you are less likely to be frustrated when change doesn't happen as you expected.


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.


50% Complete

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Human in the System. We won't spam you, we promise. It's illegal and we hate it too!