Do Team-Building Activities Really Work?

team building

Every company seems to have their own, slightly modified version of a team-building event.

Some companies go fishing, picnicking, or swimming, while others go on camp-like adventures filled with activities meant to build trust. Hosting team-building activities is one of the most popular methods used in team management, but how do you know if it’s the right move for your team?

Why Do Team Building?

A lot of companies do team building to boost employee engagement and team collaboration.

Through these activities, employees learn about their colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses. This can help them understand how their coworkers think and approach problems, which aids in future collaboration.

Employees can also interact in a more casual and slower-paced environment during these events. They learn how to communicate their needs and concerns with other people on the team.

This can greatly help in improving the team’s performance. After all, knowing how to communicate when working on a project is essential in spotting errors early in the process.

Another great benefit of team-building activities is improved relations and work motivation. Employees get to bond in activities and experiences that they would not typically have the chance to share at work and may even develop friendships and alliances.

This is a great method for employee retention, too, since a study showed that many people consider workplace friendships as the main reason for not leaving a company.

Companies may also use team-building events to express gratitude toward employees by letting them have a day of fun activities instead of just work.

Possible Challenges and Disadvantages

Team-building activities may seem all fun and games, but there might be repercussions to this simple and popular team management strategy.

Discomfort and Embarrassment

Each one of us is different, and not everyone may be comfortable doing specific activities in front of their colleagues.

Instead of improving relationships, team-building activities may feel forced and uncomfortable for some and even worsen relations. Matching overly competitive people with more reserved types may lead to more hostility instead of positive emotions.

Leaders and managers should be wary of this and be careful when selecting activities for team members.

Time and Expenses

Another important factor to consider when planning a team-building activity is the cost. Not only do we need to spend money on the activity itself, but we also lose money due to the work lost for that day.

Time is also of the essence. These activities need to be determined in advance so that they don’t disrupt the company’s schedule and processes.

One way some team leaders work around this is by hosting activities that still involve work, such as planning sessions, brainstorming sessions, and the like. Through these activities, employees get to know coworkers in a relevant setting and still feel productive after finishing tasks that are relevant to their work.

Forced Socializing

Not everyone is meant to become friends with each other, contrary to what many may want to achieve in a group setting such as the workplace. Some people just don’t click.

People don’t need to be friends to be able to work together, and we as leaders must be aware of that. Team-building activities sometimes push clashing personalities together in activities that one or both of them don’t enjoy.

This is a really bad mix and could lead to a lot of friction. Team-building activities that are poorly facilitated may also worsen existing conflicts.

We must remember that employees are not children; each one of them has different belief systems, and exposing this in an environment that is too casual may push some buttons and result in a team dynamic that is worse than before.

Short-Term Results

The biggest discourager for this method, by far, is that its results are not guaranteed to last.

Due to the fact that team-building activities that leaders choose are often not within the context of the work, the results may often last for a very short time and teams often revert to their original dynamic.

So, how do we know if it’s worth it?

Evaluating Team Collaborations

At the end of the day, a team-building event must improve team performance and collaboration. Here are some models that a leader can use to determine the effectiveness of their team before and after a team-building activity.

The GRPI Model

According to the GRPI model, there are four factors that contribute to or define the effectiveness of a team. These are goals, roles, processes, and interpersonal relationships.

First, a team must have goals that are clear and well-defined. Leaders must communicate the objectives of the team clearly and make sure that everybody is on the same page when working together.

The second important factor is roles. According to the GRPI model, team members must know their responsibilities within the team well and must accept the leader for the team to be effective.

Third, the team’s processes should also be well-defined. This way, members agree on the decisions made within the team and have a great understanding of the hows and whys of decision-making.

The fourth and final factor would be interpersonal relationships. Members must trust each other and learn to communicate properly.

The Hackman Model of Team Effectiveness

On the other hand, J. Richard Hackman puts forward five conditions that can help leaders determine if their team is at its prime.

First, a real team is not only a team in name. Team members must be interdependent, there must be clearly defined criteria for who is a member and who isn’t, and membership should be fairly stable.

Second, team members must agree to work toward something compelling. To motivate team members, the goals must be clear and worthwhile.

Third, an effective team must have a structure that enables people—it allows people to work and be effective members. For example, a team of writers and editors need to have a good balance so that the writers’ output is edited on time without overworking or underutilizing the editors.

Fourth, the team must receive support from its parent organization to work effectively. For this condition, a leader must ask if the team is receiving the resources, rewards, and information that it needs.

Finally, there should be a mentor that’s available to the team. A team would not work well without the right leadership, and a leader should coach and guide members for the team to be as productive as they could be.

Additional Models

There are many other models that leaders can use, such as:

  • The Katzenbach and Smith Model, which evaluates team effectiveness based on commitment, skills, and accountability;
  • The T7 Model, which considers thrust, trust, talent, teaming skills, task skills, team leader fit, and team support from the organization;
  • The LaFasto and Larson Model, which names the five layers of team effectiveness as the team member, team relationships, team problem-solving, team leadership, and organization environment; and
  • The Lencioni Model, which identifies team dysfunctions to be the absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and disregard for results.

Team-building activities may work for some and not for others. The best way to determine whether it will work for you is to know your team members.