I don’t know, maybe I am cynical. And I haven’t lead a large organization since 2002, so maybe I am out of practice.
But I think team building exercises are a waste of time.
Last week, I spent a few days at The Ritz Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, and over the course of the visit, observed what appeared to be a corporate retreat.
At one point, I was in the lounge catching up on email, when I observed a bunch of people running around doing a scavenger hunt.
What a waste of time. These are well paid, seasoned professionals, experts in their field (I assume), running around “looking for something shaped like a heart.”
Here’s the funny thing. Since these people didn’t know me, and I was pretending to be deep into my work, they spoke freely as they passed by so that I could hear.
They weren’t saying “What fun!” Or “I am really getting to know you better Bob.” Or “I feel so inspired, and my confidence is growing, for hunting for and finding an hotel employee name badge beginning with the letter J really builds my character!”
Instead, they were saying (an actual quote): “This is f__king stupid.”
Hmmmm. On the basis of this limited feedback and one data point, I predict a banner year for this organization!
Look I know someone worked very hard to organize and prepare for the event, but I have to think there is a better use of that time. And I understand that teams do need time together to strategize, plan, solve problems, and co-create solutions.
But I would rather use that time in a different way.
The organization referenced above spent a lot of money to put on this event. I have to think there is a better use of those funds and time:
1. Spend that money on new individual learning. And I don’t mean forcing people to attend some boring lecture together that only benefits a few people in the room. I mean let people choose some individualized learning that inspires them, motivates them, and makes them better. And I am not suggesting it has to take place at this particular event. Give them a learning bonus or some such.
2. At the event, use that time to be damn sure people know what the organization’s purpose is. To remember why they work there. To remember why the work they are all doing together matters, and is changing the world.
[And if a teammate isn't on board, let them go. Fast.]
3. At the event, give those same people alone time to create/brainstorm on things on their own. Or with teammates if they choose, but don’t force them into anything structured. Give them free time to spend as they choose, thinking about how to be better.
Just a few ideas. What would you add?
In my humble opinion, when you have a large amount of employees counting down the hours til 5PM, dread work on Sunday nights, that doesn’t love its work and is no longer inspired by the creative and the problem solving work, that’s usually when some idiot in management suggests “team building exercises.”
And as evidenced by the reaction I heard from one of the employees above, it ain’t working.
Remember, these are real people, living human lives. They aren’t just some random name in the company directory and HR spreadsheet.
Treat them right. Don’t force them to do stupid human tricks.
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Drawing by Hugh.