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Jim Stroup

Hello Steve,

This is a great - and timely - post.

A perceived lack of teamwork in an organization is viewed by management as a deficit among the staff. Thus, they want team-building exercises to teach employees how to trust each other and to work more as a team.

While there can be some value in such lessons, they are most useful when learned by management, rather than by employees. They should lead to the creation and careful maintenance of the environmental conditions in which teamwork can thrive in the actual workplace - not at an off-site training event.

Thanks for a great post - and an attention-grabbing article citation to start it off!

Mark Harrison

> "The mistake was not giving notice to the police."

No, the mistake was doing something unbelievably dumb.

If phoning up the police and saying "It's OK - we're going to stage a PRETEND crime - don't bother coming out to investigate" was a good strategy, it's possible that CRIMINALS might pick up on it, and use it to buy themselves an extra few minutes in police response times by bogusly reporting "tests" ahead of time.

David Zinger

It all sounds like episodes of The Office gone bad. I am not a fan of the blind trust walk. It was big 30 years ago but still hangs around where you blindfold one person and the other person verbally navigates them around a building. A great bowler (don't ask how I know this) once said, "trust is must or your game is a bust." - Yet I don't believe you manufacture trust or team out of cute little exercises.
Got to go now, I am off to bob for apples!

Beth Robinson

How do you see the your key points above changing when it involves people from different locations - or do they?

We did a couple of overnight events in 2005 and 2006 and the best part of them was people from different job func0tions and three different US locations, plus some with offices in different parts of the building in the same location, were all in one place and interacting. If that rope course had been followed up by some counseling, then yes, we might have gotten more out of it, but having it in the afternoon after a morning session of brainstorming did seem to at least increase the comfort level of different people talking to each other when we all returned to work.

Michelle Malay Carter

Hi Steve,

Oh my! Good intentions gone bad here. Great post.

Two of the best things organizations can do to improve "teamwork" is to:

1. provide clear context within which the team can work so they can make decisions enlighted by the broader purpose.

2. Clarify accountabilities and authorities so that people know going into situations who can "break ties" and when to escalate and to whom. It can be done fairly easily using a pre-defined set of about 10 types of relationships. This keeps people from having to manipulate one another or use force of personality to "fight things out" to get their way.

Anyway, I posted a Friday Funny months back which still gets quite a few hits. It strikes a familiar chord with people who have suffered through silly team building events: http://www.missionmindedmanagement.com/teambuilding-a-friday-funny



Tom Haskins

Steve: Your diagnosis rocks! You've nailed what goes wrong, what solutions get tried and what works with team building. I find their choice of "hijacking a bus" to reek with symbolic significance! Management is saying that amping up teamwork calls for an "act of desperation". Acts of appreciation and amplification are "not on their menu". This so often happens when the attention, goal setting and rewards are devoted to individual heroics, initiatives and ambitions. Teamwork is held in disgrace implicitly and takes the form of commiseration, conspiracies and counter-insurgencies. However, in cultures that thrive on cooperation, collaboration, coordination and compassion, showing appreciation for teamwork is a natural, daily thing. But getting individuals to take initiative and deviate from the group norms then takes an act of desperation. Escaping the "tyranny of either/or" requires "distributing the intelligence" to diagnose either extreme throughout the team, so no one is waiting for "a divine intervention of top management" to restore balance of individualistic cooperation.

Steve Roesler


Doesn't this really fit into our discussions on both blogs regarding "systems" and "thinking systemically?"

The idea that it's "them" seems kind of strange to me. If "I'm" with "you" every day, then there must be something about "us" that we can work on.

Steve Roesler


That response does seem a bit naive at best, eh?

Steve Roesler

Thanks, Michelle,

I'll pull out the post and put the link up...no reason not to have lots of fun with this one:-)

Steve Roesler


Perhaps bobbing for bowling bowls would create a more trusting environment.

Let us know how that works out...

Steve Roesler


You did another brain tweak on me. I hadn't thought of certain "team building" events in the context of acts of desperation; yet looking back through that lens, I can see how many actually fell into that category.

Maybe this is why I've always felt uncomfortable "doing team building". For me, building effective groups is an implicit part of management/worklife. To separate "team building" from "team meeting" simply sends the message: "This is how we should really act but we couldn't really be expected to do it every day." (??!!)

Yes. I have very strong reality-based feelings about this. . .


Good post Steve. I think you need to syndicate this. Mind if I link to it a million times?

It gets worse than this though, doesn't? I find I can't relate the worst that I have seen. I am afraid some "team building experts" are just bullies. I feel my stomach heave at some of the things I have seen.

What is gratifying is when team members protect each other from this type of thing and start to take care of each other within the event! I have also seem warmth and consideration which is amazing.

My "scotch.cart" name is a play on the games we play and are asked to play. Most people chose to be luxury vehicle such as a BMW. I choose to be a Scotch Cart. A push cart that people aspire to own as a first vehicle, usually laden with goods and people and pushed by a whole crowd of little boys.

peter vajda

Hi, Steve, thanks for the provocative post:

In my experience, when folks are not getting along in the workplace, a “team-building experience” is often suggested as a “solution” to the “problem” – that building trust, collegiality, collaboration, mutual-accountability, shared values, friendship, positivity, etc. will somehow arise where is was non-existent.

For example, attempting to build trust, for example, through a process that many folks don’t trust in the first place has its limitations. Hmmm.

Too, using team-building to hopefully deal with deeper personal issues that leak out in the workplace also is most often futile. Perhaps short-term gains, but I want to visit the workplace six months to 18 months down the road to see what really “stuck.” Often, what I experience is a form of recidivism.

When individuals bring their “stuff” to work (and almost everyone does in some way, shape or form), folks don’t get along. They gossip, bully, become disrespectful, mistrusting and mistrustful, become sloppy, frustrated, angry, resistant, hoard information, don’t communicate any more than is required, seek power and control, etc. So, management decides the issue is “the team” and the solution is a “team-building” experience.

This leads to a “team” problem, to be sure, but working at the surface level to create harmony is again, futile - putting a band-aid on a deeper wound, never getting to the individual source of each person’s contribution (e.g., individual interpersonal and intrapersonal dysfunctions, lack of vision, purpose and direction, resistance to change, etc.) to the deeper wound. Deeper solutions cannot be had with a quick ropes course.

Perhaps rather than dealing with the team, one might deal with the individual (perhaps more effectively with a coach) and ask, for example:

1.What is keeping me from doing my best work (i.e., what is it in me and what is it in the organization)?
2.Why is this important to consider?
3.How am I contributing to the “problem” and how am I keeping myself from contributing to the betterment of the team/department/organization?

Team building and some type of “bonding” (if it happens) does not equate to “problem” solving or "team building". It could just as easily lead to team collusion and denial about the “elephants in the room” - but at least we all feel positive, feel “tight”, in our denial, even among folks we don’t like!

Finally, often team building (experiential, such as ropes, etc.) does not work because of the inherent fears and emotions many folks bring with them to the experience - fear of heights, closed places, snakes, fire… due to some childhood trauma that leaks out in the experience. And the implicit or explicit “Get over it on Thursday!” is not an appropriate directive.

For me, team-building as “fun”, as a social experience, as you suggest, can play a superficial part. Team-building as “intervention” hardly ever succeeds.

I like the way you break this down, Steve. Very insightful for me.

Steve Roesler


Well, I was wondering if others had had some of the same experiences in this area as I have had. While I'm not thrilled to know that that is the case, at least I know that other professionals are seeing the same things happen and are equally as concerned.

I like the Scotch Cart story; it reflects much about your approach to people in just a couple of words.

Steve Roesler


As I read and re-read your comment, my mind kept returning to: Accurate diagnosis.

When a manager hires someone from the outside to help with a situation, then that person has an obligation to do a complete diagnostic regardless of what the client(manager) identifies as the issue(s). The dynamic is the same as any counseling dynamic: The client may be there because of an unclear assessment of things. That's quite understandable--sometimes we're so immersed in the issue that we can't see it clearly; certainly not our own part.

You also pointed to the distinction between group dynamics and individual issues. Without some solid probing beforehand, it's impossible to identify what can best be addressed one-on-one and what are "communal" issues. The best team development design won't do anything productive if the real issues are individual or managerial.

Thank you for extending the conversation as far as you have. . .

Rowan Manahan

Hi Steve, So on the money as always. The amount of energy, money and time wasted on this stuff!

My wee tale relates to a wee boss I worked with many years ago, who was all gung-ho about the prospect of a day's paintballing - until he kept coming across conversations along the lines of, "Well I don't care what team I'm on, he is soo getting shot in the back from close range. I hear these things can really hurt ..."

So, the scary guns never materialised, and we spent a sweaty day building rope bridges and learning to abseil.

One of those little lost opportunities I guess ...

Steve Roesler

Ah, Rowan,

It's never too late to gather the old crowd for a special "reunion" with a guest of honor...

Isn't it fascinating how we all seem to have these stories?

Wally  Bock

Great post, Steve, with many fine comments. I've often wondered why business teams find it necessary to do things other than the team's actual work to increase the ability of members to work together. Sports teams don't. Football teams don't practice basketball to get better or go to an offsite and learn to cook.

And then there are those "trust" exercises. If you and I are working together, I don't care much about whether I can trust you to catch me during an exercise, but I sure care, a lot and often, about whether you get your work product to me on time.

Steve Roesler


You know, I enjoyed the comments as much as I did writing the post. This is one of those things that, unfortunately, a lot of us have bumped into along the way.

Your examples of sports teams and what they don't do to get "teamy" is as good an example as any I've seen.

Coincidentally, I'm sitting here putting together a list of questions for a CEO/Senior Exec Team who want to build a "How Are We Doing?" segment into their meeting. They suggested that the focus of the discussion be on how they are really supporting each other in the execution of the company's strategies as well as respectfully challenging each other enough in decision-making sessions. No mention of paintball.

Anne Thornley-Brown, President, Executive Oasis International

BRAVO Steve,

Thank you for this.

I have been writing about this topic for some time now too. I am glad to see that I am not the only one sounding the alarm.

I want to stress the fact that I see nothing wrong with recreation for teams or a day of fun. Companies have been having picnics and parties for ever. This is a good thing but it has it's place. It's great to get the team out of the office for a time of relaxation and bonding, BUT....Some companies seem to have forgotten that a recreational and even frivilous activities and events are not team building. They are replacing team building with activities that are strictly recreational. Team building is about improving team performance and achieving business results as you have rightly pointed out.

I see a number of trends that are disturbing:

- companies participating in strictly recreational events and calling it "team building"

- hotels jumping no the band wagon and dubbing some of their recreational events as team building

- organizations that provide activities like treasure hunts, grape stomping, walking on coals, drumming, and cattle round-ups are passed off these activities as "team building" and marketing them as such

The result, team building comes to be perceived as a frivilous non value added activity that can be cut when tough times come.

It's time companies got a grip so to speak and got back to the basics when it comes to team building. Many organizations have now come to lump these frivilous activities together with bonafide team building and budgets are being slashed. A few years ago, I predicted that this would happen. This is one time that I wish I was wrong. Still, it boggles the mind that, at a time when funds are supposed to be tight, some organizations are still spending money on some of the activities you have described and bypassing business team building that is focused on generating business results and boosting corporate performance.

Steve Roesler

Hello, Anne,

We certainly are of like minds and experiences on this one. And it's always good to know that there is a kindred spirit out there and one also willing to write and speak to the issues.

Agreed on the "fun" part, too, especially if a group simply needs to chill, decompress, or be rewarded for a job well done. Nothing wrong with that.

Our posture now is to educate clients and prospects on the alternatives and the reasons for them. Those of us who are so close to the business of team dynamics and performance sometimes forget that even the best of execs don't have an understanding of the options and their outcomes.

Good to hear from you...

Anne @executiveoasis

Things have ramped up a notch since we last communicated about this. Now it's not enough to BBQ employees's feet and scare them to death with fake hijackings. Check out the latest lunacy in what is being passed off for team building in my latest blog entry:

The Height of Stupidity in Team Building:
Tree Jumping, Base Jumping, What's Next?


You wouldn't believe how some companies are spending their money in the name of team building. It's sheer lunacy.

Ender Berett

From my experience, it's much better to do something more like a company vacation than it is a company event. Not only does it make people appreciate the business's efforts more, but it can be safer. Of course, something mellow, like iron chef team building can be more appropriate, but I believe they are still not quite as effective.

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