I Hate Team Building
I hate ‘team building’. Everyone hates ‘team building’. That’s because too often, activities are generic and selected with little consideration for the intricacies of your specific team. This often leads to stale, uninspiring experiences that tick all the boxes, but lack heart and effectiveness. I understand why team building often has a bad rap.
In my past career, I’ve been on countless corporate team events ranging from absolutely amazing to positively painful. While it might be fun to name and shame those bad team building activities, I’d like to focus this writeup on the amazing team building experiences and what made them so powerful, memorable and lasting.
When I look back, the best team building events have included activities that have creatively challenged me and my team to try something new, make a positive impact on the world, or work together in a way that we had never done before.
I was lucky enough to attend a Caesars FAM trip at Lake Tahoe where the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity was cleaning up a creek bed through The Nature Conservancy. The main purpose was not to ‘build’ a team, rather, it was simply to help clear a creek. However, the byproduct of this was an incredible bonding experience between the entire team. The people that I worked with in the dust and the rain became my friends, and we created a connection through this shared, and challenging experience. There was an element of humor and fun in the midst of all the hard work too – including my falling into the creek, which we’ll always laugh about. Doing something strenuous and at the same time valuable left an extremely meaningful impression and provided us all with a great sense of accomplishment.
At MPI’s WEC in Las Vegas I had the opportunity to work with a group of people I’d never met before to build a prosthetic hand. As a group we were only able to use one hand each, forcing us to work together while developing a stronger empathy for the recipients of the devices we were creating. While we were working, we were talking about our jobs, lives, and personal passions, and without ever consciously thinking about it, we were strengthening bonds with each other. Odyssey Team is the company behind this project and deserves a huge shout out for their efforts.
I first experienced SongDivision in 2008 when a New York media company I was working for hired SongDivision for a sales conference in Miami. We were split into 3 teams and each tasked with writing our own song. Just like the Lake Tahoe CSR activity, this experience took our team to a different place, was creatively challenging, left a lasting impression, and gave us a strong sense of accomplishment. Needless to say, I was hooked.
I quickly forgot that I was involved in a ‘team building’ activity and my primary focus shifted to creating an amazing song with my team. We were all so engaged that we couldn’t get our ideas out fast enough – even the traditionally ‘quiet’ people on our team were fully involved and our song was a true culmination of all of our efforts.
When it came to performing – you couldn’t stop us. I hate singing. I hate being on stage – my palms sweat, I shake and I can’t shake the constant urge to throw up. I’ve tried singing lessons, toastmasters – everything, but alas I’m unfixable. However, in this context – you couldn’t stop me. You couldn’t stop any of us. We were so proud of the song that we had created, we wanted to perform it loud and proud. And perform it we did! In the safety of the group, we sung together, dance moves and all!
Building a team does not need to be stale and uninspiring. If it is done right, it can be magical, powerful, and memorable. It starts with understanding your team and the challenges you’re trying to overcome, and selecting something interesting and different that encourages everyone to work together toward a common goal. Make sure it is something all of your team can do (physically), that it isn’t weather dependent (or there is a back up plan), and ensure that it takes them out of their comfort zone so that they can experience something new together – this is what creates powerful memories. Most importantly, make sure the you choose a provider with the experience and knowhow to get you there.
Explore team building experiences to unite your company.