And You Call That Team Building???

It has happened again.  Someday I hope to get off of this rant about everyone calling everything team building but until then I feel compelled to continue to educate people on the importance of really checking into the qualification of team building providers.

A friend of the family works at a dentist’s office and once a year they go on an outing together that they refer to as team building.  She has suggested Signature Teambuilding and Challenge Discovery in the past but the dentist thinks it is too expensive and the other people in the office think it might be too “hard.”  I can hear what you are saying right now…you have a problem with how people perceive your business.  There might be some truth to that and I’ll get to that in another post.

So for this dentist’s office team building event they chose to go to a local establishment (name withheld) that advertises itself as an art studio that also sells or pours wine so basically you can get together with a group of friends and drink some wine or spirits and do some painting or other art project.  Kind of an interesting idea.  I can imagine people in our area enjoying something like this on a Friday night with some friends, etc.  Heck, I might even enjoy trying it sometime.  The problem is here is how they present themselves…this comes directly off of the website:

No risky rope swings. No boring seminars. No ridiculous games. Your newest team building exercise involves creativity, relaxation and art. Yes, art – even for those who think they can only paint by numbers (or not at all).

Savvy business owners, corporate HR directors and nonprofit execs are engaging XXXXXXXX  for hands-on team building sessions.

Participants pick up a paint brush and follow easy-to-understand steps from a knowledgeable facilitator who guides the intersection of work and art. Through the team process, colleagues begin to break downs walls, build up camaraderie and share fulfillment of a job well done—all with the right mix of humor and fun. And as a lasting memento, each has their own “masterpiece” to take back to the office.

OK, so maybe I take offense to the “risky rope swings” comment.  Bottom line this IS NOT how it goes.  My friend described it this way (and by the way, she has never been a participant in our programs at Signature Teambuilding or Challenge Discovery), “They poured each of us a glass of wine and there were some snacks.  They gave everyone a paintbrush and canvas and we tried to paint something.  There was no interaction, no guided experience, no purpose.  I couldn’t figure out how this was supposed to be a team building event.”

I wasn’t surprised.  As I’ve said before, anyone can do just about any kind of an event and call it team building just to attract the corporate dollar.  So after thinking about this for a little while I started to think about how it actually could become a team building event.

1.  What if people were blindfolded and instructed to paint something that was being described to them?  How effective was their communication process?  How could it have been better?  What are the communication challenges at work that are similar to being blindfolded or giving instructions?

2.  What if everyone was given the opportunity to paint or draw anything they want for 5 minutes and then after time was up, they pass the painting to the next person and they contribute something for 5 minutes, etc.  How do everyone’s contributions add to the collective whole?  What happens when everyone doesn’t share the same mental model?

3.  What if everyone painted a part of something that would end up being much larger than their own individual piece.  Perhaps creating a mural of some kind.  How does your piece fit into the big picture?

These ideas, these questions, this kind of thoughtfulness is really what creates a worthwhile team building program.  It’s not really about the activity, although I’m sure I have seen more lives literally changed through our ropes course experiences than this studio will ever see changed with a paint brush and a glass of wine.  It is truly about the intent to design activities that help people re-think the way they do their work and interact with other people on a team.  It is about becoming acutely aware of your own behavior and how it affects your work and the people you work with.

So, I continue to be frustrated by these companies that loosely throw around the word team building and I will continue to fight for the purity and value of what I believe real team building experiences are and what they are intended to do.

p.s.  I hope they read this and incorporate my ideas into their corporate events.  I am not trying to squelch the competition, I am just trying to maintain the value of team building experiences.