Why Team Building Workshops Don’t Work

Posted by Joseph Sherren on May 5, 2015

For years, many organizations jumped on the band wagon of team training. But, does it stick? In my experience – it does not.

When you think of team building, do you picture your group off at a resort playing games or hanging from ropes? This is how many organizations approach team building. Then, they wonder why that wonderful team spirit failed to change behaviors back at work!

I’m not averse to retreats, planning sessions, seminars or team building activities – in fact I lead them. But, they have to be part of a larger culture shift.

I am not saying there is no value to getting employees together for a fun day and a break from the office routine. Events that relieve stress, where staff can let their hair down, and reinforce relationships, are always good. But, team building workshops do not build cohesive teams, or create a culture of collaboration within an organization. There are a number of reasons for this.

One is conditioning. In North America, most institutions such as schools, family structures and sports programs emphasize competing, being the best and winning. Workers are rarely raised in environments that emphasize true collaboration.

Another issue is compensation. Most organizations, especially sales, remuneration is designed for individuals to compete. I often laugh when managers refer to “our sales team”. They are not teams; they are groups, and often dysfunctional groups at best. Sales people are recognized for achieving better results than their buddies. Now I am not saying healthy competition is bad. I am saying recognition should be team based, with the team itself recognizing the individuals who contributed most to their success.

But, the biggest inhibitor to creating a team culture is the obsolete Annual Performance Appraisal. Most I have seen are designed to pit employees against each other. Not only is it an outdated subjective process, it causes relationship issues between managers and employees.

Then, to add insult, some organizations even force managers to fit all employees on a bell-curve, which totally destroys any inkling of integrity the process may have originally intended. It is hard to believe companies maintain this dinosaur, when all studies show it is not working for anyone.

Some companies say that they have made improvements, which is great. But, they are trimming at the bushes of a flawed system. It has to be pulled up by the roots and replaced with a constructive, collaborative, coaching process. Some will say – but how do you pay people without it? There are many solutions for this. But, the simple answer is, pay people for what they do, not what some subjective appraisal bell-curve process says. A few companies are implementing ROW (Results only Work). Make compensation team based, if you really want a collaborative culture.

The other excuse I get is – but what if I need to terminate someone? Well, that is a lame CYA (cover your derriere) activity. It forces over 95% of your good managers and employees through a painful encounter because some manager was too lazy to do effective on-going constructive coaching. Deal with that. Have a system of coaching that is designed to help people improve performance, or help them find a position which is more in alignment with their talents, skills, and personality.

My question for managers this week: “Are you providing regular on-going constructive coaching that helps employees increase performance, in a culture where staff can work in true collaboration as a high performing team?



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