team building exercise at work

The Problems with Team Building Exercises 

Reflecting on a venture into team building exercises for your company? Here, we delve into the potential pitfalls when implementing team building initiatives to enhance your work culture.

Is everyone at your company getting along? Do team members easily communicate and feel safe sharing ideas? Is your workplace an innovative environment where people are constantly sharing ideas and creating solutions together?

Maybe things are ok, but you wish there was a more cohesive feeling at your company. People aren’t speaking up in meetings, and few people seem to want to actually interact with each other. 

Or maybe your situation at work is downright toxic. Meetings aren’t marked by awkward silence. Instead, people are yelling at each other. There is no space for ideas to be shared. And former contributors don’t want to even try anymore.

If you're a business leader, team building exercises are probably not new to you. These activities are often seen as a silver bullet to solve workplace issues, enhance communication, and boost morale. However, team building exercises might actually present more problems than solutions. 

At MacklinConnection, we believe in the power of effective team building. Through our programs, we have watched toxic workplaces transform into environments where people not only are able to work together - they actually enjoy it. And this leads to advancements in communication, productivity, and company performance. We are committed to helping you create a work culture where employees feel valued, engaged, and part of a cohesive team.

Ron Macklin created MacklinConnection to address the gaps he saw in team building and apply what he learned about building teams throughout his career. Ron has led teams that set nine world records and won dozens of customer satisfaction awards. At Siemens, he led a support division with 350 employees that worked over 5 million hours without a lost-time injury and was voted “the best place to work in Houston” by the Houston Business Journal. Twice Ron has created a growth culture responsible for increasing profits by $20 million, and has led seven different groups from worst- to best-in-class.

Here, we’ll look at some of the problems with traditional team building exercises, so you can avoid wasting time and resources if this might not be the solution you’re actually needing for your business.

Top 5 Problems with Team Building Exercises

  1. The Perceived Wastage of Time and Resources. One of the most common criticisms of team building exercises is that they are a waste of time and resources. Employees often view these activities as a distraction from their primary responsibilities. And then they might not be “all in” when it comes time for team building. This can lead to resentment and disengagement. This perception is particularly problematic in high-pressure environments where deadlines loom large and employees are wearing multiple hats. Simultaneously, the financial commitment necessary for these exercises can be significant (depending on what style of team building you choose), leading to hesitations about their ROI.

  1. The Band-Aid Solution Myth.There is a prevailing notion that team building exercises are a band-aid solution to deeper, systemic issues. Some employees might perceive these activities as a superficial attempt by leadership to appear concerned without addressing the real problems. This perspective can reduce the effectiveness of these exercises and even lead to increased cynicism among employees. 

  1. The Challenge of Addressing Underlying Issues. Team building exercises can fall short if they do not address the root causes of workplace challenges. An afternoon doing puzzles or an obstacle course won't solve communication breakdowns, lack of respect, or power dynamics issues. These underlying problems require a deeper approach that goes beyond occasional team building activities.

  1. The Risk of Inauthenticity. For team building exercises to be effective, they must be genuine. If employees perceive these activities as insincere, they can backfire, leading to further disengagement. The risk of inauthenticity is particularly high when team building exercises are the sole initiative undertaken to improve workplace culture.

  1. The Difficulty in Measuring Success. Another challenge associated with team building exercises is their success measurement. While it's relatively easy to gauge the immediate response (did employees enjoy the day?), it's much more challenging to measure the long-term impact on communication, morale, and overall work culture.

Making Team Building Work for Your Company

While team building exercises can pose challenges, with a thoughtful approach, you can create a work environment where people actually want to work together. By focusing on how people are actually engaging with each other and learning together how to improve, you can create a positive work culture, improve communication, enhance collaboration, and boost employee morale and productivity. So what are some of the features of an effective team building program?

Building a Foundation for Everyone. When working on team building, start by understanding your organization, your values, and the actual challenges you face as a team. Make sure your team members understand these foundational elements of the company and how they each contribute and add value to the organization. 

Encouraging Open Communication. Team building can open the lines of communication among team members and between employees and management. By promoting open and honest communication, you help create an environment where issues can be addressed proactively, and solutions can be found collaboratively. You don’t want team members to be afraid to share with you or others. This can detract from innovation, problem solving, and engagement. This also involves discovering the importance of listening, as well as recognizing when someone is ready to communicate.

Fostering an Atmosphere of Trust. Team building works best when it is designed to foster long-term trust and mutual respect among team members. When individuals trust each other, they are more likely to collaborate effectively, share ideas, take initiative and work together to problem solve without having to be told to do so. This goes beyond doing ten minutes of trust falls. It involves regular commitment to understanding each other and how to actually connect human-to-human. 

Instilling a Sense of Shared Purpose. A strong team is one where all members feel a sense of shared purpose. Your team building program should aim to instill this sense of shared purpose by highlighting the importance of every team member's role and demonstrating how individual efforts contribute to the team's overall success. 

Should You Invest in Team Building?

If you want to work on communication and engagement with your teams, you might be tempted to invest in team building activities. However, while team building exercises might feel like they are fixing the problem in the moment, if they are not part of a broader, ongoing effort to improve your work culture, you might find things failing to improve.

At MacklinConnection, we understand the potential pitfalls of team building exercises. That's why we adopt a comprehensive approach to workplace culture transformation. Our programs are based on human biology to allow participants to discover how to actually communicate and connect with each other. This fosters trust, dignity, and respect in the workplace.

We believe that team building, when executed correctly, can be a powerful tool to improve communication, morale, and collaboration. If you're ready to embark on this journey and discover the potential of your team, we are here to support you. Schedule a consultation with us, so we can start building better teams together.