Why Do Team Building – When you can just take your team out for lunch?! (Intelligent Team Building)

Why team building can backfire, and how to ensure it is a worthwhile investment - using intelligent team building and not just childish activities

Written by Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant

Intelligent team building program Sky is Not The Limit
More than a trip to space, Tirian's The Sky is Not the Limit uses research from NASA & game theory to show the value of real collaboration across mutually dependant players. Tirian's On Thin Ice & On Shifting Sands – uses research from extreme explorers in Antarctica & isolated Bedouin tribes in the Arabian Peninsula to explore high performing & virtual teams at work.

A stinging article appeared in a major newspaper describing why some team building exercises can be a waste of time. A poll referred to in the article revealed that only 5% of the people surveyed say team building programs are effective, 68% say they are not effective, and 27% say it depends on the activity. When considering these apparently damning results, though, it is critical to consider how team building is being defined. In the article they are referring to what we would call 'team games', such as Amazing Race, Master Chef, paintball and golf. Comments and blogs related to the article reinforced the survey’s findings, with several indicating, "Don't waste company’s valuable money, just buy lunch!" But building a team could and should be much more than simply playing games together.

We agree that many organizations might be wasting money on 'team games' where the participants may have fun but the activities are often contrived and the learning outcomes can be minimal. Instead, we believe, organizations should focus on 'team development' programs that are targeted, relevant, authentic and educationally oriented. Consider the three levels of team approaches we identify when discussing needs with a client.

These can help to define what the real needs of the group are in order to ensure an intervention program achieves the desired outcomes:

  1. Recreational Team Building: Designed to change the way people feel (to entertain, re-energize, relax, re-create, socialize, teach and learn new skills)
  2. Educational Team Building: Designed to change the way people feel and think (to gain awareness of needs, to add knowledge of new concepts, to understand new ways to look at old or familiar concepts)
  3. Developmental Team Building: Designed to change the way people feel, think, and behave (by increasing positive functional behavior, by improving interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships)

Why do a lot of team building programs not work?

Unfortunately, and all too often, this deeper level is not sought after nor reached. Real learning or transformation can be prevented by:

  1. a lack of reflection (defeating awareness)
  2. the presence of resistance (defeating intent)
  3. barriers to supporting transfer (defeating maintenance) Simply playing a game (often childish) is not team building even if the team plays it together.

However a group activity can become 'experiential' (an experience-based learning opportunity) when elements of reflection, support and transfer are added to the base experience, and of course where the base experience has credibility. Psychology Melbourne senior psychologist Campbell Thompson says team events are a waste of time if they're badly planned or don't have a specific organisational outcome in mind. Too many are arranged in the spirit of, "Oh God, got to do an annual away day", he says, while others fail to consider the individual differences and needs of group members.

Trust falls gone wrong, and the real instrument of change

Play the movie to see a trust fall gone horribly wrong.

One of the most basic team building exercises, one which many of us would have participated in as kids, is still used today: the trust fall (falling backwards with your eyes closed, trusting that someone who has been positioned behind you will catch you). But trust without clear communication can be counter-productive, and sometimes even downright dangerous.

Even a simple activity like a ‘trust fall’ can be utilised on many levels if the learning experience is designed correctly.

  • At the basic level an activity or problem solving challenge can simply be used to engage and motivate attendees and to get them mingling (RECREATIONAL).
  • At the next level the activity or challenge can be used to demonstrate the value of teamwork and to introduce new team strategies (EDUCATIONAL).
  • Once the benefit of teaming is evident, an activity can be used to actually build new teams and develop individual skills (DEVELOPMENTAL).
  • Lastly, if one group is not getting along very well-if they withhold information, sabotage change efforts, and distrust one another-- the organisation can use similar challenges to help them become more aware and effective in their work (REDIRECTIONAL).

In these examples, the facilitation methods used to introduce and reflect on the experiences (not the action events themselves) are the instruments of change.

Why team building can miss the point

Many people miss the point when they choose a team building program. The activity itself should not be the core focus, but should instead be seen as the means to achieving a specific outcome. So before jumping in to what may sound like a fun and exciting activity, it pays to clearly identify the outcomes desired and even go further deeper to assess the team's current performance and future needs.

  • Does the team need rewarding for a good run (turnover)?
  • Do they need motivation after a tough year?
  • Or will it be important to overcome personality clashes and team politics?
  • Is the goal to release the team from bureaucratic responsibilities for a time and to inspire them to be creative and innovative?
  • Or to help them to take advantage of different skills and strengths within the team and create alignment?
  • Or perhaps the goal is to develop leadership?
  • To understand virtual or cross cultural team challenges and talk through them in a safe environment?
  • Perhaps the focus may be on helping the team identify its purpose and roles (vision mission values)?

Effective 'team building' that is really strategic 'team development' must be intelligent in content as well as stimulating in approach, and it needs to really connect with and directly address the individual and team needs of the group.

How is it possible to design a team building session that works??

The typical response of individuals to the prospect of having to participate in a team building exercise has, by one jaded observer, been described as a ‘groaning’ response. Some feel they have been ‘been-there-and-done-that’, while others are concerned about taking out valuable time from their day (playing games) to do something that they feel is irrelevant. Some people reluctantly participate out of a fear of being seen to not conform, but they do so with hidden contempt. In these cases the team building program can be in danger of backfiring. Through innovative simulations and engaging facilitation positive intervening experiences can and should be created. When professionally designed, these experiences can break down the barriers and provide unique leadership and team development opportunities and outcomes.

Intelligent team building program Ramayana RescueMuch more than just dress up, rafting and fun in the sun. Tirian's Ramayana Rescue is a famous Balinese mythological story played out by the participates, and then used as a metaphor for collaboration across siloed teams.

Ramayana Rescue video trailer promo. The ultimate team building experience. Exclusively designed and delivered by Tirian. Available in Bali, Malaysia, Dubai and other select locations under license from Tirian.

Tirian's signature Bali program The Village Celebration. Whilst building a Balinese village participants discover  from another culture the ways people can work together and create communities that ultimately build a transformational culture.

So how, exactly is this achieved?:

1) Check the group is 100% on board (challenge by choice) Example: We once had a boss want to run an adventure based program, but he assumed that everyone would want to do what he did (a common mistake). He didn’t realise some people just don’t like running around chasing clues or being physically challenged. After a number of complaints the adventure idea was ditched. We ended up in an exclusive luxury resort in Japan where one of the unique cultural elements was to sleep on the floor! As this experience was so culturally different from anything else the team had been involved in, the desired goal to create a ‘unique’ experience that would challenge the team was achieved. We created a 3 day program around this event that really broke down the barriers and achieved incredible outcomes. Solution: Taking people slightly outside their comfort zone does have benefits as it can challenge individuals to examine their behaviours, (with no hierarchy) but not to the point of discomfort where individuals feel coerced or threatened. Choose activities that all are comfortable enough with and all can participate willingly in.  

2) Ensure the facilitators are skilled
Example: We recently ran a program with a skilled PhD trained facilitator from McKinsey – as she explained, facilitators at her level can spend hours just crafting a single question to ensure that the team can gain a major insight from the experience, and then adapt their behavior as a result. For the activity to have meaning there needs to be a learning outcome where some insight dawns on the participant in a way they will never forget, as it’s connected to the experience. Like a good chef, this goes way beyond simply knowing the individual ingredients to being able to design the final professional creation (a carefully blended combination). This is not the sort of experience where a university student tells a team to open the next clue, and then asks them 'how they feel about it'. Solution: Ensure that the facilitators for the program are qualified and experienced. Inexpensive and inexperienced facilitators might save on the day’s budget, but the real cost is wasting the participants’ time if an activity cannot be properly framed, contextualized and debriefed.  

3) Ensure the program is both intelligent and relevant Example: The danger with the 'Amazing Race' type exercises is that these programs tend to be linear with shallow content, and whilst fun, the time invested is often not worth the outcome. This easily leads to the 'groaning' /contempt effect. Solution: Ensure the program content is intelligent and relevant: good team building should have an authentic theme to make it memorable, with intelligent and relevant facts and case studies related to the theme. As an example, one of our most popular programs which uses this strategy is ‘ON THIN ICE’. The program is a simulated expedition to Antarctica, with lots of video footage and interesting facts and information about the challenges faced by actual Antarctic expeditions. During the simulation a variety of issues related to virtual and cross cultural team challenges, leadership challenges, communication challenges and so on quickly surface. With careful questioning and framing, the real issues can be effectively and professionally dealt with. To add some inspiration, we often invite a polar expeditioner in to share first-hand stories of the challenges individuals and teams face in these high pressured situations, and the leadership skills needed to survive.  

4) Focus on the key outcome rather the activity / venue – creating high performance collaborative teams

Example: A client once came to us asking to design a highly competitive team building program. When we enquired about the desired outcome, we were told ‘collaboration’. Even the question was being answered, the client began to see the irony. This client was focusing on the activity rather than the outcome.

Most work teams would struggle with the ambiguity of collaboration in a culture that breeds self-survival and competition. And yet the productivity of a work group often ultimately depends on how the group members see their own goals in relation to the goals of the organisation. As 4 out of 9 people struggle with successful collaboration in the workplace, this should be a key focus of any team development program. Solution: Team building programs need to be engaging and exciting, but not at the expense of reaching what must be the key goal of any team development program – collaboration. Simply participating in a collaborative exercise will also not be enough. Anyone can collaborate when they need to and when the conditions are controlled. The experiential learning opportunity created should drive home the need for true collaboration no matter how challenging the circumstances.

Simulation for success

In most organisations employees are required to make more complex decisions more quickly, with fewer resources and no margin for error. Becoming good at this necessitates something few people have - opportunities to practice. Musicians, actors and athletes wouldn't dream of performing without extensive practice. But how do business people practice? Mostly they end up making learning by trial and error. But learning from real mistakes can get expensive - both for the company and for the people who make them.

Simulations create a "virtual practice field" that allows individuals and teams to test assumptions and experiment with ideas without having to suffer financial reversals or career setbacks. So what does effective team building do? Peter Senge says that companies need to create practice places where Issues that arise in the work place can be isolated and focused on. This enables the team to see the consequences of particular actions and Incidents that can occur very rapidly in the workplace, and ensure they can be examined in more detail. The complexities of the everyday working environment can be simplified and analysed.  Actions and attitudes that cannot be reversed or taken back in the real world can be re-tried countless times in a protected environment. IF the participants are successfully brought on board, the environment is favourable, the content intelligent, the method educational, the facilitator skilled, and the focus correct… team building experiences can be high impact and highly transformational. As Plato has so cleverly identified, "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.” Ensure the experience is well designed and planned, and you can ensure great success.

Intelligent team building program The Chocolate Factory
Intelligent team building program The Chocolate Factory Dive as deep as you like from the fun. Tirian's famous “The Chocolate Factory” is an engaging example of a fun program where teams must compete to create the fastest most effective Chocolate Factory that is both customer centric and employee engaging. However before the fun is over, it seamlessly segues into a team discussion about their current customer focus and employee engagement levels, complete with behavioural action plans.

Intelligent in Content AND Stimulating in Approach

  • Intelligent team building involves the deliberate use of action events and facilitated reflection to bring about lasting change and learning.
  • Intelligent team building helps leaders and teams to reflect on and find real solutions to their business issues. Through innovative simulations & engaging facilitation we create positive intervening experiences which break down barriers and provide unique leadership and team development opportunities and outcomes.
  • Intelligent team building involves the deliberate use of authentic experiences and facilitated reflection to create a lasting impact. Intelligent team building doesn't just provide clients with one extreme of light fun experiences or the other extreme of straight dry skills training, we introduce stimulating educational processes that lead to real transformation.

Intelligent team building  creates ‘practice fields’ or ‘virtual worlds’ enabling participants to see: Issues that arise in the work place over a long period of time can be isolated and focused on to see more clearly the consequences of particular actions. Incidents that occur very rapidly can be examined in detail to study more carefully. Actions and attitudes that cannot be reversed or taken back in the real world can be re-tried countless times in a protected environment. The complexities of the everyday working environment can be simplified and analysed. (Senge)

100 C team building intelligent level participants
100 C- level participants 100% of them 100%  engaged with 10/10 feedback. Good design and facilitation provides the stimulus to encourage the group to discover the answers.  This highly innovative and interactive program “Who Killed Creativity?”  provides an opportunity for participants to identify the potential psychological and cultural blocks to innovative thinking, and to develop critical and creative thinking skills.  It uses a CSI theme with an investigative ‘detective’ approach to make the learning memorable, and identify challenges, whilst underneath being a diagnostic tool and then finding solutions.

About authors

Team Building Intelligent Gaia GrantTeam Building Intelligent Andrew Grant

Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant have been designing intelligent team building programs for over 20 years. Their programs are used globally by many MNC  companies. They are the directors of Tirian Consultancy, and authors of the breakthrough books The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game and ‘Who Killed Creativity?... And How Can We Get it Back?. Andrew and Gaia have been engaged by market innovation leaders to help create a culture of innovation including: Google – working at their HQ in the US to introduce future solutions thinking; Nestle (Switzerland) – facilitating a workshop on sustainable solutions for emerging markets at the HQ; Large finance institutions (international) – assisting them with dealing with changes to the regulations; Four Seasons Hotels (Canada & international) – preparing the executive team and all GMs to embrace the potential future of the hospitality industry; Disney (HK) - creating compelling ideas to use for marketing, and Mercedes (Germany and APAC) with brand positioning. They have presented keynotes at major international conferences including: TEDx (HK), APEC CEO Summit, World Presidents / Young Presidents Organisation Global Edge (Aust), The World Innovation Conference (France), HR Summit (Singapore), and EGOS (Denmark) and consistently receive top rankings for their presentations. The Grants have authored over 30 corporate educational resources, simulations and programs that are used by Fortune 500 companies and are sold under license worldwide. Gaia is conducting PhD research into the role of culture change and transformation in sustainable innovation at the University of Sydney Business School, where she is also a lecturer. Gaia also has an MSc (in Creative Leadership), a Grad Dip in change leadership, and BA Dip Ed, BD (hons). As professional full time presenters, Gaia and Andrew know how to engage an audience and provide actionable outcomes.

Media:


 

Our Best Selling Intelligent Team Building Programs (Hand Picked)

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Team Building Program: On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

Dealing with the pressures faced by diverse teams in challenging scenarios - creating common perspectives and language to streamline communication across barriers

A dramatic themed program that simulates an expedition to Antarctica to look at the effects of pressure on teams

The Sky is not the Limit

Exploring potential for maximum individual and team performance

A fascinating simulated journey into outer space, where teams are required to travel beyond the known boundaries of simple group behavior to discover the potential of effective team networking through a series of simple but challenging exercises or ‘missions’

Team Building Program: Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory

Discover how to find innovative solutions and improve systems and processes in your own organization.

A unique experiential learning hands on exercise. It simulates the problems of a non-productive company, and addresses the issues of customer dissatisfaction, low staff morale, and failing organizational processes.

Team Building Program: The Creative Appliance Project

The Creative Appliance Project

Understanding and communicating the organizational values and vision

Designing, building and marketing a new appliance in an ‘Apprentice’ style project which focuses on finding the identifying features of the organization and representing them through the product

Team Building Program: Take 2

Take 2

Utilizing story as a means of changing organizational culture

An energetic interactive program that provides the opportunity for participants to create their own movie representation of the company culture

PERSONAL COMPETENCE

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

The Sky is not the Limit

Exploring potential for maximum individual and team performance

A fascinating simulated journey into outer space, where teams are required to travel beyond the known boundaries of simple group behavior to discover the potential of effective team networking through a series of simple but challenging exercises or ‘missions’

Team Building Program: WhoDunIt

WhoDunIt

Recognizing the individual’s roles and responsibilities in the context of a team

 

A hilarious murder mystery session run by professional actors in which participants work together in teams to solve clues and learn more about themselves and others in the process

Team Building Program: Lateral Sports

Lateral Sports

Developing mental strategies for maximizing potential

An interactive sports challenge which assists with finding the ‘links’ between personal competence and performance

GROUP SYNERGY

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Team Building Program: On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

Dealing with the pressures faced by diverse teams in challenging scenarios - creating common perspectives and language to streamline communication across barriers

A dramatic themed program that simulates an expedition to Antarctica to look at the effects of pressure on teams

Team Building Program: On Shifting Sands

On Shifting Sands

The desert challenge for contemporary teams. Is the future of the new team 'on shifting sands'? Contemporary teams face increasingly difficult challenges and require extra cohesion.

An exciting themed program challenge that simulates an expedition across the desert to look at the effects of pressure on diverse teams. (Note: this program is the outdoor version of "On Thin ICE")

Team Building Program: What Happened to Wat

What Happened to Wat?

Building sustainable teams & organisations who are revaluating their growth & proactively assessing a stalled downturn scenario strategy

A complex team puzzle challenge based on historical accounts from the ancient era of Angkor Wat involving cooperative negotiation and collaborative problem solving

Team Building Program: No One is an Island

No One is an Island

Encouraging team awareness and developing teamwork strategies

Developing survival strategies through participating in simple physical initiative exercises in a ‘deserted island’ environment to achieve effective teamwork

Team Building Program: Village Celebrations

Village Celebrations

Identifying the elements of community and defining corporate identity and building community support within the organization

An opportunity to explore the dimensions of corporate culture and community through recreating the elements of a unified authentic Balinese celebration

Team Building Program: The Ramayana Rescue

The Ramayana Rescue

Creating a unified combined outcome through coordinating efforts within and between teams

A colorful ‘cultural adventure’ that involves coordinating the re-enactment of famous cultural myths through designing, building and racing traditional devices

LEADERSHIP TASK PERFORMANCE

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Team Building Program: Take 2

Take 2

Utilizing story as a means of changing organizational culture

An energetic interactive program that provides the opportunity for participants to create their own movie representation of the company culture

Team Building Program: The Creative Appliance Project

The Creative Appliance Project

Understanding and communicating the organizational values and vision

Designing, building and marketing a new appliance in an ‘Apprentice’ style project which focuses on finding the identifying features of the organization and representing them through the product

Team Building Program: Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory

Discover how to find innovative solutions and improve systems and processes in your own organization.

 

A unique experiential learning hands on exercise. It simulates the problems of a non-productive company, and addresses the issues of customer dissatisfaction, low staff morale, and failing organizational processes.

Team Building Program: Who Killed Creativity

Who Killed Creativity? ™
( The Creative Connection Foundations )

Does school kill creativity? Do people lose creative ability over time, and is our education system the culprit?

 

Match your knowledge against that of the latest brain research and sociological experts to see "Who killed creativity" and find out how we can get it back?

Team Building Program: Catch Me if you Dare

Catch Me if you Dare

Understanding the need for crisis awareness , and developing strategies for managing individuals and teams in crisis situations

A realistic, fast paced and intellectually demanding simulation exercise designed to promote dialogue and assist individuals with understanding the issues related to crisis and reputation management

Team Building Program: The Community Construction

The Community Construction
Project

Building awareness of the need for practical support within the organization and creating systems for support

A program which encourages positive supporting values by building equipment and/or structures for developing communities in need

Team Building Program: Endangered

Endangered

Setting and achieving goals while coping with change

Jungle themed initiative activities involving tribal competitors which focus on learning effective planning and multi-tasking to achieve set goals

 

List of Intelligent Workshops & Seminars for Corporations

Our Best Selling Workshops & Seminars (Hand Picked)

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Dynamic Interaction I

Discovering your unique personality profile

A unique self-discovery process exploring individual behavior styles as revealed by the DISC profiling tool.

Mission Possible

Building a united vision

Forming a positive vision and mission strategy through examining core values in a creative and collaborative context

CSI: Creative Scene Investigation

CSI (Creative Scene Investigation)

Developing an innovative culture

Unlocking individual and team creativity and building an innovative culture through a sequential seven step discovery process with unique concepts and practical applications

The Collaboration Concept

From coexistence to full cooperation

An interactive introduction to the essential concepts of teamwork and collaboration for maximum results

PERSONAL COMPETENCE

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Dynamic Interaction I

Discovering your unique personality profile

A unique self-discovery process exploring individual behavior styles as revealed by the DISC profiling tool.

The EQ Quest

Increasing emotional intelligence

Understanding the importance of EQ and knowing how to build it in leaders and teams for developing effective organizations

Resilience for Sustainable Performance / Ultimate Optimism

Boosting positive thought strategies

Practical thought strategies for improving personal and interpersonal satisfaction and effectiveness

The Life Rhythm

Finding a balanced lifestyle

Building a balanced lifestyle and finding positive personal engagement strategies through managing energy levels effectively

GROUP SYNERGY

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Dynamic Interaction II

Discovering unique connections in teams

Using the DISC profiling tool to identify team strengths and weaknesses through team profile graph charting

Mission Possible

Building a united vision

Forming a positive vision and mission strategy through examining core values in a creative and collaborative context

The Collaboration Concept

From coexistence to full cooperation

An interactive introduction to the essential concepts of teamwork and collaboration for maximum results

The Collaboration Deception

Part of full Collaboration Concept program suite

How leaders can bring more a collaborative approach to a naturally competitive environment

The Communication Package

Connecting with others across barriers

Developing positive communication strategies through appreciating the challenges of connecting across potential barriers

The Conflict Code

Managing disagreements effectively

Learning the triggers for conflict and tools for practical conflict resolution through analyzing and reflecting on potential conflict situations

The Reality of Virtual Teams

Relating across barriers

Recognizing the unique challenges of virtual and international teams and learning how to deal with these through participating in targeted experiential exercises

LEADERSHIP TASK PERFORMANCE

 

Program Outcomes

Program Description

Dynamic Interaction III

Discovering unique client connections

Using the DISC profiling tool to help identify internal and external client needs and relate to these more effectively in order to improve client relations

Building The
Corporate Village

Developing a corporate identity to cope with change

Introducing the concept of focusing on building supporting communities rather than empires in order to cope with the challenges of change.

Inventing the Future: The Leader as a Story Teller

The stories leaders share about the organization

Why does Coke taste better when you know its Coke? What did stories tell us about Enron and the Subprime credit crunch before they tanked? Are Dilbert’s Kafkaesque bureaucratic mission statements more genuine than yours?

Inspiring Leadership

Enhancing leadership potential

Discovering contemporary principles of proactive leadership through specific analysis of case studies and practical applications

CSI: Creative Scene Investigation

CSI (Creative Scene Investigation)

Developing an innovative culture

Unlocking individual and team creativity and building an innovative culture through a sequential seven step discovery process with unique concepts and practical applications

Inter/active Presentations

Mastering the art of dynamic presentations

Learning the art of making an impact in presentations through connecting with people. and mastering these skills in focused presentation sessions with targeted individualized feedback

 

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