The Reason Why Most Team Building Workshops Don’t Work

The Reason Why Most Team Building Workshops Don’t Work

Picture this...

You are participating in a team building workshop and the facilitator challenges your group to get from one side of the conference room to the other, but no one can touch the floor along the way.  You can only stand on a small number of placemats that he has provided.

Your team struggles, argues, tries, fails, plans, and slowly but surely, makes it to the other end of the room. Upon completion (and some high-fives), the facilitator asks your team, “What did you learn from that activity?”

What do you think your answer would be? Perhaps they’ll sound something like this:

We needed to plan more!
We should have selected a leader!
We needed to hear from everyone in the group!
We needed more trust!

Satisfied with your learnings, your group commits to doing all these things back in the workplace.  You go back to work the next day…and nothing changes. 

The reality is that most team building workshops don’t work.  Here’s why:  they provide simple solutions to complex problems and set people up for disappointment and cynicism.

“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong.” (H. L. Mencken)

 

Now picture this…

You are participating in a team building workshop and the facilitator acknowledges that there are no easy answers or simple solutions to how teams work.  Instead, teams need to identify and manage chronic issues and conflicting values that cause dysfunction and division.  She asks your group to list some of the conflicting values you commonly experience.

What do you think your answer would be? Perhaps they’ll sound something like this:

Planning vs. Action
Centralized Coordination vs. Decentralized Freedom
Encouragement vs. Critical Analysis
Embracing Change vs. Preserving Stability

Then, your group commits to keeping these tensions in mind and working hard to manage them in a healthy way.  You go back to work the next day and something amazing happens … you and your team take real steps forward in the path towards effective teamwork!

The issues that cross my desk are hard and complicated, and oftentimes involve the clash not of right and wrong, but of two rights. And you’re having to balance and reconcile against competing values that are equally legitimate.” (Barack Obama)

 

Most team building workshops don’t work because they mistakenly diagnose every team challenge as a simple problem to solve and offer naive solutions that don’t fit with the complexity of the real world. 

To ensure your next team building workshop is a success, you need an experience that helps your team realize that most of the challenges that hold them back are not problems that can be solved, but instead, tensions that need to be managed.  Your team needs an opportunity to develop the skills required to manage tensions in a healthy way.

Team building workshops have a bad reputation and for good reason.  Ensure your next workshop achieves real results by moving beyond simple solution, and allowing your team to tap into the power of healthy tension.

 

 

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Tim Arnold is passionate about helping teams and leaders gain the confidence and skills needed to thrive.  He is the author of the book: The Power of Healthy Tension, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can overcome chronic issues and conflicting values.

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