Wednesday, May 18

Does Teambuilding Work? 

The effectiveness of various corporate team-building programs ranges from
extremely impactful... to a complete waste of time and money. In the worst
cases, hastily thrown together or poorly thought-through programs can cause
WORSE team performance than before!

Success always has to be measured against the goals of the event. Is the
goal simply to have fun? Blow off steam? Bond? Or is there a more structured
purpose, such as to reduce conflict, enhance collaboration, improve
performance, lead more effectively, or increase sales?

In my experience, companies go for one of three types of team-building

Type 1. Experiential programs, challenge courses, outdoor adventures
(kayaking, orienteering, 'Survivor' themed events).

These are great for a fun outing, to blow off some steam, or as a reward or
celebration for a job well done. These are completely wrong for long-term
development because there is NO transfer of skills or business tools to use
back on the job. Transfer of learning is almost nil, and so is long-term

Type 2. Communications-oriented, behavior style or assessment-based seminars,
such as Myers-Briggs training, DISC, and Platinum Rule.

These are great for what I call "one-shot enlightenment," and the main
benefit is that the outcomes of these events are directly relevant to
day-to-day work in the office, so the transfer of learning is high. People
leave with some very basic "Aha!" moments and a new vocabulary with which to
deal with conflict, communications, and collaborative issues as they come up
in the context of doing real work. The downside: one-time training has no
reinforcement and long-term, people may remember their own type ("I'm an
ISTJ, what are you?") without remembering the key points of how to USE this
information in practical ways to get things done.

Type 3. Long-term development programs that span anywhere from 8 weeks to a full year. These can be in-house programs, branded programs from companies like Dale Carnegie, or custom programs from leading business schools or executive education firms.

These are great for both quick hits in performance along the way AND
long-term development and growth. The main benefit is that this kind of
teambuilding is a process and not an event. Spaced learning ensures
retention, and in-context application of learning happens throughout the

There are some truly wonderful programs of this type, including the 10-week
Stanford Creativity in Business program that I teach. Programs of this type usually have 3-5 days of live seminar time combined with pre-work, reading assignments,
self-paced software or web modules, telephone conference calls, group
coaching, and peer collaboration on "live" projects during the course of the
program. Transfer of learning is seamless, because participants are working
on real issues from Day 1.

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