Last week I participated in a friend’s birthday adventure I won’t soon forget. In a secluded warehouse in the Toronto port lands we spent the evening throwing axes at Backyard Axe Throwing League. www.batl.ca/. I’d heard a fair bit of hype about this team-building trend from my students and clients, but have to confess, before throwing my first axe I didn’t really get it.
The activity starts with some instruction on technique and strategy and a few practice throws. Then our group was broken up for a round robin tournament with these words, “The people who came as your friends are now your enemies. There are no friends in axe throwing.” Yikes! But after one throw, I was hooked and hungry for the elusive bulls-eye. Axe throwing is strangely gratifying and I highly recommend you try it.
In the corporate world we’re always on a quest for new and exciting options for team-building events. I think there’s a naïve belief that if we do something fun and cool, this will instantly make our corporate culture fun and cool.
Over the years I’ve done many different team-building events ranging from a sales conference where we went on a pub-crawl through downtown Toronto dressed as Star Trek characters, sailing with Olympians, naval drowning simulation exercises and helicopter rides around the Isle of Wight. While I found these activities were memorable and fun the most lasting impact was a few juicy stories. I’m not truly convinced they actually fostered the intended camaraderie or yielded stronger teams.
It’s important to understand the fundamental reasons why plucking employees from the office and giving them a unique experience won’t magically create a stronger, more cohesive team once they return to the office.
New activity, same interaction
We are creatures of habit. If put in a new environment employees will continue to socialize in their nested cliques of familiar colleagues and not typically interact with anyone new.
Loose lips seed resentment
If there’s alcohol involved, as there so often is, this fuels forthright and unfiltered conversation, which may seem like a good idea in the moment, but is typically usurped byregret. Don’t set up situations where the morning after includesheadaches and awkwardness about what was said and done instead of fostering the camaraderie you were hoping for.
Fun + tension = greater tension
If there is a tense dynamic between colleagues, taking them to a fun environment and forcing them to work together doesn’t make them work better, it typically makes tension rise.
Be prepared to see your colleagues’ true colours
One of the biggest team-building failures I’ve ever participated in was the naval drowning simulation. I found myself under extreme circumstances inside a metal tanker in waist-deep freezing water. We were paired in teams and I was tasked with holding my partner under water as he hammered wooden wedges to stop the leaking ship. Seriously. To heighten the situation, we had limited time, sirens were going off and fire hoses were forcing water into the tanker. It was utter chaos. The extreme stress took a toll on my colleague and instead of stepping up to the challenge he panicked and bailed on the scenario. He was never quite able to look me in the eye again.
I’m not trying to be the fun police here. I believe creative activities are a great way to reward a team. But don’t have false expectations that exciting activities magically build strong teams or fix tensions between colleagues. Fun activities are just that – fun.
If you want to build a strong team, you’ve got to do the hard work, invest the time to have honest and real conversations, deal with conflict as it arises and spend time building an authentic environment of trust, honesty and open communication.
In the spirit of building strong teams Spark Toronto has an entire track of speakers dedicated to Unleashing People. Join us at the Ontario Science Centre for a day of learning practical tools to unleash the people and teams within your company. Or better yet, come with your entire team and empower everyone to be part of the process. And best of all, when the work is done and your brain is bursting with new ideas you can reward your team with some FUN at the Science Centre exhibits.
It’s the best of both worlds really. And in case you’re wondering, the big silver ball that makes your hair stand on end is still there, Level 6 in the Science Arcade.
See you there! It’s going to be a lot of fun. I promise.