Team building is understood as events and activities that are supposed to improve teamwork, relationships, and ultimately team performance.

While this sounds good in itself, the reality often misses to deliver on these goals.

Thanks for stopping by to discover what team building is, and why it’s not enough. My name is Georg; call me George. I’m thrilled to get to share some powerful key concepts I learned in a story based on true events with you to bring this to life. Let’s accompany Robin for a little bit.

Robin, a dedicated delivery management professional, was in the office. It’s a very intensive period at the company. Lots going on. Clients are demanding more things more quickly. The team can’t keep up. Sound familiar?

The team isn’t really a team though. It doesn’t feel right. Their delivery is OK sometimes, but most of the time there are quality issues and things are running late.

Robin holds the real desire to serve the team; dedicated to learning and making things better. Learning is not learning without doing, Robin keeps in mind.

Over months Robin has learned as much as possible about delivery management. Somehow it doesn’t really seem to be enough. Robin is determined to continue, willing to face the trials.

A notification on the phone prompts Robin to open an email. It’s from Brent. Robin sighs.

Emails from Brent usually mean some sort of distraction for the team, always with good intent, but rarely really useful.

“What is it this time?”, Robin thought.

Here’s Brent’s email …

Subject: Block your team's calendars. 

Email content:
We're off to an off-site team building event next month. 
All teams from the product group are invited to this must-join event.

Brent

“For real!?”, Robin thought. It was impossible not to notice the feelings arise. Not great feelings! Robin felt the stress of delivery and the frustration and doubts about yet another trust fall event.

“Just because you get caught by someone, as you let yourself fall into their arms with closed eyes, doesn’t make you trust them. …

And it doesn’t magically create trust across the team in one fell swoop either!”

Flashbacks to the last few annual team building events went through Robin mind. Granted, there were moments of fun, rare moments. This one time they got to play laser tag. It was fun to play against the other teams. They scored points on points …

Back in the office from that particular ‘team building’ event though, Robin reflected and suddenly realised something.

They are all supposed to be working on one big product together. Yet somehow the sense of competition from the laser tag was still lurking inside.

They had won the laser tag game. As a single team they felt good about that.

On a particularly good team building event they got to learn how to kayak together. It was oh so very cold! They wore all the kit and suits, but it took a long time of paddling to warm up. It required a lot of communication and coordination to navigate the hefty currents together.

The event facilitator did help them at the end of the day to surface learning from this about their teamwork. But as usual once they got back to the office, reality hit and mostly things went back to … “normal”, whatever that meant for them.

Robin wasn’t quite sure what was going on there. The only thing was a growing dread of further team building events.

The one with the kayaking was the best and only of its high quality kind. Robin found out from Brent that it was quite pricey and budgets didn’t really allow for another team building event of the same caliber.

So now Robin looked at the email from Brent again … another deep sigh escaped. Robin didn’t feel like this was worth interrupting the team’s focus for.

“If only we could get something more out of these team building events!”, Robin thought.

“How could it be different this time? That can’t be all there is to it. The team will be so mad. There’s enough pressure as it is.”

Robin wanted nothing more than the team becoming a dream team, finding its voice, gaining that cheerful vibe, hearing some banter alternating with periods of intense focus where the air almost crackles with the sparks of creativity. That dream became so elusive.

Are dream teams … unicorns??

“If I could only witness the team hitting its goals, celebrating, shipping a great product, rejoicing over great user feedback …”

Robin was prepared to do the work; prepared to learn how to support the team in reaching its potential, prepared to face the obstacles that would eventually come.

Robin went on the hunt and searched for a way, asking around in the department for “something different”. A colleague replied, “if you want something different, check this out …”, and pointed Robin to a webinar of mine.

It was the one about how a team can identify its team personality. (It was my first webinar and could have run smoother, but hey, continuous improvement and all.) …

“Team personality??? That sure is different.”, Robin thought.

Robin contacted me. It was only to ask about why team building didn’t seem to do the trick.

This happens to be my home zone. I’m a team-worker, team developer, team coach. (For more about my background check out my profile when you like.)

So what is up with team building? …

The issue with team building events is that they are rare and sporadic interventions, usually annually. In most cases there is no follow-up after the event.

They are not part of an ongoing attention and effort to develop the team. Team building can only realise its full potential if it is done in the context of team development. Otherwise it’s often little more than a nice day out, if that.

Team development is the process of supporting a team through its natural developmental stages. The team’s progress through these stages is also vastly accelerated through the practice of team development.

For an initial assessment of how well the team is set up for success, I offered Robin some information on the 60-30-10 rule; the three key aspects that account for 80% of team success.