Team building events are not enough!

A lot of organizations and especially their HR department or managers,  want people to connect to each other at the work floor and initiate a lot of different initiatives to get this going but… it does not work as they intended to! Let us have a brief look at one of the items working against their quest to have connected people.

First thing to have a look at is the goal of having connected people at the workfloor:

We want people to connect to each other at the work floor in order to have more motivated and performing teams!

Ok, I know the above are not the only reasons and depending on your context it can manifest itself in a lot of different flavors. In its core I strongly believe most of the reasoning behind “people connecting” can be categorized as “motivation” or “performance” and that’s the reason I use the above quote as the main goal behind the quest to have people connecting at the work floor.

In order to achieve this we see that HR and managers all around initiate loads of different initiatives like… You know, there are even companies around where these are their business.

  • company parties
  • company soccer teams
  • dinner parties
  • after work pub visits
  • BBQ’s
  • out of office lunch events
  • organized team building events
  • team weekends

This is all great and should be encouraged for sure but it should be done in combination with changes on the work floor as well! Organizations that do team building events but forget to adjust their internal workings will not get to a descent level of team work! Let me explain why.

You get a team of fellow workers out for a fantastic team building event and they connect very well, get to know each other outside office and have chats that do not include getting work done. Great! Next day the same fellow workers get back to work and what do they do?

  • Use email to read and write what they think
  • Use one of the many tools that tracks work to be done to see what needs to be done and what to do today. Example: use a defect tracker to communicate issues to each other.
  • Follow process as it is described for FDA, ISO…, CMMI… as this is the safest way not to get the blame for failure. And we know things will fail, history showed us many times and processes will be adjusted but this is work in progress for next project/product.
  • Keep sitting behind their computer and do what is expected from them as certain tasks are assigned to them and need to be done in a certain time to reach their KPI’s and receive their yearly bonus. Or because this is what is noted in their contracts or job descriptions.
  • Go to a traditional powerpoint meeting where each has a certain time slot to show their presentation (usually a deck full of bullet points) and go away from the meeting with a couple of action items. In best case assigned to somebody in the room and with a deadline assigned, in worst cases not assigned or assigned to somebody not in the meeting but… still with a deadline of course!

You get the picture I guess. These fellow workers had an energizing team building event and at work this energy is boxed and can not be unleashed anymore, which reverse any efforts, results achieved from the previous “out of office” event(s).

It is important for HR departments and Managers to understand that one need collaborative work methods and tools to get to motivated and peforming teams!

I strongly advise HR departments and Managers to get familiar with the Agile Manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and toolsdo not box people interaction, communication, in a defect tool but let those people work together to get things solved and do not force them to use the tool but encourage them only to use the tool in exceptional cases instead of all cases. As beyond budgetting is mentioning to manage by exception for financials I would also advice the same principle on registering defects in a tool.

Working software over comprehensive documentationdo not box the communication need between a customer and the product in a detailed requirements document but let the team collaborate with the customer and allow the product as a catalyst for results, not paper.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiationdo not box what people are allowed to do in a detailed job description or process but allow them to easily fill in the grey zones to achieve some common goal. Align with purpose instead of process and job descriptions.

Responding to change over following a plan – Do you plan how the out of office event will run into the details? No! Does the event help people to connect? Yes! So why do you plan your meetings to the details?! Change your meetings to foster collaboration and a natural flow instead!

Especially the last one, traditional meetings and culture, is a tremendous factor of teams not going into the “performing” phase of the Tuckman model (yes there are others as well but that’s for a next article some time). Even in Agile environments you see that meeting are too much planned up front! Do not misunderstand me, I do think that one must prepare meetings but more in the sense of setting “purpose” for the meeting, “attracting the right people” to be in the meeting and allow the meeting to generate its own “flow”. As a matter of fact, you design your meetings instead of planing them!

You want performing teams where people really connect to each other? Yes? Go and learn how to design meetings!

Gamestorming as a meeting design tool – Our training offer – Our collaborative practice offer

In the Brain Off Ruben Van Der Laan – Author of “Creatief en betrokken vergaderen” (free translation: Creative and engaging meetings)

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About the author:

Jurgen De Smet is an Lean & Agile Trainer, living in Kortrijk, Belgium and working worldwide.
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