‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships’- Michael Jordan

The Training Industry sometimes can be exasperating to people who enter it from a different realm. This is because primarily very little attention is paid to the most important ingredient for any training – Training Needs Analysis (TNA).

This is because most of the times, it is the HR Department which decides what training needs to be conducted and then sources Trainers to deliver – mostly the L1 (one delivering at the lowest cost – budgetary compulsions!). Obviously incorrect TNA and substandard trainings don’t deliver the required results and the participants show zero change. The fall guy – is the Trainer! No one questions the person who decided what training needs to be delivered.

Case Study

A company brought in this ‘high performing professional (HPR)’ who did not get along with his Boss. There were major differences of opinion on how things needed to be done and the Boss brought in the HR Head into the picture. The HR Head, hearing one side of the story, opined that the HPR needed communication training. So he, along with some other people were scheduled to undergo a two day communications program from a well known ‘Communications Specialist.’

Now the only person that HPR had a problem with was his Boss. He was communicating brilliantly with everyone else. And therefore (correctly) concluded that he did not need the training. So he landed up at the training, completely demotivated and sleepwalked through the two days. After a month, the Boss rang the HR Head and informed her that the training did not work as there was no change in the behaviour of HPR. The HR Head decided that the Trainer was too expensive and not effective at all.

Whenever I am contacted for a Training, I make it a point that I carry out TNA. There have been times I have informed the Head of the Organisation that the Training that he wants will not lead to the outcome he is looking for because that’s not where the problem lies. Its like applying pain ointment on your forehead when you have a sprained ankle!

Team Building

There are some Trainers who specialise in ‘Team Building Training.’ The reason for that is a lot of emphasis is laid by businesses on ‘Team Building’ and there exists a huge market for the same. However, to cut costs (budgetary compulsions again) such trainings are usually coupled with an outdoor bash where evenings are spent in liquor induced stupors – to show employees a good time.

Unfortunately there is no introspection as to where socialising ends and team building starts.

Do these Trainings actually work?

For some employees, work-team-building exercises are about feats of human endurance, group problem-solving activities or outdoors pursuits aimed at lifting spirits and fostering a team spirit. However, for others, it often comprises of kneeling on the floor playing bongo drums in a conference room or building Lego constructions against the clock in competition with other departments.

The answer to the question: Does any of this actually work? is NO!

And there are four reasons why they don’t.

1. The Learning Gap. There’s a very large learning gap between doing activities on the lush gardens of a resort with your colleagues and working with the same bunch of people back at the office. It’s possible to draw parallels and bring out useful learning points, but it takes skilled facilitation to do this effectively and it’s especially difficult to ensure that people take the learning back into the workplace.

2. The Embarrassment Factor. Not everybody looks forward to having attention drawn to themselves in roleplay or other team-building activities. They may not be fit, confident or sociable enough – and it is counterproductive! Some people actively fear the embarrassment and humiliation of these events. And it’s a mistake to claim glibly that it will be alright. For some employees, team-building activities actually drive a wedge between them and their colleagues and employer, rather than bringing them together and fostering engagement and team loyalty.

3. The Risk Of Patronizing Employees. By forcing employees to take part in so-called fun and games, employers risk patronizing their team members with the assumption that they need such sweeteners to incentivize them to pull together and do a great job. You will find people living from outbound to outbound and as time passes, their productivity lessens.

4. Confusion Between Socializing And Team-Building. The former have their place, but not all work colleagues want to do these things together and it’s not essential that they do so. Forcing employees to socialize with people they would rather simply see as colleagues can create hostility, not togetherness, producing tensions that prevent teams working well for customers and stakeholders.

The best team-building activities are the ones that firms should all be working on anyway: For example, creating strategy for the short, medium and long-term future or clarifying their roles and accountability with each other. Using real work tasks in this way, as the “exercise” the team has to do to become a better team not only allows teams to bond but also ensures that real work gets done. This way they do useful stuff which will save hours of time and effort back in the real world and there’s no gap to bridge when they get back to the office. They’ve been working together on real tasks and can simply carry that on. Often this is also the kind of work that people find scant time for in the bustle of their everyday routines.

With skilled facilitation, team members draw all the lessons they need to about how they communicate, operate in meetings, collaborate to get things done and make decisions.

Anthropological Inputs

There is an anthropological scale called the Dunbar Number. It gives out the number of stable relationships that can be maintained by an individual of a species. For humans, it is 148. Human beings, being part of the animal kingdom, have an inherent need for connection and will naturally get into groups (or teams). Remember how football fans wearing the same jersey behave? Or the camaraderie of men in uniform of a unit? Or how in social gatherings teenagers dressed similarly gravitate towards each other? How employees of the same company become the best of friends? Or college mates do so much for each other even if one graduated long before the other entered the hallowed portals!

The Answer

We don’t ‘build teams’ – we ‘get into teams’. It’s a natural process and hence cannot be forced. When I am called to facilitate a team building training (and I know it is required) – all I focus on is removing the obstacles that prevent the natural alignment of people working in the same environment. And with the obstacles gone, all members recognise their natural affinity to the rest of the team – and their unique part in it.

No unnecessary effort.

No domino effect challenge.

No rock climbing competitions.

No building newspaper buildings.

And definitely no Lego Giraffes and Bisons.

The question that you would possibly be contemplating is – ‘How do you recognise the obstacles?’ Well, I shall cover that in the next article.

PS. Once you read this article, as Trainers or those who engage Trainers please let me know your experiences : Are team-building exercises worthwhile investments or a complete waste of time?

Leave a Comment