Why Team Building Doesn’t Work and What to Do Instead

Contrary to popular belief, team-building activities are not very effective. How does engaging in team activities unrelated to work such as canoeing, hiking climbing trees, climbing rocks, or playing football prove that members of a company will work together more effectively?

While the standard team-building activities may be exciting and fun, they typically only serve as a reprieve from the monotony of the office environment. For more effective leadership, the CEO and others in management roles should be more open-minded regarding company culture and focus on other aspects of communication and leadership. Here, we’ll explore why competition-based team-building exercises may not be the best idea and provide some suggestions for what to do instead.

Competition Does Not Always Bring out the Best in People

When it comes to competition-based team-building exercises like sporting events or trivia games that divide personnel into teams, there are plenty of opportunities for these well-meaning activities to go awry. The truth is, not everyone is a good loser. Some individuals are sore losers and may take the competition too personally. Almost all team-building activities involve dividing participants into various groups and then pitting them against each other in some capacity.

Competition is ineffective because it has a way of bringing out the abusive and manic side of people with poor self-control. In some cases, other team members may try to cheat at the game so that they can win.

If an employee has been feeling undervalued, unable to fit in, or unrecognized by their superiors at work, they may decide to play to win at all costs during a team-building activity. These individuals may play rough or hurt other members in the process.

Will these individuals work well with each other at the office after the game? Chances are high that they may dislike one another after a team-building event, and this could potentially affect their performance on projects that they are supposed to work on together.

A Friendly Environment vs. A Competitive Environment

Did you know that employees learn more in a cooperative environment than in a competitive one? A cooperative environment will also improve communication among the members of staff, unlike a competitive environment, which may promote strife among employees.

Researchers evaluated a series of studies looking at competitiveness versus cooperation, going back to 1929, and found that 87 percent preferred cooperation. Further, in a study of engineering students, researchers found that when given a choice to compete or cooperate, students preferred working together.

This is just one of several studies with similar results. Based on the data as well as anecdotal reports, leaders should seek to cultivate a leadership style that focuses on communication and cooperation to boost the performance of their employees.

Competition Does Not Provide a Successful Experience

Have you ever played on the losing team of a game? What was the experience like? Did it leave you feeling accomplished or discouraged? When people play on losing teams, it can affect their confidence at work, which will, in turn, affect overall performance.

Most team-building games tend to focus more on competing, winning, and defeating the other team. The members of the team that loses may leave the game feeling like they are not good enough. They may feel intimidated by the other members at work, resulting in poor performance.

Intimidation and lowered self-confidence are not the feelings you want to create in your employees. As a leader with emotional intelligence, your goal should be to make your employees feel competent, resourceful, confident, and motivated so that they can produce more results at work.

Team Activities Are Often a Waste of Resources

The amount of time and resources that an organization spends on planning and carrying out competitive activities could be used to plan other cooperative activities like training and employee recognition.

An organization’s leadership can use its resources to begin a new company culture by training its staff to build confidence and leadership skills. Instead of planning activities that promote unhealthy competition among the workers, the organization can plan an annual event that appreciates and rewards the most hardworking employees with promotions or awards such as Employee of the Month.

Giving employees the right recognition and motivation mindset will encourage them to perform better by:

  • Showing up on time
  • Accomplishing their tasks quickly
  • Activating their problem-solving skills
  • Promoting teamwork among other employees
  • Communicating and expressing themselves through the right channel

Change Your Approach to Team Building

With so much evidence that competition-based team-building is counterproductive to strengthening teams, it makes sense to change the approach. By shifting to a more compassionate model, the following results can be expected:

  • Employees will feel confident and believe they are good at what they do.
  • It will promote a deeper and better understanding among employees.
  • Employees will develop a greater desire to help and cooperate.
  • Employees will have the shared experience of performing well together.

If you want to improve the relations and performance of your employees, bring them together and avoid pitting them against each other in competitions.