I used to get dragged into team-building activities, and I never felt comfortable. I was always watching the clock and eyeing the exit. I like to chill with people, but I never got into team-building exercises. Years later, I know why.
Team-building exercises are pointless and even insulting to your team members because they suggest that if only your team members spent more time doing silly things and solving group problems together, climbing trees and rolling around on the floor, they would work more effectively together the rest of the time.
The fallacy is that the problem you as a leader must solve has anything to do with your teammates! It doesn’t. When a team hasn’t gelled and isn’t communicating, it’s not because they need team-building training. It’s because there is an energetic blockage in the mix and no one is talking about it.
That’s the elephant in the room, and it’s a leadership problem 100% of the time. An entire industry has sprung up around the made-up and juvenile idea of forcible team-building, all to prevent leaders from having to look in the mirror and take responsibility for the culture and communication on their teams.
No one ever hired a consultant to put on a team-building workshop when there were no problems! We only think about team-building when the team isn’t working together well. That’s a leadership problem.
It doesn’t mean that the team’s leader is unequipped for the job, but it means that the conversation has to begin with the question “Why is the energy blocked on this team, and why hasn’t the topic been aired yet?” rather than with the question “Should we take everybody to the arcade or take them to the ropes course in the woods, in order to do some team-building?”
Here are the principal energy blockers I see in corporations and not-for-profits, startups and government agencies:
• Fuzzy or missing strategy
• Unaddressed conflict
• Role confusion
• Red tape bureaucracy
• Slow processes requiring multiple approvals
• Over-reliance on measurement and quantitative goals
• Little to no conversation about culture, norms, energy, conflict or feelings
• Inexperienced leaders
• Little focus on experimentation, collaboration and innovation, and
• Lack of praise, acknowledgment and information-sharing
Being a leader means diving into conversations about sticky topics, rather than dancing around them and taking the team out for ice cream instead. Strong leaders can talk about icky, sticky topics. Weak leaders can’t. They organize fake-fun activities as a thank-you to their teammates for having the courtesy to keep quiet about the fake that the emperor has no clothes.
If you have to take your team off-site to play games because you can’t stand to talk about what’s happening in your office, what does that say about you as a leader?