Useless teambuilding

Many teambuilding exercises are meaningless and almost an insult to the intelligence of the team members.

Team exercises imply that if only the team members spend time completing various tasks together – things like cooking, bivouacking, tree-climbing, and building trebuchets – the employees on the team will almost automatically begin to work together more effectively when they return to work.

Many team problems can be traced back to poor management

Teambuilding is often the – perhaps subconscious – attempt of leaders to shift the responsibility for their own non-existent or poor management over into the employee camp – ‘you are the ones that can’t get it together’.

The real problem is rarely addressed properly, not by management, nor by the employees, but truth be told, and because management is a complex thing, it can lie in many different places. Therefore, a commonplace, normal, and credible management diagnosis must be based in reasons on the three organizational levels – the strategic, the tactical, and the operative levels.

On the strategic level, you will often see symptoms or causes like no clear, distinct, and stated strategy, no common value basis, and no easily comprehensible vision. These are often the direct causes and as such could be considered the main sources of poorly performing teams. This way, top management leaves middle management and operational management in a vacuum that makes the task almost impossible.

The next diagnostic layer is the tactical level, where a multitude of ineffective and unmotivated teams are pining for unambiguous goals, clear-cut plans, and even a modicum of an indication as to what is expected of each of them individually and as a team. Not that an employee would specifically request a tight, precise, and narrow job description (unfortunately, these days it’s probably primarily HR managers in certain large companies that are into those), just so management has some idea of what each individual should prioritize and accomplish, and so they manage to state this in a way that leaves no confusion about roles and responsibility.

On the operational level, there is very often a lack of feedback to the employee regarding the daily tasks, and recognition and praise is in particularly short supply, although more constructive criticism is in short supply as well and is, in fact, wanted in many places.

Sprinkle in a bit of pseudo performance or closed culture where insufficient information is given and the real problems are not discussed, where employees are not allowed to be critical, where none of the norms (whether formal or informal) are good and balanced – and job satisfaction, collaboration, and effectiveness in the individual teams go out the window.

Failure to recognize the feelings of the employee and the identity of the individual, no right to one’s own opinions, and suppression or denial of conflict – are other ’killers’ of creating effective teams.

Regardless of all the above, a ’teambuilding trip into the wild blue yonder’ can often provide a spontaneous, immediate reaction of satisfaction, since it is often both a relaxing, exciting, fun, and pleasant experience. In a best-case scenario, you might succeed in breeching some of the aforementioned problem areas, but in a worst-case scenario, management are just pulling the wool over their own eyes when the positive evaluation forms show up on their desks. Here, the young or inexperienced manager will – very easily – come to a fatal erroneous conclusion and be in for a big surprise when the rise in effectiveness fails to materialize or a potential conflict is rekindled after all later on.


My own reflection on the matter ends, as usual, with the necessity for managerial openness and receptiveness, and the recognition of the individual employee and his or her unique universe. This necessitates being visible and present – both physically and mentally. It reveals the necessity of constantly working on leadership development, including visions, values, goals, processes, and motivation, every single day, every single minute.

Believe that leadership matters – that leadership makes a difference.

Written by Kenneth Hogrefe