Learning and Development

Don’t break the team, take a break

Team building is a necessary evil in any organization. I call it that, because most employees hate it. People do not like to be forced into anything and for many forced socialization is not comfortable. Building the team is important. Stepping away from the project to get a new perspective is important. If organized in such a way that the time feels (and is) useful, the team will refocus, rejuvenate, re-energize and come back to the project with a new attitude for success.

Organizations that offer brain breaks, mental health days, or non-structured time away are organizations with happier employees. Team building is important, but not everything has to seem structured. Not everything has to have a grand purpose greater than the moments together. There is value in shared experiences. It is a difficult balance though. Team building during a stressful time where deadlines are looming and expectations are high is probably not the best time to host a four-hour workshop and then summarize what is coming up. It results in a scenario where the team is reminded of the tight schedule, but they are being forced to interact in a non-work way on something that has no bearing on the immediate goal.  If the goal is team building then it is probably not a good time to remind everyone that the report is due by the end of the day tomorrow.   Instead the break can be a simple activity that doesn’t take anyone away for too long. A shared lunch or a quick coffee break is probably a better activity than hours of icebreakers and team building exercises. That does not mean that an organization should not hold four-hour workshops. It simply means that timing is key.

Effective learning has to be relevant to the learning participant.  Most accept the importance of team building, but there never seems to be a good time and many times the activities do not relate to the project at hand. It has to relate to be effective. People need to feel that their time has value.  If they are having to do an exercise that has no relevant connection to the current responsibility the cost benefit ratio is out of balance, and therefore more frustrating than beneficial.  The purpose of team building is to build the social relationships and boost the collaboration effectiveness of the team.  Humans are social beings!  If given the opportunity to be social, they will naturally socialize…even if just to be polite. Guide that socialization in a subtle way and the social relationships will develop. Steal time from important tasks, or (worse) personal time, and there is resentment.  Work/life balance is just as important.  Shorter and more frequent activities can be just as effective as a team day.  The key is subtle structure, clear goals, and relevance.


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