It's all the rage these days, and it may involve fire-walks or white- water rafting. It's called team building, and it's about bonding with your employees, employees bonding with each other, and everyone learning how to translate all this teamwork into the office.
Does it work? Some of the editorial and art staff at Entrepreneur took a team-building workshop to find out. Run by the Center for Strategic Leadership at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, California, the event included maneuvering a wooden A-frame across a field (to teach teamwork); cramming seven people on three squares of carpet remnants while moving toward a finish line (to teach closeness, presumably); and grabbing hands to form a human knot, then untangling ourselves (to teach creative problem-solving). Says program facilitator Greg Carlston, "People learn by doing, instead of sitting in a seminar and just talking about principles."
The verdict? Mixed. Some participants had fun. "It was like a field trip," was a common phrase. Others, those not keen on their personal space being invaded, left feeling more unhappy than inspired. Did we return to the office a better team? Not really. The lessons about every person being integral to the larger mission and the need for flexibility rang true, but, um, we sort of already knew that.
Still, we probably could have gotten more out of the session if time constraints hadn't kept us from attending the pre- and post-training meetings typically held. The pre-training meeting would have identified areas we needed to work on; the post-training meeting would have helped us translate what we accomplished to the office.
The key to making any team-building session work is to clearly identify what your company needs-and clearly communicate those needs to the trainer. After the event, meet with your staff to get a detailed report of what they learned and how they met the objectives. Says Nick J. Di Marco, professor of management at Webster University in St. Louis, "The success or failure of this exotic team building is [when the] organization says 'We spent $3,000 a head [to] send you out into the wilderness in Utah. Fine. Now how is it going to show up in your performance here at XYZ Corp.?' "