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5 Reasons Why Team Buildings Are Waste of Time

In a competition that pitted sales teams against one another, employees of [California home security company] Alarm One Inc. were paddled with rival companies' yard signs, according to court documents. 

The winners made fun of the losers by throwing pies at them, feeding them baby food, making them wear diapers, and swatting their buttocks.

The employees who were paddled reported feeling degraded and humiliated, with some saying they suffered bruises and abrasions as a result of the paddling.

The good news is that the company was forced to pay out 1.7 million USD after an employee filed a lawsuit against them.

The bad news is that many team-building activities draw inspiration from this strategy by setting up fabricated (and frequently pointless) competitions that pit coworkers against one another.

This is particularly paradoxical given that businesses now want their staff to work more cooperatively, effectively collaborate in teams, exchange expertise, and collaborate for shared goals. Sending them on trainings that are primarily competitive in character is therefore just absurd. 

Although though participants can compete against other teams in smaller teams, the emphasis is still on competitiveness and not collaboration in these activities.

These competitions are virtually always competitive for a straightforward reason:

Competition ignites passion. Organizing a tournament awakens in many individuals a primitive need to succeed at any costs, which causes them to become intensely focused and engaged, which is fantastic for the organizers.

Yet, there is a serious drawback to this, which means that not only are many team-building activities a waste of time, but they may also be detrimental to teams. 

The top 5 issues with competitive team building activities are listed below.

1. Competition does not produce a sense of achievement.

Undoubtedly, someone will win; but, most individuals will not. If the whole emphasis is on competing and winning, most participants will leave with the impression that "we weren't good enough," which is not a healthy sentiment to instill in your staff.

2. Competition tends to bring out the worst in people.

Hal Rosenbluth, CEO, was going to employ an executive with all the proper abilities, demeanor, and CV. His interviews went well, and he stated everything correctly, but something about him still made Rosenbluth anxious, though he couldn't pinpoint what it was.

Rosenbluth came up with a brilliant solution: he invited the candidate to a workplace softball game, where he revealed his real colors. He was maniacal in his competitiveness. He cursed and shouted at both his opponents and his teammates. He cursed the officials and stomped dirt like a major leaguer.

And he was not hired.

(From Hal Rosenbluth's great book The Customer Always Comes Second).


3. When people compete, they learn less.

According to research, we learn less when we compete and more when we collaborate. Here's an educational example:

David Johnson and Roger Johnson of the University of Minnesota stated that in a thorough assessment of 245 classroom experiments that indicated a substantial achievement difference between cooperative and competitive situations, the cooperative strategy won 87 percent of the time.

When I visit cooperative learning classrooms, I prefer to invite students to recount their experiences in their own words. One ten-year-old child paused for a time before responding, "It's like you have four brains." In contrast, a competitor's single brain frequently shuts down when given no motive to study other than to outperform his or her classmates.

4.  Competition degrades performance.

Yet contrary to what most people assume, most of us do worse when we're competing. This is especially true for difficult jobs that need collaboration with and learning from others.

5.  Time wastage

These activities are more concerned with discovering and awarding winners than with ensuring that individuals learn anything that will be beneficial at work.

This gives the impression that the activities are a waste of time, and employees begin to detest them because they prevent them from accomplishing real, actual, useful work.

How to Do Team Building That Really Works

A successful team building event should produce the following results:

  • A better understanding among coworkers

  • Coworkers now like each other more than before.

  • A track record of successful collaboration

  • A sense of "we're great at what we do"

  • A greater desire to collaborate and assist one another

  • Particular skills that can be used in work

  • And, perhaps most importantly, a sense that the event was "time well spent."

This is actually rather simple to accomplish. All we'd have to do is update the event such that:

  1. The event includes shared goals for all participants, encouraging individuals to collaborate rather than compete.

  1. The event recognizes not only those who achieve good results, but also those who assist others in achieving good outcomes and those who contribute to making the event enjoyable for everyone.

  1. You allow plenty of opportunity for attendees to think on how the event's learnings may be implemented in their job.

You might not get the same frantic vibe from those fiercely competitive events, but that's actually a good thing.

Instead, you'd receive a more enjoyable - and far more helpful - event. It has to be a good thing!

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