Mandatory Corporate Fun

I was asked, “Some employees resent ‘forced fun’ outings. Is there a better way to help team members connect? What are some examples of innovative ideas for teams to connect?” If you really want your team members to connect, there are few worse ways than “Mandatory Corporate Fun” that’s too obviously aimed at manipulating them. Good bonding events share a few attributes:

  1. Selected by the Team
  2. Equally Uncomfortable for Everyone
  3. Experiential, preferably not Personally Competitive

Bad events will be focused on:

  1. Activities the boss likes
  2. Activities that some people are much better at than others
  3. Activities that increase competition between existing groups, i.e. mailroom vs warehouse

Why “equally uncomfortable?” The real point of effective team bonding activities is to get the group out of their collective comfort zone, doing something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.  This forces the brain to build new links, and allows team members to re-assess each other and build new mental pictures of each other.

Focus on the Goal – to Build Trust

The whole point of all this team-building is to grow team trust. Trust is built up when people do a little extra for each other, voluntarily. (The four elements of trust are Reliability, Openness, Competence and Compassion.) Getting people out of the office into a new space with a new activity, allows them to have new experiencesof each other — and break negative stereotypes that can build up in the office. When boring old George has a great idea, I can no longer pigeon-hole him in my head as ‘boring old George.’ When ‘lazy’ Chris shows initiative and works hard at the team goal, I start to see Chris in new ways. The gold standard for team formation through experiences comes from my former employer, IBM, who would send small groups of middle managers on 6-week volunteer trips to impoverished African countries. Between the discomfort of camping and the novel surroundings, plus focusing on work that’s utterly different from their normal work, the groups bonded very tightly. IBM would select people from different departments and countries, and those groups stay connected for years afterward. It’s a highly effective anti-silo technique.

What You can Do

You can create team-building activities, or hire a specialty firm.

  • Focus on skills that aren’t obviously related to work — such as art or cooking.
  • Get people out of the office.
  • Avoid alcohol during the event.
  • Pick activities that involve problem solving and shared experiences.
  • Mix up groups
  • Forbid managers from leading teams — allow new leaders to emerge

Group problem-solving is superior to independent action or team competition, though some amount of competition is good, especially if you’re playing “against the course” (i.e. fastest time through an obstacle course) and not “against each other” (football, baseball, etc.)

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