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Why Team Building Exercises Don't Work...and What Actually Does.

April 24, 2019


My new book The Passion Paradox is on sale today for only $7! That's 61% off! If you haven't yet, check it out. That's practically giving it away!


When it comes to group bonding, companies tend to default to organized activities. Leadership retreats or conferences filled with activities designed to force teamwork and trust: "trust falls," scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, and a myriad of group problem-solving exercises. Roll around on the ground, climb some trees, solve some problems: a quick-fix solution to create a cohesive unit.

These activities might make the boss or leader feel good, and they make a cottage industry of 'experts' a lot of money, but they
don't work. Team unity doesn't occur due to performing artificial and overly structured activities. It develops during the in-between times.

In a
2003 study, researchers set out to understand why soldiers fight. Were they motivated by fear? A sense of duty? In surveying a group of American soldiers who fought in the Iraq war, it was the deep emotional bond between soldiers that came out on top. As the researchers dug deeper, they found that it wasn't the organized time training next to each other that mattered most, it was the in-between time. “What all of the research highlights is the importance of conversation during noncombat time — the hours of nothingness, the shared boredom — where bonds of trust, friendships and group identity are built," write the researchers. 

Gregg Popovich is the legendary coach of the San Antonio Spurs. When it comes to creating a team culture, he's the envy of just about any coach, CEO, or leader out there. His players 
rave about the bonds they still hold with their teammates. One player recently said, "I was friends with every single teammate I ever had in my [time] with the Spurs. That might sound far-fetched, but it's true."

The key to such cohesion? Team meals.

Popovich dinner stories are almost apocryphal. Three-hour meals, with Popovich expertly choosing the wine and food. Tables arranged so that the players maximize interaction. Pop eschews the NBA tradition of jetting out of the city straight after a game and instead the spurs go straight to a meal and stay the night. No set agenda other than time together. Certainly no ropes courses. 

Popovich understands what those in the military do. Conversation creates connection. You've got to go beyond the surface level to get to know one another. This doesn't occur during a trust fall. Sometimes it takes extreme boredom. Just ask any runner who has filled two hours of running not with music but with conversation with their training partner, because the alternative (i.e. extreme boredom) was worse.

You can't force bonding or unity. All you can do is create the space for it to happen.

As our modern world has slowly discarded the in-between times, the air of boredom that we once filled with idle chit-chat, we must create opportunities for it to occur. It's much easier to grab our phone and pop on a podcast or listen to music to kill time. But when we do, we miss out on the actual ingredients of cohesion.

Like Popovich and his 2-3 hour team meals, team bonding activities shouldn't force us to do crazy stunts or activities; they need to focus on allowing us to get to know each other as people. To take the defensiveness down, and realize that the person sitting next to me on the team bus, or in the cubicle or office down the way, is a human being wrestling with the same issues that you or I are.



My new book The Passion Paradox is on sale today for only $7! That's 61% off! If you haven't yet, check it out. That's practically giving it away!




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