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  • Writer's picturePJ Stevens

Why Teambuilding has such a poor reputation

Updated: Feb 6

If that’s true Team Work makes Business Work, why does teambuilding have such a poor reputation with some businesses and employees?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) wrote that while “many corporations plan outings that include such things as ropes courses, trust falls and game playing, many participants find them to have no value; trust falls have become a frequently mocked, Dilbert-esque symbol of managers’ wrong-headed attempts to create intimacy among employees.” Whilst Thornley-Brown a Toronto-based facilitator of executive retreats and team building created the hashtag #baaadteambuilding after reading about human sheep herding being promoted as team building.

Here’s how some people responded to the question; why does teambuilding have a poor reputation:

  • No discernible or lasting impact

  • Wrong or poor activities chosen

  • Leader or manager failed to engage in the process

  • Too many cliches and bullsh#t

  • Suited the few not the many

  • Teambuilding failed to address the structural issues

  • No clear theme or relevance

  • People excluded or felt laughed at

  • Seen as a jolly

  • Lacked clarity or purpose

  • Too much focus on weaknesses, poor performance and negative feedback

  • Money for old rope, literally!

Given these notes – and many reports – I wonder if the reason teambuilding has had bad reviews, is that team building is misunderstood and misrepresented by both the seller and buyer? Perhaps a clearer understanding of what the term team building means would improve the teambuilding experience and value.

In my view, teambuilding – or team building – is both a precious investment in your people and business, in or out of pandemic. Perhaps the need to invest in teams and building, or rebuilding, teams will be even more important at this time. Understanding teambuilding and being able to differentiate the elements is key to getting the return on investment in your people, performance and productivity KPIs.

When I spoke to a number of people – both buyers and sellers – I heard many variations of meanings and understanding. Some people were somewhat confused or even unaware of the meaning of team building and versions of it. It therefore seems prudent to define what team building is, how it helps teams and the part it plays in delivering the business strategy, mission and vision.

Here are some teambuilding terms to provoke thinking and improve understanding;

What is a Team?

There are a number of definitions such as ‘a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport,’ for example, which also applies to business, as a team is a group of individuals working together to achieve their goal A widely recognised definition of teambuilding, as defined by Professor Thompson at the Kellogg School of Management, is that a ‘team is a group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, knowledge and skills and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal’.

Is Team the same as Group?

A group can be defined as a number of people or things that are put together or considered as a unit and does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams normally have ‘members with complementary skills and generates synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximise their strengths and minimise their weaknesses’. Naresh Jain (2009) claims that ‘team members need to learn how to help one another, help other team members realise their potential and create an environment that allows everyone to go beyond their limitations.’

A group can be any number of people, where as a team in sport has a definite number of members and a team in business. Two people can be a team as in parents and Meredith Belbin built his model around there being 8 or 9 people in a business Team, which seems widely accepted.

The difference between team and group seems to be around the levels of reliance, interdependence, common goals that require everyone’s input, and a way of being which means that together the team achieves more.

What is Teambuilding?

Team building has been described as ‘the process of turning a group of individual contributing employees into a cohesive team’ or a ‘group of people organised to work together to meet the needs of their customers by accomplishing their purpose and goals’. This becomes even clearer when you add in the need for interdependence as described previously.

A dictionary definition notes ‘teambuilding as the action or process of causing a group of people to work together effectively as a team, especially by means of activities and events designed to increase motivation and promote cooperation’. While team building involves the formation of team(s) to achieve goals, teamwork refers to the coming together of team members by bringing their individual skills and uniting them to achieve a common goal.

One of the roles for a leader is to try and form teams who can complement each other’s strengths (and help each other’s weaknesses) in service of achieving a common goal which requires individual commitment and contribution.

Teambuilding versus team bonding?

There is often a misunderstanding between having a fun team building day and day that delivers teambuilding. This might usefully be described as team bonding (fun) versus teambuilding.

Team bonding is a fun day or session, and has a value, much like having lunch together, it’s the spending time together that matters. It offers a chance to get to know each other and network, it’s a chance to relax or celebrate. Team bonding can be great fun if you are in the right frame of mind. It is possible that an element of team building may happen, some people may network or have valuable conversations. It can also highlight poor relationships or even exacerbate differences or issues in the team.

Buying either team bonding or building is fine, just as long as you are clear you know what you want, what you are buying and that your expectations are met. And don’t kid yourself, if you buy a cheap teambuilding day, then don’t expect too much or promise value and experience to others that will not happen. Fastfood outlets can offer you products which could be considered lunch, whilst a nice hotel or restaurant might charge you ten times that per head, both offer a solution, but in different ways. The cost might be ten times greater in the restaurant, however the experience may be ten times better, indeed it might be 100x better, and it’s the same with team building.

Can be teambuilding be a quick fix?

Team building events can be great fun and may offer u some useful insight and immediate value in some aspects, but team building is not a quick fix for matters such as relationships, leadership, engagement, overcoming conflict, creating understanding, agreeing ways of behaving and embedding them, and so on.

These development aspects of team building require much more thought, planning and commitment. A teambuild event can be a very useful part of process, and should be considered just that.

The greatest waste in business is in working relationships: 25% of a managers time is wasted to unwarranted conflict and 60% of performance related issues are down to poor interpersonal skills. These are unlikely to be a quick fix on a team day, but with investment and commitment, significant changes and improvements can be made.

What is Team Development?

According to MSG (Management Study Guide), Team Development creates a captivating atmosphere by encouraging co-operation, teamwork, interdependence and by building trust among team members. Teams have become a key tool for organising and delivering work, therefore the better teams work, the better the business works.

Tuckman (1965) identified four stages of team development including Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. This widely referenced early work continues to provide a useful model for understanding the dynamic nature of the evolution of teams. It takes time to develop teams. Team building is often an event – called a team building event – whereas team development is a journey or ongoing process.

Facilitated team building activities can be an excellent addition to a team development programme, offering teams and team members, the opportunity to experiment with different ways of behaving, leading and communicating in a safe space.

Why buy Facilitated Teambuilding?

Buller (1986) notes team building as ‘a means of intervention facilitated by a third party consultant who develops the problem solving capacity and solves major problems of an intact work group’. This suggests that there is very real value to be had in facilitated team building versus fun team bonding or away days.

The addition of an experienced and skilled facilitator or coach can be an invaluable support to a group, greatly impacting its overall effectiveness and productivity. A facilitator can share information, models and practical advice, and can ask questions and offer feedback that the team members simply cannot. External facilitators have the luxury of being able to ask the ‘stupid question’ that can make a huge difference.

Team building facilitators can help create a safe space or environment conducive to having better quality conversations, identifying problems and opportunities, giving and receiving feedback and relationship awareness. Thereby building many vital skills and connections central to successful teams and businesses.

Facilitators can also include the use of personality profiles, surveys or reports as a way to inform the team building event or activity, the conversations and the attention points. Using quality information can make the team building programme far more meaningful, focused and effective.

What are Teambuilding activities?

The heading ‘teambuilding activities’ conjures up a wide variety of images from ropes and planks, role playing, getting drunk in the bar, dressing up and making videos, to sleeping in a tent freezing cold in the forest. All of which are readily available, all are sold as team building, and to a degree they all offer an opportunity for some sort of team building, though it might be by chance, rather than design.

These activities can also cause more problems than they set out to solve, and as mentioned previously, dressing up as a sheep may be experienced as #baaaadteambuilding. Sailing might be considered one of the best natural team building activities available to clients, but it takes a lot of thought, preparation and facilitation to turn it from a fun day out to something of meaning that adds value for people, teams and the organisation.

However, team building activities can include facilitated team activities such as relationship awareness, leadership development, the use of personality profiles, problem solving, writing a strategy or having difficult conversations where no equipment or actual ‘activity’ is used. The activity is simply the action of doing something, in this case, having a useful conversation or writing a strategy together. What better way to build and develop a team than spending time talking about issues and challenges that need to be effectively addressed.

Low Barrier to Entry

Historically team building has come in for a lot of stick, and perhaps its poor reputation is deserved, after all the barrier to entry to starting a team building company is low. Perhaps now is the time to realise the value and impact teambuilding can – and should – have in your business, after all, ‘the value of an organisation can be measured by the expertise of its staff and their ability to work together’ which is my quote from years ago. The bottom line will reflect the skills of staff and the quality of their relationships.

The better teams work, the better business works

In a survey, 83% said team building was important or very important to business performance. We are starting to recognise the importance of teambuilding but it remains to be seen if we act on this and invest in our teams, teambuilding and team work. According to a Forbes article titled ‘Why Team Building Is The Most Important Investment You’ll Make’, it notes that teambuilding ‘builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration’. It further states that ‘effective team building means more engaged employees, which is good for company culture and boosting the bottom line’, the key here may be the emphasis on ‘effective’ team building.

Hopefully by understanding what team building is – or could be – you can see the value of teambuilding as an investment in people and the business. It is important that you know what you want, what your preferred outcome is and what to ask for, and its equally important the company you ask to deliver the team building for you understands both what team building is and how it meets your needs. Simply booking a company to turn up with a few boxes of equipment is no guarantee of team building.


Why does teambuilding have such a poor reputation with some businesses and employees? Perhaps it is because of the low barrier to entry for team building companies and lack of understanding about what team building is, both from the buyer and seller’s.


When considering whether (or not) to invest in your teams, through team building, team coaching or team development, it’s worth noting that ‘the better teams work, the better the business works’.

PJs Top Tip

Be clear on what you want and expect, and choose your team building company – and venue – carefully in order to get your needs met.

Article written by PJ Stevens with comments and data from other articles, schools and companies.

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