Demotivational activities?

  1. Paintballing helmet and gun.
    iStock/JackF
    Ray Newman

    Ray Newman UKBF Regular Staff Member

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    A happy team is a productive team, or so the saying goes, which is why British businesses expend so much money and effort on motivational activities and team-building exercises.

    Earlier this year a UKBF user asked why so few employers seemed to understand the benefits of a happy team and sought suggestions for ways to lift the spirits of her down-in-the-dumps team. Some of the responses were, to say the least, a little cynical:

    “I can't think of anything worse than a team building day being forced upon me by a junior manager. You'll be encouraging staff to spend their evenings bowling with their colleagues or go-karting next.”

    And, let’s face it, we’ve all had nightmare experiences of enforced corporate fun. I asked my Twitter followers to describe the worst team-building exercises they’d taken part in and some of the responses are cringe-inducing:

    • “A bonding retreat that resulted in a drunken fist fight between senior leaders”.
    • “A morning kayaking in a muddy river; four hours of lectures; soul-destroying roleplay in a pub (but without booze); and then 30 minutes of someone performing big-band tunes to a backing tape”.
    • “Being told to build a Lego model of ‘a perfect safeguarding offer”.

    But none of that beats a story shared by Terence Eden in response to another Twitter discussion on the same subject:

    This sounds like something David Brent might have tried in an episode of The Office. Which brings me to a crucial point: team building and motivational activities, if they're going to happen, can’t be all about indulging the manager’s ego, strange ideas or peculiar hobbies.

    Human resources officer and commentator Charles Goff-Deakins (@charlesgoffdeak on Twitter and online at The Avid Doer) echoed that view when we exchanged emails earlier this week:

    “The worst team building activities are those that are haphazardly thrown together, enforce fun on the participants with no clear goal, and exclude certain team members,” he said. 

    “I knew a team leader that insisted on a karaoke night in a pub as a team-building exercise, but without a clear objective (what will colleagues get out of this?) and activities that exclude people (not everyone drinks or feels comfortable singing). It was a flop every time.”

    Too often, a team-building event is seen as an easy alternative to tackling underlying structural issues or, worse, is a passive-aggressive response to a problem with the performance or behaviour of one individual.

    On the upside

    Now we’ve allowed ourselves a good wallow in negativity, let’s look at the positives.

    Goff-Deakins, who is, on the whole, a believer in the power of team-building, said: “If the majority of our employees are to spend a third of their lives working with colleagues, it makes business sense to ensure they do this as harmoniously as possible. 

    “Team-building exercises, if executed well, preserve this harmony either as a conflict resolution strategy or as an ongoing ‘team MOT’.”

    If kompulsory [sic] karaoke was a disaster, I asked him, what does a successful team-building exercise look like? He recalled witnessing an off-site charity jumble sale:

    “Getting the team to decide on who does what based only on their strengths as perceived by the team, which charity to raise funds for and why, and how to promote the sale, saw the team put aside their differences and group together outside the work environment,” he said. 

    “The jumble sale was a hit, raising a significant amount of money, and became a talking point across the organisation and social media. 

    “It also encouraged people to appreciate each team member’s personal traits and strengths, and in turn to better understand their role within the team back at work.

    When I think of activities I took part in that have worked, they tended to be collaborative rather than competitive, and designed to include everyone.

    Some people, though, resent any kind of structure. As one person said to me on Twitter: “We're grown-ups, we'll warm up and talk to each other in our own good time.” 

    Others told me that the team-building exercises they remembered most fondly tended to be parties, dinners or sessions in the pub with the company footing the bill.

    With that in mind, it’s worth remembering that an annual staff event, such as a Christmas party, to which everyone is invited, is exempt from tax up to £150 a head.

    Motivation on a smaller scale

    The cheapest staff motivator, and the quickest to administer, is praise.

    When the actor Burt Reynolds died last year one touching story that emerged was about his work recording voiceover for Avery Carrington in the computer game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

    As he began to look exhausted after working for hours, the producer asked if he needed anything and Mr Reynolds replied: “Every once in a while, just gimme an ‘Atta boy, Burt.’ Let me know I'm doing OK.”

    That’s advice echoed by Forum user Mr D, who said: “An occasional 'good job' doesn't go amiss.”

    Small, spontaneous gestures, such as buying a round of posh coffees, taking the team for lunch or letting people knock off early after a particularly tough day, sometimes have more weight than all-singing, all-dancing organised activities.

    I’ll give the final world to Goff-Deakins, who added:

    “Panic rooms and scavenger hunts are becoming very popular now but you have to ask yourself if these are really fun for your team, or is taking part in a charitable litter-picking afternoon in their local village more their thing? 

    “Regardless of what’s currently on-trend, you know your team best – base your activities on their needs and the results you want for them.”
     

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  2. Rhy Bez

    Rhy Bez UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    It would have been so much easier if all people had the same expectations and needs from such a team building event. I for one have found that the semi-spontaneous events after work are a lot better at building spirit. At first, not everyone will participate, but over time the large majority of people will want to join. There will always be the naysayers which you need to work with on an individual basis, but at least you can get the majority on a more positive level...
     
    Posted: Jun 21, 2019 By: Rhy Bez Member since: Jun 10, 2019
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  3. Julia Sta Romana

    Julia Sta Romana UKBF Contributor Free Member

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    I think one of the reasons why employees are often demotivated by these team building activities is the fact that we have to commute for this. When I was still working in an office, it took me almost 2 hours to commute to work. If we have team building activities, that's another 2 hours added to my commute. Not counting the hours taken away from me for sleep, chores or hobbies that allow me to relax.

    If the intention is to bond with my co-workers, most of us often bond over breaks and during our commute hours. Taking time away from our personal time just adds stress.
     
    Posted: Jun 24, 2019 By: Julia Sta Romana Member since: Apr 18, 2017
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  4. OhhEnnEmm

    OhhEnnEmm UKBF Contributor Free Member

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    There's a lot of reasons this sort of thing makes staff feel patronized.

    Mostly, they're nearly always aware that it's not actually about helping to build the team, but about being seen to be doing so.

    And then the onus is put on the employees to donate their time to become an actor in this charade, because otherwise the employer can pin any communication errors etc on the staff member and say "Well you should have been at the team building event."

    So, it's only really an illusion of choice, if you're even given any, in terms of whether or not you go to these things.
     
    Posted: Jul 24, 2019 By: OhhEnnEmm Member since: Nov 6, 2018
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