Be afraid of “Team Building”

As a Training Manager I have always been afraid of Managers and HR Business Partners coming along and asking for a “Team Building” course for this area. To be fair, I’ve nothing against the concept of Team Building. But what I’m sure is that in my experience way too often the idea of a Team Building exercise is way too often suggested as a (wrong) solution to a plethora of different needs and requirements. Most of them way too often linked to the inability of a manager to perform its role as a manager and a as a team leader.
20130302-110903.jpg I’ve always considered I was doing a good job as a training manager when I would come out of the meeting to discuss the “team building” need, having agreed that a Team Building course was not a solution. Plus, I’ve always been very diffident if the request was also directed towards a very specific types of course, usually “extreme” off-sites.
Just to give an example, I had once a discussion with a manager who claimed his first line of reports needed to have a “real smashing team building experience”, something that “would change their way of operating forever”. Interesting challenge I thought, and I tried to investigate a bit what the reasons were for this sudden need. But the manager continued to focus more I his expected training session:

“I’ve heard that you can do this experience on a sailing boat. This is what we need, throw them in a boat for a couple of days and see what happens.”

One element of that sentence sounded as a real alarm to me: the idea is about throwing them in the boat.
Here is where I got the certainty this was not the solution. As usual it was not easy to gain further information, but the coffee corner and the HR BP colleagues provided useful insight. Situation was quite difficult because of a manager who was lacking a positive leadership style. Goals were confused, and often he had been applying a differentiated approach to the various people of his team, stimulating an internal feeling of distrust. A situation not unseen in other contexts. But here, ca you imagine what effect that experience could have had on the team? Two scenarios came too my mind. In one the team would dissolve completely when arrived back on shore. In the other a strong team tie would be formed…. Against its boss!
Whatever the situation is, a request of a “Team Building” course should raise more than one ringing alarm bell. Of course, all the outdoor training and experiential training hype has added a lot to this. Way too many providers have moved from providing learning to provide entertainment. Which also adds to the confusion.
However as a Training Manager (or as an HR Business Partner if you intercept this request first), you should try to understand what the real need is. And act consequently. Of course, this does not apply only to Team Building, but also to many other “soft” and “fashionable” subjects.
What happened at the end of my example before? Coaching on the manager was the right course of action, and provided to be the correct solution.

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