5 ways to avoid needing a team-building event

If you’re thinking about planning a team-building event for your team … before you go any further, ask yourself if it’s really needed, and if so, why. Too often, team-building events are scheduled without real thought into how they’ll help produce better results or – when used to address problems – are used as substitute for more meaningful intervention. And moreover, lots of employees find team-building events pretty miserable. (Wondering why? Read these stories of horrifying real-life team-building events submitted by readers.)

But wait, you say! How will I build team cohesion and morale without our annual retreat in the woods where we sleep on the ground and do blindfolded trust falls? The answer is about how you run your team day-to-day, not just in special “team-building” moments:

1. Prioritize communication, cooperation, and morale year-round, not just for the duration of a team-building event. Managers sometimes decide team-building is what’s needed in response to deep-rooted, problematic team dynamics, but that’s rarely the right fix – and proceeding as if it is can be highly alienating to staff members who want to see real solutions to serious systemic issues.

2. Look for opportunities for team members to collaborate in the course of day-to-day business. If you know that Leah is working on a project that’s new to her but which Bob has experience in, suggest they talk. If you know that Bob is struggling with a seriously tough piece of a project, suggest convening a working group to help brainstorm solutions. As the manager, you’re the hub at the center of the wheel, which makes you well-suited to spotting opportunities where collaboration would be useful. (Keep in mind, though, that you don’t want to force it. If people get the sense that they’re being told to collaborate or work in teams just for the principle of it rather than because it will truly serve the work, they’re likely to be annoyed.)

3. Create opportunities for team members to get a better understanding of what each do. If you have people who work fairly independently, you might find that people don’t know what others do, and possibly don’t appreciate the value that work brings. Look for ways to combat that, like asking a different person each month to use 15 minutes of a staff minute to talk about an aspect of their work, or seeing if staff members would be interested in holding “lunch and learns” where they teach a skill to colleagues.

4. Give people meaningful input into the work of the team. People are more likely to feel like part of a real team if they have a chance to give input and talk over challenges, and if they see that their input is both welcome and truly considered. In fact, many team-building exercises are based around solving artificial problems as a group (like building a card tower or untangling a human knot); it’s far more effective to instead involve your group in grappling with real challenges as part of the normal course of business.

5. Look for ways to bring your team together in informal, relaxed settings – but make it optional. If out-of-town employees are in the office for a few days, suggest a group lunch or dinner. Offer free bagels in the kitchen every Monday morning. Encourage people to stop by the conference room for wine and sodas every Friday afternoon. Just keep it optional (or you’ll instantly kill the good feelings for some people).

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. NGL*

    I’m attending a team building event today! It was totally optional – we’re leaving the office a little early to watch a (terrible) movie. Should be fun, but super low key. If anyone had mentioned going out into the woods, I would have run.

    1. Anonanotalibertarian*

      I worked for a libertarian non-profit (who I generally loved working for) that took a field trip to see the first Atlas Shrugged movie. I thought about going but ended up having a conflict. Probably for the best.

    2. Clever Name*

      My company is going to Casa Bonita tomorrow. If you’ve never heard of it or been there, watch the South Park episode about it. It’s completely accurate. Really.

  2. Tammy*

    I’ve had several experiences in my career where team-building events not only weren’t thought through in terms of how they’d benefit my team, but were actually structured in ways that made the team cohesion problems worse.

    The worst example that comes to mind was a team-building event that involved camping overnight with my coworkers, something I wasn’t willing to do for a number of reasons. My boss told me I could attend the first part of the event and then leave, but another manager was really pressuring me to stay for the whole event. When I asked her why, she said, “well, you already have three strikes against you here, because you’re [pejorative religious identity label], [pejorative LGBT-identity label], and fat, and maybe you should try harder to fit in!”

    Suffice it to say that I was NOT made to feel more like a valued member of the team, and shortly thereafter I was working for another company!

    1. Myrin*

      Oh my god, that manager, I’m so sorry someone actually said something like that to you! :O

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Right?! WTF?!

        I cannot believe the things that come out of people’s mouths in the workplace.

    2. addiez*

      I don’t question at all whether this is true, but I truly can’t even believe that someone would say something like that. Ugh, I’m sorry. People are the worst.

    3. 2 Cents*

      *reply that I’d never think of in time* “Well, you might be skinny, but it hasn’t made you any less of a *itch.”

      1. Tammy*

        Sadly not. I thought about suing, but the company in question was a politically connected PR firm, and I figured the last thing I needed was “Disgruntled [pejorative religious identity label], [pejorative LGBT-identity label] Sues Respected PR Firm” splattered across the front page of the newspaper while I was looking for another job. In hindsight, I’m less than fully sure this was the right decision, but I was younger and much less well established in my career.

        1. Observer*

          Don’t kick yourself. You cannot take on every battle.

          I do hope that someone did eventually turn the liability into a big cash cost, for all in the organization to see.

  3. Megs*

    I’d be curious to hear from anyone who’s done an escape room as a team building activity and if they enjoyed it. I do these for fun with friends but I know they advertise as team building activities a lot.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      There are a lot of FRIENDS I wouldn’t want to do an Escape Room with, let alone colleagues! I’ve done one and loved it, but you have to be on the same wavelength with the other people, I think.

      Speaking for myself, I don’t understand why high-pressure team problem-solving is supposed to foster team building.

    2. TCO*

      I think it would be really fun for certain offices–my coworkers, for instance, would love it. My friend’s coworkers just did one and loved it. It’s definitely not for every group, though. I know even the concept of being “locked” in a room would make some people uncomfortable.

      1. Megs*

        The best one I’ve done involved being handcuffed at the beginning. I can definitely see that not being for everyone.

    3. Elizabeth*

      We did one in my department of four. We already get along pretty well so it was more of a fun afternoon out with the promise of going for a beer afterwards, so even though we didn’t actually escape the room (#fail), we had a lot of fun. I don’t know that this would be true of most teams, though, especially if you have a a deeply competitive person or someone who hates puzzles on the team.

    4. Bend & Snap*

      This would expose one of my biggest weaknesses to my teammates (solving puzzles), and I’ve found that a lot of team building games can do that. I’m a publicist and some of the stuff I’ve had to do in the name of team building in the past include things that basically amount to physics experiments (building structures) or things like running races, etc.

      If you’re going to make people do an activity it should be suited to their collective strengths.

    5. CaliCali*

      We did an escape room with our team (about 5 people) and it was actually pretty fun! I think because there were different types of things to figure out and solve, people’s various strengths came into play. I’m far from the most “puzzle-savvy” person on the team, but because of the way I saw a pattern, I could figure out some clues, and the same applied to other team members. I would say if some of your team cohesion issues relate to egos, I would not do it, but if you just need a team to work together a bit better, it’d help with that.

    6. JMegan*

      I’ve done one with friends, and I think it was kind of the opposite of team building! There were two or three people who were really into it, and they basically took over the whole thing, while the rest of us sort of wandered around doing things like trying all the combinations on the locks so we could look busy. Then the one person who was REALLY into it missed an important clue, so we didn’t finish the room, which led to a certain amount of blaming and complaining. The missed clue was actually a blessing for me, because it would have led to a climbing activity which I wouldn’t have been able to do.

      The description makes it sound worse than it actually was – I did enjoy it, but only because I wasn’t hugely invested in it (and because I didn’t have to climb). But that would defeat the purpose of team building, if people don’t care about the outcome! I think it could work as a team building activity if you were *very* sure of your audience, but I wouldn’t guarantee it.

    7. Kristine*

      My team did an escape room last year. I thought the puzzle itself was fun but I didn’t learn how to work better with my team. We all just kind of did our own thing and then would announce to everyone when we found something or figured something out. I was also trapped with my super loud and annoying coworker, so I did not enjoy that aspect.

    8. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I did it with a volunteer board I sit on. It was fun, but I don’t know if it was team building…When we worked together, we worked well (like we do in meetings), but some of those quirky behaviours that drive you nuts about people really manifest in the room.

    9. INTP*

      I think it has the potential to be too stressful and panicky to be productive for some people. It’s one of those things that if it doesn’t seem super fun to you, could be incredibly stressful and unpleasant, like karaoke. And being snapped at by a panicking coworker or told to calm down while I’m panicking is the last thing that would make me feel bonded with my team.

    10. Ad Astra*

      I can barely see the appeal of doing these for fun, much less as a work requirement. I know some engineers who had a blast doing an escape room thing for a bachelor party (they set a record for fastest escape!), I suppose because they’re natural problem-solvers who love puzzles. I, on the other hand, don’t enjoy puzzles in any form and I hate feeling trapped. I imagine this is a common phobia, too, so while I would just be annoyed and uncomfortable, there are probably plenty of people who would totally freaked out.

      So, if the office was staffed with the right sort of people, they might enjoy it. But even then I’m not sure that would do much to improve their work, since these people would already be skilled problem-solvers and collaborators.

      1. Megs*

        At least with regard to the “trapped” aspect of it, I think it depends on the room. Of the ones I’ve done, most (but not all) do not actually physically lock the door – there are other indications that you’ve “escaped” (lights, a recording, etc). And depending on the number of people with you, some are actually fairly large spaces – I’ve done three where each “room” takes up most of a floor of a converted duplex. So if you wanted to try it but had an enclosed space issue, a little research might find something that’d work.

        That said, if you don’t like puzzles, you’re out of luck.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I’ve only done one, but the door was hanging wide open. It’s just that you had to do all the puzzles and brainteasers to “escape.” There was nothing to keep you from noping out, you just wouldn’t get the benefit of “winning” (which in this case was entry into a drawing for a prize).

          1. Megs*

            I don’t have any evidence for this beyond my own experience, but I suspect that as escape rooms have gotten more popular, the designers may have found that people are more comfortable when they’re only pretending to be locked in. The first couple of rooms I did a year or so ago we were physically locked in, but the couple I’ve done more recently we were not.

            Fire liability might have something to do with it, too.

    11. jesicka309*

      I did one with work and we had an absolute blast. We had three rooms, and divided the team into groups of four. My team escaped and no one else did, but we had a lot of fun swapping war stories, discussing the funny things that happened while in there, and a lot of the arguments that took place over silly things.
      Even if people were yelling at each other in the room, when we came out it was like nothing had happened and it was just a funny story to tell people (like how the scariest thing in our room was the sound of a toilet on the floor above us flushing). The place we held it at was a bar as well, so we all sat around and had a drink to debrief before we went home. The event was done in two hours. I had so much fun though that I booked into a different room with some friends for this weekend.
      We are a group of CRM marketers/analysts though so I guess we are a bit into puzzle solving too. Definitely a ‘know your team’ kind of event.

      1. jesicka309*

        And while the door were ‘locked’ there was a big red button you could press if you really wanted out. One of the rooms was a ‘jail break’ experience and opened right out onto the bar, so we all had a good cheer when that group was assisted out of their room.

      2. Honeybee*

        Yeah, that’s the other thing – my team is the kind of team that can have a heated discussion over the details and then have a beer like nothing ever happened. The closer your team is to that I think the better it is.

    12. Honeybee*

      Some people on my team did it together as an offsite – it wasn’t strictly a team-building activity, but a lot of my coworkers are friends with each other and hang out together on the weekends. They actually suggested it as a team-building activity too – they had a lot of fun doing it. I think it was a really big group of them (more than 10, approaching 20 if I remember correctly). They solved a room with a 17% success rate.

      I think it depends on your group – if you normally collaborate together, and no one is overly competitive or aggressive, then it could work. I think my team could do it successfully. We’re a bunch of video game researchers who seek patterns for a living, though.

    13. UK JAM*

      We’ve done this as a work event (not called ‘team-building’ specifically, just a night out). It was a lot of fun although I don’t think it had a direct impact on anyone’s work. The main benefit was we did it as sort of a mixer with another team, so we got mixed up in our ‘room teams’ and got to know some of the other team members a bit better. It probably helped that the rooms were basically 100% success rate, as if you looked stuck the venue people would call the room and give hints!

    14. Nerdling*

      I just did it with some friends last weekend and had a great time. Would I want to do one with my coworkers? I don’t know. Some of them, perhaps, but I’m not sure I’d want to be in a smaller room with them all for an hour with the pressure of solving puzzles. It would be interesting, at the very least; I just don’t know if that would be a positive interesting or a negative interesting.

    15. Vicki*

      Just from the words “escape room”, my response would be: Are. You. Out. Of. Your. Mind???

    16. esra*

      My team actually had one of these recently. I couldn’t make it (cough), but everyone else said they had a really good time.

  4. NJ Anon*

    #5 This! We work very much in silos. Every quarter or so we do a pot luck lunch or cookie exchange or something. But we do it organically. No pressure to participate.

    1. Bwmn*

      I actually think what helps #5 the most is when pot luck lunches, office parties/happy hours, etc. are during work, short and frequent. I’ve find that the more frequent they’re scheduled (like once a month, once every two months) decreases the pressure to participate and increases the possibilities for those to participate.

      This way if at any point you’re truly too busy to attend or the event is just not your cup of tea, there are other easy chances to participate again.

      1. INTP*

        That’s an interesting thought. I like cooking and talking about food but I hate office potlucks. They tend to be on a day that it’s really inconvenient for me to spend the time to cook or the money on cooking something crowd-pleasing, and officially or unofficially mandatory. If they were more frequent with truly no penalty for not participating most of the time, I might get into them on occasion.

        I also think you have to have the right crowd for this, though. At one of my jobs, literally EVERY SINGLE unmarried male would bring random cheap stuff no one wanted to eat like dollar store cookies, counting on the women and married men to bring in food for them to chow down on, and it was hard not to be resentful about that. Not very team building when everyone else is super annoyed at 25% of the team. And same when the crowd is not vegetarian-friendly (insert whichever diet restriction), so you’re required to pay for enough of your dish to feed the whole team but you don’t get to eat their dishes.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, that sucks. I’m in a group where with food events, we always try to have a few gluten-free options for our organizer, who cannot eat even the tiniest bit of it. She’s pretty chill about it and is used to feeding herself beforehand, but we don’t like her to have to do that.

          Once for an office potluck at Nonprofit Job, I had no ideas so volunteered to bring the side. I made a huge Cobb salad in the shape of the flag and they hoovered it right up. I was very surprised–I figured I’d be eating salad leftovers for a week! Probably because of the ham and cheese, but they ate all the vegetables too, even the avocado! I was glad, because the damn thing was expensive.

          1. Ollie*

            How very thoughtful! I hate office potlucks because I cannot eat gluten and I usually just watch people eat and try to leave as early as possible, as most people try to pressure you to eat or question why you are not. It’s hard to appreciate the effort when people with dietary restrictions are not taken into account, ever.

            1. neverjaunty*

              I don’t blame you at all. I can understand not everybody can cook GF, but surely they could make an effort to get a few things at the potluck you can eat.

  5. Rit*

    I’ve found that the type of manager who really, really gets into team events might say that participation is optional…but more often than not, there are still subtle consequences for not attending.

    We had a pretty awful (by my standards) event not long after I started my current job- a “party boat” ride to a small island in late spring. So, a mosquito jamboree in warm weather, with no way to leave early. Noooo thank you. It was a relief when we did a more reasonable event a few months later, just so I could prove I’m a “team player”.

    1. katamia*

      Yeah, people who really love team events like that can be super judgey about people who aren’t into them or even just have another commitment they can’t get out of.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Far too many people are unable to get past the idea that “I like it/I want it” is not the pivot around which the world turns. They simply can’t fathom that someone else may have totally different likes and that’s okay.

    2. Ama*

      I live near a river on which there are lot of party boat cruises and every time I see one go by I think how it’s kind of my worst nightmare. I like my coworkers a lot but even in my personal life the only thing that gets me over my mild social anxiety is reminding myself that if I’m not having fun I can always leave.

      1. Megs*

        Ug, that sounds potentially awful. My least favorite/personal nightmare for team building would have to be pedal pubs, though. I get a wash of sympathetic embarrassment every time I see one of those, even if the people seem to be enjoying themselves.

      2. Tau*

        We had a company party on a boat last year. I very nearly didn’t go because of the “but I won’t be able to leave” factor and wouldn’t blame anyone who stayed away.

  6. KR*

    I have to confess that we did a mandatory fun team bonding session. We wanted to surprise our team with a pizza party for the hard work they did, but the nature of the work means that only one or two of them work at a time and only for a few hours usually, and if it doesn’t work for your schedule someone else does the work. The only way to get everyone guaranteed to be in one place for a specific time was to make the fun mandatory. Super shameful for me, but everyone liked the pizza and the company.

  7. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    My entire faculty attended a conference the other week where we all went to different workshops. At the end of the day, the school had a happy hour at a nearby hotel in a room that had shuffleboard, pool, ping pong, an open bar, and lots of comfy seating. People had a good time playing games or just sitting and talking – and there was a mix of social chat and “So I went to this great workshop about introverted students!” or “Did you see the speaker who talked about social justice?” I thought it was a definite win as a team-building event because it both had people interacting with coworkers they don’t normally interact with, and capitalized on the excitement from the conference when it was still at its peak.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Oh, and it was 100% optional, and went from 4:30-6:30, so it didn’t eat into personal-life time.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Oh, that sounds like a good way to do it. People picked what they wanted to do, but there was plenty of mingling space and stuff to talk about.

    3. Ad Astra*

      That does sound like a great mix between professionally valuable and socially enjoyable.

  8. Newbie*

    #1 is so very vital. But not only should it occur year-round, it needs to be modeled and supported from the top. There are those managers that give lip service to team building by just scheduling a team-building event at the annual retreat and don’t back-up the concept or encourage/allow it throughout the year.

    OldToxicJob had some really interesting, demoralizing, inappropriate team-building events at each annual retreat. The managers that devised all of the activities just sat back and laughed at us all during each event. And then did everything they could throughout the year to discourage and punish team-building in our daily work activities. Good times!

  9. addiez*

    We have a team that isn’t all co-located, so we’ll often do activities outside of work when we’re all in the same place. I think it’s really nice to get the opportunity to spend time talking about non-work things with people who I almost never see. Last time, we went bowling.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      My team is not only co-located, I haven’t even met some of them in person. So team building pretty much has to be related to work, and has to be something that can be done via email, IM, or phone. Asking for help and helping each other solve problems is our biggest team building event.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Bowling is one of my favorite “general audience” activities. A wide variety of people (athletic, not-so-athletic) can enjoy the bowling itself, and those who don’t like to bowl can enjoy hanging out and drinking beer or eating french fries. A lot of times there’s also arcade games or mini golf, which could cater to different interests, too. I don’t even actually like bowling myself, and would never suggest it for a Friday night out with my friends, but it’s one of the better choices for off-site work parties.

  10. Bend & Snap*

    We have a very spread out, global team, and we all get together once a year at our user conference. Our VP usually holds a meeting the day after the show for a couple of hours where there’s booze and breakfast and hanging out and awards/recognition, and sometimes updates.

    THAT is the way to do team building!

  11. Noah*

    Small voice…I like team building events. I’ve done overnight camping, locked away together at remote mountain lodges, rock climbing, spy games, and all sorts of things. The majority of them were mandatory events and usually tied in an annual training requirement we have to do to meet government regulations anyways.

    However, I think the reason we all get along well enough for these types of things to work is because we have a generally supportive workplace that follows the 1-5 Alison listed. There are some co-workers I may not be friends with, but I don’t hate the thought of being around them for a few days. Also, big for me, we’ve always had our own rooms and a place to escape at the end of the day. Even camping, most people brought their own tent and there was a small group that ended up saying they would prefer to go to a hotel once everyone wanted to go to sleep after campfire time.

    It could just be the industry though. Aviation/airline, so we spend a lot of time with each other anyways, especially the front line folks who have overnights.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      See, I don’t mind team building exercises either as long as we’re not doing anything super athletic. Anything that reminds me of high school gym class (which I hated) is a no go.

      My division does group activities at least once a month, and we just did one last week in fact. We went to a gaming center for some competition and free food/drinks. Luckily I was injured and couldn’t participate in the challenges, but I enjoyed the drinking part a lot :) And it helps that I genuinely like the people I work with (even though they are competitive as hell) – being “forced” to spend time with them isn’t that bad, especially when free alcohol is involved.

      I just wish my division would get more creative with the types of events they plan. Yeah, it’s cool to go to local sporting events and get custom team jackets and/or jerseys and to have catered lunch in a suite, but what about doing a murder mystery lunch? Or renting out a theater for the afternoon and letting us raid the concession stand while watching crappy movies? (I see I’m going to have to volunteer for the planning committee next year if I want to change the all sports all the time dynamic.)

  12. Anoners.*

    I think where I get frustrated, is when there’s focus on building a team, but not actually using a team.

    I’ve worked in situations where there aren’t a lot of meetings. Right now, my coworkers and I work in the same location, but sometimes 90% of our time is focused on directly working with our clients. Downtime is filled with short personal time breaks and preparing for meetings.

    I would love a morning to sit together and actually talk about what we’re seeing, comparing notes, discussing projects, learning more about my ‘teams’ background, etc. I would love to actually sit down and make a plan or learn more about what my coworkers experiences and ideas are.

    So now I feel like I know quite about their communication styles, but I have no place or time to communicate with them.

  13. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

    My dad’s office once did a team-building exercise that involved a ziplining obstacle course in a national park–it sounds crazy fun to me, but I imagine that if anyone in his group were afraid of heights, it would be much less pleasant!

    1. Callie*

      your username is “the wooooo-ooooorst!”

      (I love your username! I just had to make that reference.)

      1. Mona Lisa Saperstein*

        LOL thanks, that and Jean Ralphio’s musical riff about how “technically I’m homeleeeesss” may be two of my favorite quotes from any show ever!

        1. Bowserkitty*

          Every now and then I randomly emphasize words like that to my friends a la Jean Ralphio! I’m sure they love me.

        2. Ad Astra*

          I constantly get Mona Lisa’s “ecstasy takes foreeeeva to leave my system” line stuck in my head.

    2. The Alias Gloria is Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      I literally would quit my job rather than go ziplining.

      1. qudrefuj*

        Funny you would say that — I literally did quit my job in part to avoid zip lining.

        I was unhappy at a job for a lot of reasons when my boss decided that the team would spend a weekend at a lodge and do zip lining and survival training. The team definitely had a lot of issues, but I could not imagine anything worse than spending a weekend away from my family, with this team, doing things that didn’t seem fun to me. What’s strange is, there had been so few attempts at team building previously — team lunches happened rarely, team meetings happened once.

        Anyway, I’d been job searching for awhile (holding out for a really great company) and was going through my second or third interview with a promising one. Lucky for me, I got an offer before the team building event. I wish I could tell my old boss just how terrifying his idea was to me and that it’s unlikely I was alone in thinking that.

        1. The Alias Gloria is Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

          That worked out! I’m absolutely terrified of heights. I wouldn’t go to the upper decks at Kauffman Stadium in KC for a baseball game, something I wanted to do. If my boss said “Do this or quit” I’d quit. It’s just not worth overcoming my fears.

  14. Sharon*

    Here’s the team building exercise I’d love to see:

    1. Don’t assign more than say 2 large projects to anyone to work simultaneously, instead of the 5 – 8 simultaneous projects we have now. This means staffing appropriately. We can’t collaborate when we’re too busy to spare more than 5 minutes to answer each other’s questions. Also, it leads to resentment when we’re too busy by necessity to stop and help a coworker.
    2. Don’t allow people to book back to back meetings all day long. It’s also frustrating when my manager is largely unavailable because she’s running like a hamster in a wheel. She’s part of our team, too.

  15. INTP*

    Maybe it’s just because I’m a cranky introvert, but the thing that makes me feel the best about my coworkers, not get annoyed with them, and like working with them, is having ample time away from them. I can get along with almost anyone for several hours per week in a task-focused setting. I don’t need to know someone’s hopes and dreams (or marital status and hometown, for that matter) to be motivated to work together to do our jobs as well as possible. Start forcing me to give up personal time to interact with them (whether it’s official or unofficial force), and I will like them a lot less. And while I don’t work better with people just because I get to know things I like about them, I have gotten to know things about coworkers that made me absolutely despise them as people due to us spending time together outside work sharing about our lives, and that made it much harder to work with them.

    1. Nother Name*

      Are you me?

      I did once bond with a co-worker over our mutual hatred of team-building events. I don’t think that snarky comments about how ridiculous the whole thing was what anyone had in mind.

      1. Nye*

        I’ve always wondered if maybe that IS the point. So much team-building and getting-to-know-you type stuff is completely ridiculous and artificial; is that deliberate attempt to encourage folks to bond through shared eye-rolling? Maybe I give team-building psychology too much credit for subtlety, but it’s the only charitable explanation I can think of.

  16. Amber Rose*

    We call them team morale events, because we don’t need team building but sometimes we need some fun to lighten the stress. Stuff like lunch BBQs and camping and tickets to lacrosse games.

    What I like about them is I can quietly opt out of the ones I think would be hell (like camping) while enjoying the fun ones without anyone saying anything about missing me or giving me shit about it.

  17. Bowserkitty*

    OldBoss made me schedule these for our team once a month, our “Joy” meetings based on this webinar she had seen on how to bring joy to the work place. Two hours a month on busy Mondays doing brainstorming sessions were DREADED by my coworkers and me. The word “joy” was only associated with sarcasm.

    I do not miss those, come to think of it… :)

    1. Nother Name*

      I went to high school in the 80s. “Oh joy!” was the term used to express when something was specifically not joyous. (To say it exactly right, you must be a disaffected 16YO girl.)

      1. Bowserkitty*

        As somebody who graduated high school approximately ten years ago, I can assure you it’s still used as such! :D And even then, as a 20-something office peon most of us rolled our eyes saying “oh joy” when we learned we’d indeed be having the meetings.

        Excuse me, teambuilding sessions.

  18. Elizabeth West*

    Just the words team-building make me want to gouge out my eyes with a chisel. If you must:

    –Do plan events that take place during work hours.
    –Don’t ask me to do any sports, zip-lining, or anything like trust falls or true confessions.
    –No white elephant gift exchanges.
    –I do not want to go to a stupid riverboat variety show and watch small dogs jump through hoops and eat rubber chicken and watery mashed potatoes.
    –Don’t make it mandatory, especially if it requires a financial outlay on my part.
    –Dinners outside work hours are boring and tedious. Plus, they cut into my me time.

    Thank you for your consideration.
    Ron Swanson

  19. Anon for this*

    A friend of mine recently went on a team building trip to Las Vegas where her manager paid for everyone to get into a strip club, and then each staff also got a lap dance paid for.

    My eyebrows shot up to my forehead when I heard that story. Definitely not a team building experience I would appreciate.

      1. Anon for this*

        True story! I was shocked. Although I guess she works in what would still be considered an “old boys club” type of field.

  20. Honeybee*

    I’m part of the Morale Team at work and one of the easiest things that we do for morale on the team is simply organize group times where everyone can (optionally) gather in our common space, eat food, drink beer and chat. They’re always during work hours. That’s probably the most asked-for thing anyway – people just want to talk to each other interrupted for an hour or so. All our holiday parties are thusly so, except we put up decorations and occasionally do themed things (like there were costumes at Halloween and a white elephant at the winter holidays, although those were also optional).

    I also do independently help organize some events outside of work, but with people who have explicitly stated they’re open to hanging out outside of work.

  21. Glasskey*

    True confession: When I first saw the title of this post, I thought it read, “5 ways to avoid a team building event” instead of “5 ways to avoid NEEDING a team-building event.” And I thought, there are actually 5 ways to do this?!

  22. Clewgarnet*

    I physically shuddered by the time I got to ‘blindfolded trust falls’.

    My department once went go-karting as a team-building event. I was recovering from a fractured spine at the time, so couldn’t take part. I ended up sitting in a freezing cold corner, watching everybody else. I’d suggested to my manager that I stay in the office to cover any emergencies (basically, begged to be allowed to) but, no, I had to go.

    I did finish two books that day, though.

  23. Bryce*

    At the risk of sounding like Richard Nixon, let me make this perfectly clear: No amount of team-building activities can fix a lack of communication, low morale, lack of trust, personality clashes, or poor work performance.

    Before embarking on any team-building, ask yourself these questions first:

    Have I put the effort into building a great team in terms of both hiring the right people and developing the people already on my team, as well as retaining good performers and managing out/firing not-so-good performers?

    Do I make it easy and safe for my employees to come to me with problems and needs, and do I help them solve those problems and meet those needs effectively?

    Do I motivate and manage effectively? Am I too laissez-faire or too micromanaging? Am I giving effective feedback?

    Do I actively engage my employees and give them the chance to have real input into strategy and process, and empower them to make decisions whenever possible?

    Do I advocate for my team as a liaison between my team and upper management?

    Do I support my employees when they feel the need to relax, recharge and de-stress both on and off the job?

    If the answer to any of these is no, then team-building won’t help.

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