Workplace Woes: The Team-Building Retreat

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Team-building exercises are often competitive and don't help build a sense of a shared mission, workplace consultant Ben Dattner says. Randy Fari/Corbis hide caption

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Ben Dattner

Ben Dattner is a workplace consultant and an industrial and organizational psychologist. Josh Bazell hide caption

itoggle caption Josh Bazell

For years, companies and other organizations have gathered groups of employees for out-of-office retreats aimed at fostering closer ties. But these team-building exercises often have the opposite effect, says Ben Dattner, a workplace consultant and an industrial and organizational psychologist.

"Unfortunately, organizations frequently miss opportunities to actually build teams during team building," Dattner says.

Instead, companies opt for things like paintball or go-carting, "which, in fact, bring out hostility and conflict rather than building any sense of shared mission," Dattner tells Renee Montagne.

Research shows that offsite events "can be fun, people can get to know each other on a more social level," Dattner says. "But a couple of days after people return to the workplace, the impacts and the benefits are not usually enduring."

Below, Dattner offers suggestions for successful team-building.

Tips for Team Building

  • It's important to have a collaborative and participative process in designing the offsite team-building exercise. It's not a good idea to have a team-building event that is unilaterally organized by the leader of the team.
  • In order to build team skills, there should be some opportunity for teamwork. Competitive individual activities like paintball and go-karting are not likely to build team spirit or cohesion.
  • If the team wants some "fun" activities, there should also be some consideration of what "real work" the team wants to accomplish. With everyone together, the team has an opportunity to reflect on team dynamics and consider possible changes to strategy, roles, processes, and individual and collective responsibilities.
  • The team should set some goals for the offsite: What specific things do we want to accomplish during our time together?
  • The team may consider doing a team assessment (read a sample) in advance of the offsite and then reviewing the results during the meeting.

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