Workplace Woes: The Team-Building Retreat 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, a workplace expert says.
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Workplace Woes: The Team-Building Retreat

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Workplace Woes: The Team-Building Retreat

Workplace Woes: The Team-Building Retreat

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On Wednesdays we talk about the workplace. Today, we introduce you to Ben Dattner. He's a workplace consultant and an industrial and organizational psychologist, and he's here to help MORNING EDITION listeners with their workplace dilemmas - say if you're having a hard time dealing with a boss or a coworker, and there's no simple solution.

In future, we'll be putting questions from listeners to Ben Dattner. And welcome to our program.

Dr. BEN DATTNER (Workplace Consultant, Industrial and Organizational Psychologist): Good morning. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: Let's kick things off with this question. It's about team-building retreats. The idea is to do some sort of activity together and build the team, build trust in good relationships. What if someone doesn't want to do it?

Dr. DATTNER: Well, it depends why someone doesn't want to do it. If he or she really doesn't want to collaborate, that's one set of issues. If it's because there's going to be karaoke, line dancing or paintball and you don't want to participate, that's a whole different set of considerations.

MONTAGNE: As in we think, yeah, I know what you mean. Who wants to do that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. DATTNER: Exactly. Unfortunately, organizations frequently miss opportunities to actually build teams during team building, instead opting to do things like paintball or go carting, which in fact bring out hostility and conflict rather than building any sense of shared mission.

MONTAGNE: Now is there some literature or studies about which activities actually build teams and those that, in a sense, harm team building?

Dr. DATTNER: Well, what most research shows is that off-sites can be fun, people can get to know each other on a more social level. But a couple of days after people return to the workplace, the impact and the benefits are not usually enduring.

MONTAGNE: Oh. Well, that's interesting.

Dr. DATTNER: In my experience, doing things that get the team to where the team needs to be can be helpful. So for example, there are things like cooking school, where the organization - the team goes and cooks a meal and then eats it together. At least you've enacted during the off-site the stated goal of the team, which is to be more interdependent.

From a logical point of view, if you're taking people out for paintball or go carting, you're not even enacting in the moment team building.

MONTAGNE: Why, then, do you think companies do those kinds of activities?

Dr. DATTNER: Well, if you think about it, the social/psychological insight known by many leaders of organized crime syndicates as well as dictators is that you can tie people together in a circle of guilt in order to join a gang or an organized crime family, for example. You might have to commit a crime, and then everybody has committed a certain kind of crime and therefore are bound to one another. And possibly, these off-sites are a way to tie people together in a circle of shame.

MONTAGNE: Now you're short of kidding, but in fact, you're a little bit serious there in going out on a paintball exercise and feeling humiliated if that's what it comes to.

Dr. DATTNER: Or karaoke. How many of us have coworkers who can actually manage the two-octave range in "Dancing Queen"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: So back to the possible dilemma of a given employee who is skeptical, is it better to try and skip the event or just go out and get voice lessons?

Dr. DATTNER: Well, it's certainly easier to try to intervene before a decision has been made and announced. You could say given that we're trying to create a team-type environment here, why don't a bunch of us sing "Dancing Queen" rather than me having to sing it myself?

MONTAGNE: Ben Dattner is an industrial and organizational psychologist who teaches at New York University and runs a consulting company in New York. Thanks very much for joining us, and we'll talk soon.

Dr. DATTNER: Thanks. It was good to be with you.


And let's create a team-type environment here at MORNING EDITION. Ben Dattner is going to be part of our team. He will answer selected questions in an upcoming workplace segment and at our Web site.

MONTAGNE: And you can submit your questions at Search for the keyword workplace.

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