Does your workplace have a mandatory company picnic every year? Or another team building exercise that you’re forced to participate in? Do all these team building exercises feel like a waste of time? Recent research shows that you may be right and that certain team building activities are not really about team unity at all.
Moira Lafferty and Caroline Wright (from the University of Chester and Liverpool Hope University respectively) studied the team building activities of sports teams and found that team cohesion was not affected when players engaged in these exercises. Their research—which was recently presented to the British Psychological Society—included interviews with athletes who play sports such as football, rugby, cricket, and badminton. Lafferty and Wright found that players were subjected to both positive and negative behaviors, which were supposedly done for the sake of bringing the team together. Despite this rationalization, the respondents reported that they did not feel any more unified as a result of these so-called team building activities—but rather they believed these behaviors were nothing more than traditional rites of passage.
“Our findings suggest that, despite there being no positive relationship to team cohesion, team building activities, both positive and negative, are still conducted,” Lafferty said. “Interactive sports players are more likely to be subjected to inappropriate team building activities, which suggests that the idea of initiation may be embedded in the tradition of these teams and is seen as part of their cultures.”
Although most people are not being subjected to hazing at their jobs, this idea of workplace culture can be extrapolated to explain many team building exercises in the workplace. In some cases, they don’t seem to be helpful to workers at all and do not have any long-term benefits toward helping people work better with one another. However, activities like the company picnic are so ingrained in a company’s culture that—even if everyone hates it and no one wants to participate in it—the mere thought of canceling it borders on a sacrilege.
The solution? Unfortunately, there probably is no easy way of getting around these traditions. If you don’t participate, you’re going to be labeled as someone who is not a team player. This can unfortunately come back to haunt you when it’s time for a performance review or if you’re looking to advance in your company—although certain team building exercises, like lunches, have absolutely nothing to do with your job performance. Unless you are in a progressive workplace environment, the boss probably is not going to listen to you if you suggest a more useful alternative to the company picnic.
At the end of the day—no matter how much of a time waster a team building activity may be—chances are you should just suck it up, attend the event, and take one for the team.
(Source: Initiation ceremonies don’t build team spirit. Retrieved from www.bps.org.uk.)
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