Why team building often fails

January 5, 2016 | By Cognadev

If you would like to be notified when new content is posted to our website, subscribe to our email alerts.

Subscribe Now

So there you are, standing 15 metres above the ground, sweat dripping down your face, trying to fathom how preparing to throw yourself off this platform has anything to do with your ability to sell photocopiers. Nathan from the corner desk is clearly growing more annoyed with your wimpish behaviour by the second, as the chances of winning that ‘sought after’ grocery voucher starts slipping through your fingers.

And you think to yourself, of all the team building events in the world, you find yourself on this one.

Unfortunately, many team building sessions go something like this.

Why is team building often a waste of time?

They’re meaningless

Team building sessions are often planned by someone so far removed from the team and the individuals involved. Often it is a generic program applied across all departments, usually after a quick google search, aimed at ticking off some employee wellness objective.

There’s competition involved

What could be further away from encouraging cohesion? Competition often brings out the worst in people, and even when a team is divided into smaller teams, it always results in someone losing. It also highlights the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Someone inevitably goes home empty handed, feeling inadequate or unfairly disadvantaged.

They’re just LAME

Team building sessions can get way too deep or personal and demeaning for a professional environment, often leaving employees feeling exposed or embarrassed.

There’s lack of transferability

If employees are left asking, “why are we doing this?” and unable to transfer the lessons learnt during the team building sessions to their actual work, any positive effects are going to be short lived and soon forgotten.

Effective team building

Simply put (and quite obvious), effective team building should leave the individuals feeling more, well, like a team. Hence, the event should encourage cohesion and cooperation, not competition. Individuals should be able to either like, or at least tolerate each other, more afterwards and this is usually achieved through positively highlighting individual strengths and differences and how these can be seen as unique talents which can be applied in order to enhance the team’s effectiveness. The event should stimulate a feeling amongst the team that they are more effective together than apart and that a loss of just one member, and their uniqueness, is a blow to the team in general. Effective team building should:

Be customised and facilitated

Make the program unique to the actual team after consultation with the manager and the individuals. The purpose should always be kept in mind – what should be achieved at the end? Bring in the professionals, those who are experienced in team building. They can facilitate the event and ensure a holistic approach is applied and focus is maintained.

Make it voluntary

Nobody likes to be forced to take part in anything. It is far better to work with a team that has opted to be there than people that are just scared of being viewed negatively by management. Team members are also more likely to choose to participate when the rest of their team has already (to be seen as a team player).

Optimism is key

Focus on the positive, the already effective, similarities and differences for the purpose of diversity celebration as opposed to tolerance. Furthermore, don’t pigeon hole people, they are more than just a ‘type’ or how they function during the event. Finally, always shift the focus to common goals.

Keep it professional

Avoid ‘airy fairy’ soul bearing exercises which tend to make people uncomfortable. Team members don’t necessarily have to thoroughly enjoy the event for it to be a success, they just need to have a sense that it was ‘nice’, but also that it was suitable for a work environment. This is usually not achieved through revealing all types of personal information or taking part in over the top eccentric exercises.


Every exercise should be linked to the team’s work and how they function together. This will encourage open mindedness and interest from individuals and they will be more inclined to remember the lessons and actually apply them afterwards.

Follow up

Plan a couple of quick follow up sessions, periodically after the event, to keep the lessons fresh in mind and to encourage positive habits.

On a final note, the role of the leader and the organisation in general cannot be ignored in the success of team building. It is well known that employees don’t leave a job, they leave a manager. For team building to be effective, the team members need to feel that their manager wants them to participate for the genuine reason that they wish to enhance their team and develop their staff, not to ‘test’ them and/or monitor them for their performance appraisal, for example, or that they are just fulfilling some HR administrative task. Furthermore, the overarching organisation will ultimately set the tone that filters down to each team. Team building will have a far more positive effect if the team’s goals and values are aligned with the organisation as a whole.

Put a positive spin on your team building. Contact Cognadev for more information on the use of assessments to facilitate diversity celebration and cohesion.