Teambuilding vs. Team Bonding activities

What is Teambuilding?

“Teambuilding” is the buzzword in this day and age among many institutions, organisations and companies. Groups from diverse industries are jumping on the bandwagon and organising “teambuilding” events and activities. While good intentions back the hype of planning such activities, and it is heartening that organisations are recognising the importance of having their staff work as a team, we want to be accurate in our definition of what this catchphrase truly means.

In our line of profession, an interesting observation that we have made is that many people encounter a certain degree of difficulty in differentiating between teambuilding and merely team bonding and interaction.

So, what exactly is “teambuilding”? It may come as a surprise to some, but the word “teambuilding” has yet to earn its place in the pages of many esteemed dictionaries of renowned brands. Our collective inference was (and still is until we’re proven otherwise) that it was coined from the phrase, “building a team”, which conveniently translates, in short, to ‘team-building”. Though there is no legitimate dictionary description of the word, we have arrived at a creditable and credible definition based on past research done:

teambuilding: a purpose-driven process, developed according to a systematic plan, to create, maintain, and enrich the development of a group of people into a cohesive unit

Teambuilding is a progressive development of the dynamics of a group of people working together, based on key objectives and goals identified for that group. It is not a one-time pursuit, but a series of events or activities that shape a team and unify them, thereby resulting in the achievement of targets and synergies.

Teambuilding activities are very important in the development of teams that will work together for an extended period of time on a complex project or a series of activities. Teambuilding activities help people understand that they are greater collectively than individually. It helps people see the benefits of collaboration and leveraging on one another’s talents, expertise and resources. It is essentially bringing people to a place where there is an honest appreciation of each other’s fundamental nature... where they come from... where they have been. It is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Many confuse teambuilding with team bonding, of which the latter is basically the process of a group of people, forming a close, personal relationship through frequent or constant association. Bonding is a pre-requisite for teambuilding – you have to be comfortable with and trust the team members you are going to work with. However, team bonding is less formal and structured, and the primary goal is usually just to interact and get to know one another better on a personal basis. Bonding can be accomplished through simple activities like going for meals together, engaging in a game of sport after work, and other social functions. There are no learning values, evaluations or follow-ups required for bonding sessions. What is of utmost importance for a bonding activity, is inter-mingling and socializing.

Organising a teambuilding session
Before you organise a teambuilding session for your team, it is quintessential to bear in mind the following:

1. Get the priorities clear
Notice we said “priorities” and did not refer to the list of fifteen objectives you wish to achieve? Pick not more than four objectives that are of main concern and precedence and have them clearly stated before embarking on any teambuilding activity. Ensure that expectations are clearly communicated to the team members. Most teams do not need an intense day. Instead, they need a few personalised points to be well demonstrated and then to relax and enjoy themselves. To reinforce intended learning values by evoking pleasant memories yields far better results than having team members remember a learning point birthed out a nasty experience.

2. One session will not yield miracles
Consultants or trainers conducting teambuilding sessions are not magicians. Some companies expect miraculous results after that one session, and get disheartened when immediate results are not seen. Teambuilding should be seen as an on-going form of training, it is a process. It is building precept upon precept. Chances are, when participants go back to the office, they will experience or exhibit changes initially, but as time passes, they may revert to their old ways. There has to be follow-up action and monitoring of progress, for example, a person put in charge to oversee that the desired changes are carried out as scheduled.

Our suggestion is always for companies to conduct teambuilding activities quarterly, or at least twice a year, so that reinforcement of desired values are timely and any progress can be effectively charted. If there are any budget constraints, form a team to conduct these activities internally – it beats losing the building effect that has already begun with the initial session.

3. Relating back to the office environment
It is very important how the new information or knowledge that is gained from the teambuilding session can be brought back to everyday working conditions. Often, it is not that employees fail to understand the learning values behind a teambuilding session, but that the daily working conditions and environment inhibit the exhibition of desired actions and performance. The management has to be committed to consciously create an environment that encourages collaboration instead of intense competition. In saying that, let us qualify that competition can be healthy and motivating, but not when it breeds rivalry and generates distrust within the team. The environment at work should then encourage working in teams, instead of focusing on individual performance and efforts. Some other principles to bear in mind include having open lines of communication, showing mutual respect regardless of position, motivating your team and the meting of appropriate rewards on a team basis.

To ensure open communication and facilitate dialogue, the management has to establish clear minimum requirements for internal communication. This is to help ensure that every employee knows the goals, so that all can work together to pave and adjust the road to reaching them. Employees should be encouraged to speak their minds and constructively engage in dealing with issues. Employees should always appropriately informed of events before any external stakeholders are. In conjunction with speaking, active listening should also be practiced, such that full attention is given to the speaker. In a similar light, mutual respect is also a crucial aspect in the work environment in terms of valuing everyone’s ideas, contributions and showing consideration for any cultural differences that may exist.

Know your people, and discern what motivates them. We cannot motivate another person without first trying to understand a person better and helping him see that the desired outcome is achievable, and it is what he really wants. There are organisational theories galore on motivation, of which one of the most widely acknowledged is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In 1943 Abraham Maslow, one of the founding fathers of humanist approaches to management, wrote an influential paper that set out five fundamental human needs and their hierarchical nature. These five needs, in ascending order are: physiological; safety; belonging; esteem; and self-actualization. Maslow surmised that people could not commit to moving on to the next need, until the previous need was fully attained. Once the needs were attained they would cease to be a motivator, so motivated people would start to look to the next need in order to satisfy themselves. Motivated employees are most productive. When they see themselves as an integral part of the team, they will be willing to go beyond their call of duty to meet the desired goals. The onus is on the management to identify their motivators, and then skillfully weave them into the incentive and reward system. (click here for more on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)


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