Bonding not building

‘Let’s have a teambuilding’ is a popular cry. When employees say it they’re usually asking for a little relief from weekly routine and hoping for a treat. When HR people say it they may want to spend a budget but can’t think of anything new to do with it. When bosses say it, it usually means that they feel something is wrong inside the company.

These are all wrong reasons to prescribe teambuilding. They are elastoplast over a graze. They rarely address the wound beneath, so everybody gets a bit disappointed. A recent survey by Vodafone UK and YouGov found that the majority of workers surveyed had been made to go team-building, and 54% didn’t feel that doing more would help them work better with their colleagues.”

In Africa, we have much lower levels of employee cynicism. Generally we find that employee engagement activities work well, if they are part of a strategy that everyone understands. Staff enjoy opportunities for greater collaboration in and around the workplace. And the fact is, you don’t have to go away and spend lots of money if you can create the right tone for these activities.

Team building activities can be socially awkward, especially when very senior people are interacting with junior staff. Rarely, in the history of business, has anyone had real fun when being told to have fun by the Sales Director. And please don’t compel people to participate. I have seen Friday cinema trips promoted as Compulsory Fun Nights!

It’s time we moved on from traditional team building activities towards meaningful team bonding. You don’t do that with ‘trust falls’. Trust me.

Here are three very simple ideas you might try in your organisation. They really don’t cost money, so they are easy to run on a regular basis. You simply need to find people to champion. Here’s a tip – Millennials can help you.

Idea #1 – start singing. Almost everyone sings as part of their regular religious worship. But don’t limit yourselves to choral work. Think acapella, jazz, blues, traditional – Whatever form makes your people smile.

Idea #2 – have lunch together. Cornell University research shows a positive association between eating together and better performance. Remember that Latin origin of the word company was based on people who eat bread together.

Idea #3 – share something about yourself. We find that regular meetings where staff are encouraged to chat about their lives outside work, showcase a talent, or describe their home country or region can work very well. The tone needs to be right: tea, coffee and mandazis help.

In company culture, little and often works best.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.

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