What good are teambuilding events?

There are three types of teambuilding events, and corresponding hierarchy of objectives. Team leaders should carefully assess the team's needs before choosing a type of event in order to avoid disappointment and unhappy surprises.

1. The team wants just plain fun. Parties and outings help people get to know each other more personally. They relax and enjoy each other's company. Good feelings and memories follow to the workplace. This type of event is not facilitated, interactions are impromptu. The team does not bring up problems.
Liabilities: Sometimes team problems do come up, unplanned.This blindsides the team. There are no built-in ways to resolve. The fun can turn into harmful dynamics that follow to the workplace.

2. The team wants to generally examine communication and roles. Facilitated activities, such as ropes courses and off-site projects, give teams practice to work together in new ways. They debrief their successes and struggles after each activity session, and plan how they will improve in the next activity. They discuss implications for the workplace.
Liabilities: The teams are on their own to translate their event experiences back into daily interactions. The how-to may be unclear, and cause confusion and unexpected conflict.

3. The team wants to improve specific areas of workplace performance. A facilitator assesses team issues before the event, either interviewing or surveying each team member. Activities are planned to explicitly address strengths and problems. The team deliberately ties their activity interactions to how they behave in the workplace. The facilitator and team members anticipate conflicts and resolve them thoroughly and safely. The facilitator helps the team follow up the event experience by installing continuing workplace assessment.
Liabilities: The team may become complacent as it works more and more smoothly, and drop the process of continuous assessment. This may limit its long-term potential.

I have a teambuilding partnership with Camp Ketcha in Scarborough, Maine. We have hosted all of these types of events. We strongly recommend that team leaders think thoroughly about what their teams need before choosing one type over another.

What sorts of teambuilding event experiences have you had? I'd love to know what you have seen work and not. 

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