I repeat – do not mix office retreats with team building activities.
Why? Before asking me why, I guess you need to ask your team members first. Ask them if the trust fall or the scavenger hunt they have been forcefully playing in every retreat contributed to their growth, or at least made a positive improvement within their teams. If they were really ‘really’ honest, most of them would say the games and stuff were ‘fine’, the reflections were ‘nice’, but once they were back to their work desks, most people had swept these understandings and notions out of their minds.
The better question we need to be asking should be – why does team building activities in office retreats do not work? Multiple academic research say it works and even contributes to team camaraderie. However, in reality, the academic research deviates from the practical work settings. So why not to mix it? And what to do about it?
I’ll tell you.
What retreat actually is?
Retreat – This word originates from when armies pulled themselves back or withdrew forces as a result of looming defeat or enemy’s superior powers. This was done in order to gather themselves back, and assess a different ploy to get victorious over their enemies.
In corporate world, retreat practices are pulling employees back from their exhausting work duties and giving them a relaxing environment for having fun and ensuring they get all sorts of rests – physical, emotional, social, and mental. And then someone decided to think “Let’s utilize this moment to rebuild ourselves”, and few years later – BOOM – Corporate Games and Team Building Activities were emphasized in the office retreats.
Why team building in retreat don’t work?
Ironically, these team building activities ensures that people continue using their cognitive and physical abilities and deprive them of the well deserved rest, which was intended in the first place. Retreats are a personal space for personal reflection, rests, and a change of mundane lifestyle from the corporate offices. But when the team building activities are imposed on the people, it takes away all that personal space and leaves people wanting more personal space for themselves.
The team building activities are not bad – that’s not what I am arguing. Team building activities are required, but office retreats are not the time and place to do it. Moreover, the team building activities like minefield, blindfolded walk, trust falls, and scavenger hunts are a standard thing that doesn’t offer much customization in terms of what the organization and their team needs. Team building and bonding means to understand each other, become vulnerable, feel safe to share their deepest fears, and feel confident that their team understands it all – it shouldn’t be with everyone in the office. Those team building activities are socializing activities rather than understanding the teams’ challenges and problems. Those activities are ‘forced fun’ and no one likes forced fun. Take notes, dear HR.
To be honest, a coffee conversation between two people in the team might be more effective in creating the desired level of bonding than doing these socializing activities. There is nothing wrong with socialization – but socialization has its own pace with different people. Not everyone opens up with the same game or activity – it’s forced fun, and people do not like anything imposed. And at few times, the team building activities can also become team breaking activities. Especially when people become competitive in these team building games, it can cause more harm than good.
What to do about it?
So what to do about it? If you are actually connected with your team members, they will tell you the answer to this. But in case if you aren’t, try to take initiatives to understand what your team requires, what their preferences and priorities are. It’s not as simple as asking – “What do you want to do in the retreat?”, but goes more deeper than that. Building that connection with your team is the way to start, and for retreats, keep it more for the rest, relaxation, and out of work chatters.
Let retreats be just retreats. For team building, make it a separate event – and it can be in office event if you really want to build your team.