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Team building: it became something of a corporate mantra in the late 90s and early 2000s. According to corporate wisdom, companies risked usurpation if they didn’t take their employees out for a bit of fun or a bit of a challenge once every quarter. And so, staff were treated to muddy obstacle courses and paintballing, problem solving and trust games, quad biking and wilderness adventures; all to benefit their happiness – and productivity.

In theory.
Often, what happened was a couple of people had a great time, a couple of people thought it tolerable and a couple of people were miserable. The people who had a great time were usually the ones who organised the event, or at least help finalise the idea.

Now, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can upset a whole lot of people most of the time, especially when you bungle an event that is supposed to be fun. Here are four bad ideas for corporate team building; the kind that will guarantee instant failure.

Weekends away
It sounds great when you first put it out there: a weekend in the mountains, or on a river, or at a retreat but it starts losing its appeal when you start giving it a little more thought.

A weekend away is a big commitment. People have children, pets, part-time jobs and a variety of other responsibilities that make taking off for two days something of a mission. Furthermore, weekends allow employees to distance themselves from work and really be themselves; you ask them to give that up and wear their office face for two extra days and see how happy you make them. Not all the spa treatments and buffets in the world can make up for being dictated on what should be personal time.

Then consider that not everyone gets along. Sarah from accounting might be able to tolerate Jim from sales eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week, but put her in close proximity to Jim for 48 hours straight and you could have blood on your hands. Even minor office irritations can become major issues after prolonged exposure and not everything ends well like it does in the movies.

Actually, anything that involves a lot of high-impact physical activity and dirt.

Yes, paintball is supposed to be uber-fun. Yes, quad biking is supposed to be utterly exhilarating. Yes, swinging across rivers, balancing on ropes and crawling in mud is supposed to be liberating. Unfortunately, not everyone is into that kind of uber-liberating, exhilarating fun. Some people would rather chew glass than be smacked by hard, splattering balls. Some people don’t like dust and dirt and roaring engines. Some people genuinely have a fear of heights.

Forget familiarity, making people do the things they don’t like breeds discontent.

Inciting competitions
Alexander Kjerulf calls himself a Chief Happiness Officer. He’s written several books on happiness in the workplace. He reckons that competitive team building events are a waste of time. Think about it, if you want to foster cooperation what’s the first thing you shouldn’t do? Set your employees against each other, right?

Competition brings out the worst in people and, an inherent nature of competitions is that someone has to lose, which doesn’t do anything for morale, confidence or goodwill.

Awkward games
You know the kind; charades, blindfolded obstacle courses (any trust game), truth games, drinking games – anything that puts people on the spot and makes them feel uncomfortable. Your employees won’t thank you for making them face their fears or act the fool in front of people they have to see at work every day.

How do you go about successful team building?
Well, you consider all your employees, not just the vocal ones or your personal favourites (even though you don’t have any). You consider their other obligations and demands on their time. You consider the office atmosphere.

If your company is filled with dynamic young souls who love the open air then go paintballing, quad biking or river crossing, by all means. If you only employ singles with empty flats to go home to every night then why not plan a weekend away? But if even one person doesn’t fit the profile you’re not going to achieve your goals.

Consider alternatives like wine tasting, bowling, interesting (company-relevant) exhibitions and picnics. No one said that team building had to be high-energy to be effective. Give your staff time to chill out together away from the office and you might be surprised at the pleasant results.

This guest post was written by Sandy Cosser on behalf of The Coaching Company, which ensures a happier, more productive workforce through executive coaching and change management consulting.