After the team building retreat, everyone went their separate ways...

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the University of Phoenix, 68 percent of respondents had been part of a dysfunctional team at some point in their careers. It's a scary percentage considering how teams are crucial to the success of almost all companies.

Enters team building.

Team building relates to activities whose goal is to push your team towards becoming more effective. The goal is to increase the group's productivity: you want to foster behaviors that will eventually boost your KPIs. Depending on the goal you want to achieve, there will be different activities to choose from: some activities will increase trust and empathy among your staff; others will re-align people toward shared goals and objectives.

So, you've hired that expensive consultant and sent everyone away to that expensive resort for the whole weekend, where the team was supposed to eat well and undergo a series of fun activities meant to unite them. However, 6 months later, you read in the latest pulse survey that your team's collaboration ranks as bad as ever. What went wrong?

It's very easy for a team-building activity to fail. The most common reasons are:

1. You don't have clear goals

A team-building exercise starts with the assumption that, for some reason, a team is not working together as well as it should. The exercise's goal should be to fix the behaviors preventing the team from evolving.

You need to know what behaviors your team needs to get where it wants to be. The successful team-building activity creates conditions that encourage these behaviors you hope will become permanent when the group returns.

If you don't know what the exercise's goal, chances are that your investment won't translate into long-term improvements. In the best-case scenario, you might see a temporary small burst on employee morale, but there will be no changes in skills, attitudes, or behavior.

2. You don't know your audience

A significant number of people dislike team-building events. It's easy to see why: especially if the audience was not taken into account when the event was designed.

Some team-building games might be interesting for some but embarrassing for others. People who dislike puzzles will find a puzzle-solving activity to be a bore, whereas introverts will be sent into a panic with the prospect of participating in social activities.

If your audience doesn't engage in the team-building exercise, you can't expect it to work.

3. Your activities are mandatory

A similar case happens when you force people to participate in team-building activities.

In the most likely scenario, an unwilling participant may not engage in the activity, thus ruining the point of the exercise. In the worst-case scenario, however, the unwilling participant could actually derail the experience for the others!

It's not because you believe the activity to be fun for you that it will be fun for others. Besides, activities that might be fun with friends are not always appropriate in the workplace. So make sure your team-building activities are voluntary and low-key.

4. You are inviting the wrong people

It really makes no sense to have a team-building exercise for people who don't work in the same team.

Even with a successful team-building exercise, any bonds created during the activity will fade away with time if the participants won't actually work together.

But if you aim to increase the engagements and facilitate the collaboration between a team and the other teams it may interact with, then what you need is a team bonding activity. Unlike team building, which has a clear productivity-oriented goal, the only goal of team bonding is to create bonds between the participants, usually by allowing them to experiment in fun activities together or using software that facilitates connecting people from different teams.

5. You lack buy-in from their managers

Few things can be as frustrating to a team-building facilitator as hearing "Welcome back from your team building retreat! But now the fun is over. Now go back to work!" from the participants' manager.

Managers who don't see the value of team-building won't follow through with the exercise later (see point #7 below).

In fact, these managers may not even admit that their staff doesn't work together effectively. In some cases, they themselves are the reason their teams don't reach their full potential.

6. You are not challenging the participants

A team-building activity is like a wedding rehearsal: your team trains on how to face challenges in a safe environment so that when they return to work - and the safety net is gone - they can rise to the occasion.

Take the challenges away and you are no longer rehearsing. You'll be left with a fake alternative whose learnings are not transferable to the real work - where challenges exist.

Team building activities that lack challenges may make the participants feel good, but they won't turn them into a better team.


7. You don't follow through afterward

New habits that are not reinforced from time to time are hard to maintain. This is the reason why it's so critical to have a proper follow-up after the team building ends, otherwise, the everyday pressures of work will pull your team back into their old habits.

Regroup after a couple of weeks and do a retrospective of the exercise. What worked? What could be better? Were the goals accomplished?

It's important to revisit the team's needs every so often. Even if the team building's goals were accomplished, there can always be other latent needs or frustrations to be addressed.

8. You have major structural problems

Even the best team building program is not going to solve major structural problems festering in the organization.

These problems, like having KPIs that inhibit cooperation, cultural and morale issues, or the lack of a coherent strategy, need first to be addressed by the top of the organization.

Throwing your staff into team-building exercises while the real issues go unanswered is foolish and likely to frustrate your employees even further. And rightly so.


9. You are using team-building to solve one individual's behavior

Sometimes the problem lies with one individual, not the team.

Egotistical, uncooperative, and intractable people will drag the effectiveness of any team activity down - including the team-building exercise. Don't waste everybody's time to teach a single person how to work in a group.

Put them in a mentorship/coaching program to change their behavior instead.


10. You simply don't need team-building

No team-building activity could ever truly be effective without some aspect of bonding between the members first. Besides allowing us how to work with each other, good relationships within a team are key to enhancing a team’s effectiveness.

In 2012, MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory identified that the ability of team members to engage outside their team is one of the main group dynamics that characterize high-performing teams. They found that higher-performing teams seek more outside connections and then and bring new information back.

Team-bonding activities are simpler than team-building activities. Sometimes all you need to do is to allow for common areas or watercooler breaks. In a remote work setting, one should be intentional in creating bonding activities. Some software like Donut and Guineapig can help you achieve that.


We hope you find inspiration from this list to make sure your team ranks among the best. Teambuilding may not be the answer for every collaboration-related problem, but in those cases it is, it can do wonders. Just make sure you don't fall into the pitfalls listed above!

In some cases, however, you need to make sure your staff is engaging with other teams in the organization. It fosters team bonding and helps create a sense of community through the enterprise.

Fernando Cordeiro

Fernando Cordeiro

I'm a Lego aficionado. Also, I'm the founder of Pluckd, a tool to help companies discover which skills and talent are available to them in real-time.