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Team Building Truths

Raise your hand if you’ve been dragged along to a team building event and hated it with a passion.
2021.07.02.

Raise your hand if you’ve been dragged along to a team building event and hated it with a passion. You’re far from alone in this, as most employees “forced” to take part in team building activities spend the whole time watching the clock and eyeing the door. And that’s because, like you, they know it’s all pointless.

The idea that if the team spent more time together, playing juvenile games or bonding over cooking class will bring some sort of benefit to the business is as silly as it is pointless and insulting. Everyone in that team building room or taking part in these exercises already knows the cure for any perceived work or inter-team problems. 

There’s an ongoing fallacy that team leaders are somehow responsible for solving issues within their teams. So if a team is having difficulty gelling together, then the team leader needs to go look for a solution via team building. Life simply doesn’t work like that. Yes, there can be problems between team members which stop them performing to an optimum level. But there’s a huge elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

The truth of the matter is that whatever problems the team might be having can be laid directly at the feet of leadership. That’s right, it all comes down to the boss. Unfortunately, yet understandably, a whole new industry has been created in order to hide the failings of leadership. That the bosses might have to look into the mirror or take responsibility for their own failings, whether culturally or via a lack of communication.

No one pays for a team building when everything is going swimmingly, only when there’s a perceived problem between team members. But it’s all smoke and mirrors designed to hide the fact that ad management is taking a toll on employees. So what better than to act like a stage magician and use distraction to point away from themselves whilst they are in fact the root cause of any problems. Afterall, leadership is meant to lead and to take responsibility, not get in some cool games to hide their obvious failings.

Instead of looking to the employees to find the problem, why not confront the management and leadership and ask them why teams are failing and why they haven’t aired these issues. Afterall, they are going down on their watch, and they are paid to manage in all situations, not just when times are good. Unfortunately, management is more likely to cover up their own failings by suggesting we all troop off down to the woods for some team building.

Here’s a list of all the excuses and real problems that plug up management and cause all sorts of issues for employees:

Unclear strategy

Role confusion

Unaddressed conflict

Fuzzy or missing strategy

Red tape bureaucracy

Multiple approvals needed thus slowing down processes

Too many quantitative goals

No communication about norms, conflicts, feelings

Bad leadership

Inexperienced leaders

No experimentation or innovation

Lack of praise or acknowledgement

No sharing of information

Take a good hard look at this list and you’ll find the answer as to why things are not going as smoothly as they could be. It has nothing to do with the employees and everything to do with the leadership or management. Jumping off a waterfall or finding your way out of an escape room isn’t going to do anything but enforce the mis-direction, thus allowing the problem to continue and fester.

It’s like putting a band-aid on a gunshot exit wound. And the real problem is that there are those who will claim that this minor and useless step is the cure to all ills. For them, the band-aid is the best remedy, even when the patient says it’s not so. And here we come to the real problem around team building. The fact that managers really delude themselves into thinking that these exercises will cure a half dead patient. Team building in this case is nothing more than an expensive distraction, designed to protect management from having to really talk about uncomfortable truths with their employees.
 
Many in management have been promoted for all the wrong reasons. With many career structures being upwardly mobile means that no one with any sense would promote someone who might one day steal their own position. And as maintaining the status quo is all that matters, then it’s the employees who are hung out to dry when any problems occur. Management’s job is to find the best people, and then manage them to get the optimal results. But if leadership is confrontational averse, then they are failing in their duty.

It’s noticeable that we no longer have real leaders in the public sphere. We have people who are trained to say the right wound-bite. And only when a real problem surfaces, like Covid, can we see that they are useless and in many ways dangerous in their inability to make the right decisions and lead from the front. It’s the same with management. Many are keeping one eye on the career ladder and so are more concerned with not making waves than actually making a meaningful difference. They are weak and incapable of leading. Team building is there to save their bacon and cover up the fact that the emperor has no clothes. 
    
Team building does have a genuine place within the business universe. But many confound it, and it’s so called “results,” with the fact that all problems stem from bad management. Solve that first….and then have a team building, not the other way around.

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