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Business Issues: Better teambuilding

Better teambuilding – Here are three common approaches – and why they often don’t work

April 11, 2017  By Jeff Mowatt

Teamwork is a byproduct of your efforts to create a culture obsessed with delighting customers. Photo: Fotolia

Over the many years that I’ve helped teams strengthen trust with their customers and co-workers, I’ve discovered that typical approaches to enhancing teamwork not only don’t work – they’re actually counter-productive. Here are three common approaches to strengthening teamwork, and why you should take a different approach to building stronger bonds within your team.

Forced socializing: Employers often assume that staff will build stronger bonds by getting to know each other better socially, so once or twice a year they host a company picnic or seasonal dinner. These events may be great for social butterflies, but they’re agony for introverts. At a forced social event like a company-wide dinner, people tend to sit with workplace friends (so they don’t have to work so hard at small talk). Meanwhile, shy ones will be wondering how soon they can leave without being rude. If your real goal is to reward employees (as opposed to building teamwork), ask everyone if they’d prefer to either have a pizza lunch brought in several times a year or have one fancy sit-down dinner in December. I guarantee pizza will win. Managers are wise to think of company-supplied meals as the perks they are – but not as team builders.

Obstacle courses: A more novel approach to enhancing teamwork is to take the staff off-site for a “team building event,” such as an obstacle course, paint-ball battleground, or fire-walk. The theory is that since people will be making group-decisions under pressure, there will be lessons in group dynamics and overcoming obstacles. The reality is for some people these lessons are more than offset by the shame and resentment they feel because they lack physical prowess, or because they appear to be overly timid.


Sensitivity Training: There are a plethora of courses to train employees on how to be more inclusive and more aware of how their words and actions may inadvertently offend others. These are indeed worthwhile; particularly where you’ve had incidents of workplace bullying or harassment. What these courses won’t do, however, is get to the core of why certain employees don’t understand that their coworkers are in fact their (internal) customers; and treat them as such.

The solution – focus on the real goal: On a men’s pro hockey team, imagine the potential that exists among teammates for rivalries and conflicts. These gifted athletes have learned from boyhood that they are (physically at least) superior. When they play on opposite teams, a single offhand remark can literally lead to fisticuffs. Yet when they play on the same team, these individuals set their differences (and their potentially massive egos) aside, because they all share a common purpose – to win games.

Similarly in your workplace, when employees are so focused on achieving their goal – delighting internal and external customers – they no longer have time to be distracted by minor interpersonal issues.

Trying to enhance teamwork is like trying to fall asleep. You can’t (and shouldn’t) force it. Teamwork is not a goal – it is a byproduct of your organization creating a culture that is obsessed with delighting customers. You end up with devoted customers and reduced conflicts. The bottom line is this – managers achieve a more motivated and cooperative workforce when they focus less on teamwork itself, and more on delighting customers and coworkers.

Jeff Mowatt is a customer service strategist, Hall of Fame speaker, and bestselling author. For more tips, training tools or to inquire about engaging him for your team visit

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