Build a better team through shared harrowing experience
It’s nice when you watch a movie about a major police investigation into an activity you have plenty of personal experience in. Force Of Nature: The Dry 2 is about a corporate teambuilding jaunt gone terribly wrong.
There are many ways to die at night in the freezing bush.
And there are so many better ways to resolve workplace grievances and performance issues than being sent into leechy wilderness with a map, compass and your boss.
(Good film by the way, check it out).
The boss, played by Debra-Lee Furness, admitted to the police that they didn’t take ramdomly-selected staff on this three-day survival test.
They hand-picked the people who had issues. So they could make them into a better team, through sharing a harrowing experience.
Yes I know it’s a script but I’ve seen plenty of this in real work life.
It’s the focus on the band-aids rather than the wounds. It goes to the heart of your competence as a leader.
Don’t ask teambuilding to mend your structural problems
Team building programs are an easy target, because we’ve all been to so many stupid ones.
You fall with closed eyes into your co-workers outstretched arms. Make a pile of Lego into a swan.
Or a nightmare Friday night office drinks bonding exercise at a Big-4 consulting firm.
A partner had bought an expensive vintage electric guitar, though he was a well below average player. He gathered all his staff and made them guess which songs he was trying to pick out, in a Spicks and Specks-style game show. (This report from a competent muso I knew who was one of the victims).
And afterward, the earnest talk about how these learnings and shared experiences apply to your everyday working life, while everyone nods along and pretends it’s true.
Because to do otherwise will get you notes in your HR file. Not a team player etc.
This stereotype is unfair. I know plenty of people who run teambuilding activities that work. They bring people together, gently coax them out of their shell, and give them an experience they’ve never had. It’s a useful culture builder, particularly in the remote work era.
I don’t think any pro teambuilder would suggest their programs will cure an organisation with fundamental problems in day-to-day working life.
“Our products are poorly-regarded in the market. Our bureaucratic structure means decisions happen in geological time frames. Our frontline staff spend hours each day apologising for things beyond their control. And middle management is locked in political turf wars that make everyone’s else’s working life hell. Could you quote us on a one-day teambuilding program to improve morale?”
Slap that band-aid on the still-bleeding wounds. And report back up the chain that Something Proactive Has Been Done.
“Workplace Wellness Programs Have Little Benefit, Study Finds”
Do you have a corporate wellness program? That’ll look good in the annual report.
Building resilience, reducing stress, showing you care about your staff. What’s not to like about that?
Only that it doesn’t work in plenty of organisations.
A British researcher surveyed nearly 50,000 workers from companies that offered digital wellness solutions, mindfulness seminars, massage classes, resilience workshops, coaching sessions and sleep apps. From the New York Times story Workplace Wellness Programs Have Little Benefit, Study Finds.
“These programs are a point of pride for forward-thinking human resource departments, evidence that employers care about their workers. But a British researcher who analyzed survey responses from 46,336 workers at companies that offered such programs found that people who participated in them were no better off than colleagues who did not.”
There was one exception: workers who did charity or volunteer work reported improved wellbeing.
The researcher, Oxford University’s Dr William Fleming, concluded that employers concerned about workers’ mental health would do better to focus on “core organizational practices” like schedules, pay and performance reviews.
“If employees do want access to mindfulness apps and sleep programs and well-being apps, there is not anything wrong with that,” he said. “But if you’re seriously trying to drive employees well-being, then it has to be about working practices.”
More band aids.
Evidence you don’t fucking get it
Obviously building resilience and reducing stress are important things. But you have to recognise where that stress comes from. Like so many horror films, it’s INSIDE THE BUILDING.
Launching a stress reduction app will make it worse, because its very existence says: you don’t fucking get it.
Your most important task as a leader isn’t to inspire people to follow you as you make a dent in the universe, or whatever else you read Steve Jobs did.
Your most important role as a leader
Your main role is to take away the stupid obstacles that companies place in the path of staff who just want to do a good job. And if your business doesn’t work without paying people properly, that’s not a business.
We’re a far from perfect organisation, but we’ve grown consistently for a long time and have absurdly low staff turnover. We like our staff a lot, and we try to do nice things for them. The prime focus, though, is doing everything we can to make their everyday working lives easier.
Mainly by asking them how.
Ours is a stressy industry at the best of times. There’s a lot that can go wrong,
We can make that better by buying tools and technology that our people feel they can rely on, because they chose it themselves. Reducing the number of layers that information flows through. Making quick decisions rather than letting issues worsen. Doing our best to improve work schedules so there’s fewer weekends and late nights.
If you’ve listened to them, and done all you can to lower the stress of their daily working lives, then you can think about the fun things and the team get-togethers. At that point, it’s a very worthwhile investment.
I do realise most of my stories are just long-form versions of short rules that have been around since the dawn of time – in this case, prevention is better than cure.
But that single line wouldn’t give me a chance to post this 2007 Flight Of The Conchords clip that, after seventeen years, remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
“You’re wearing that ugly old baggy T-shirt from that teambuilding exercise you did with your old work, and it’s never looked better on you”.
Oh yeah, it’s business time.
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