I was asked the above question (years ago) in Quora and I shared what I thought was a simple response:
“It is NOT “the exercise” but The Debriefing.
Spending some time playing a game or doing some kind of group activity will change nothing because people will generally not reflect on their activity in any way that will set up the cognitive dissonance needed to change behavior. Sure, fun is fun, and the fun can set up a positive memory. And if the exercise is collaborative, then maybe some bonding and trust improvement might result.
I would suggest you evaluate any activity from the perspective of how it might generate solid discussions. If the activity is for collaboration but teams choose to compete rather than work together, can you neatly link those things together in the context of organizational improvement?
If the goal is, for example, “to mine as much gold as we can,” do the teams work together to optimize overall results to accomplish the overall mission, or do they choose to “win?” And, do their choices designed to win actually reduce the successes of other teams?
“Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine” is one such example of a business simulation that has clear metaphors about teamwork and clear, measurable processes to allow for solid discussions about things people and teams can choose to do differently. (Disclosure: My game, sold worldwide for 25+ years.)
There are a few other exercises / simulations out there that allow for good discussions. The role of the session facilitator is critical and the exercise should provide them with solid tools to generate discussions and followup. Little change should be expected from some interactive activity with little discussion and no followup.”
The person asking the question responded as I thought he might because of the nature of the question. He said, “Thanks Scott! This is helpful and you’ve helped me identify a problem with team building exercises I’ve previously been a participant in. They’ve often lacked a debriefing or meaningful discussion of any kind.”
This is actually a very common reaction from participants who go through team bonding or even some programs said to be team building. There is a goal of getting through the activity but not a focus on discussing what could be done morebetterfaster or what changes might be implemented.
How DO you debrief a whitewater rafting trip or a firewalk or high ropes course that has much more to do with individual choices and performance or small group work and relate that back to ideas for actual workplace improvement? (And here is a recent DISASTER of a firewalk reported in the NY Times June 17 of 2022. How can companies actually choose to do something like this as a team building event?)
What are YOUR thoughts on his question, above? You can respond to that herein or back on the Quora discussion you can find here: https://www.quora.com/What-are-examples-of-team-building-exercises-that-actually-work
Note that WE offer really effective teambuilding exercises you can buy to run in onsite events or to use remotely. Our users rate us very highly and we have been selling and supporting solid, practical exercises and tools since 1993.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.
You can reach Scott at email@example.com
Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.
Here is a 2-minute overview of our new virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk