Performance Management Blog

Are organizations burned out around team building?

Are organizations burned out around team building games, given that many of the activities that they use have little or no impact on teamwork within their organizations?

Many if not most “team building games” seem to be double-edged swords. Some are really costly per-participant and many would give very little actual impact. Hell, most don’t even alllow for measurable or meaningful results, only some possible discussion about communications or choices with no real debriefing into applications.

And not all such activities are even fun for everyone. Take firewalking. Or whitewater rafting. Or paintball. Or Jeopardy. (Please, NO Jeopardy for me!)

Here’s why some organizations might feel burnt out:

  • Ineffective activities: Some games are just plain cheesy or repetitive, offering no real challenge or connection to work. They can feel like a waste of time, leading to disengagement. Many are little more than icebreakers.

“Would you run that game with your senior managers” is a decent real question to ask yourself. Are we just doing team bonding or having some fun, distracting activkty or are we focused on generating change or meaningful organizational development?

  • Focus on fun, not function: The emphasis might be purely on having a good time, neglecting to address actual teamwork issues or teach practical skills.

There is nothng wrong with having fun or doing some memorable activity. Heck, firewalking is surely a personal challenge but what does it have to do with teamwork? Paintball can be fun for those who want to harm others or who want the challenge of, “her or me” when facing their known adversaries. (I love this paintball advertisement for But what do we learn about working with everyone? And doesn’t doing violence to another actually foster more aggression (answer: yes).

  • Weak debriefing with no follow-up: The team has a blast, but then they go back to their usual routines without applying anything learned. This lack of connection to real work can make the whole thing seem pointless.

This is The Normal. Do some training, discuss the possibilities, and then do nothing differently. I mean, what will playing a round of Jeopardy do for teamwork? What will (not) solving an Escape Room problem do for morale? 

  • Winners and Losers: Ask yourself about the overall impact of playing a game of teams with ONE winner and a bunch of losing teams. Are those losers really going to buy into the debriefing discussions or will they choose to “defend themselves” and explain why they were not the winners? And what is the impact of people even chosing to join if they are always on losing teams? Do they even want to play? (answer: no)

However, well-designed team building games can be very impactful:

  • Targeted activities: Games that address specific needs, like communication breakdowns or leadership gaps, can provide valuable practice in a safe environment.
  • Learning through play: Engaging activities can encourage collaboration, problem-solving, and strategic thinking, all essential teamwork skills. Experiential Learning is a proven way to generate active ownership involvement and a tool to generate the VAK that helps retention and engagement.
  • Building working relationships: Games can create a space for team members to connect on a more personal level, fostering trust and understanding. If they are not heavily competing, they may share actions that build friendships. I met a LOT of other students simply playing basketball games in the gym, forming teams on the fly. That is different when MY Team was competing with another organized team — this is similar to “interdepartmental collaboration” where MY team works with Their Team, right?

So, it’s not the games themselves that organizations should be burnt out on, but rather on choosing and implementing them poorly. Suitable challenges for your senior management team are more likely to be good selections for your front-line workers. 

Here’s one key: intentionality. By carefully selecting those activities that target specific developmental needs and have a clear connection to workplace challenges, team building games can be a powerful tool for really boosting teamwork. Experiential learning is maybe the very best way for most people to learn and retain some ideas and is fairly effective at changing behavior. 

And good games should offer some measurable return on investment as well as being targeted to key organizational development needs.

Game-based experiential learning offers several advantages over traditional training methods in organizational development and these team building exercises DO have solid impacts on people and performance. They can certainly be worth the investment.

  • Boosts Knowledge Retention: People learn best by doing. Experiential exercises allow participants to actively engage with the material, leading to deeper understanding and better information retention compared to passive lectures or online training.

  • Helps bridge the Theory-Practice Gap: Experiential learning often places participants in simulated scenarios that mirror real-life work challenges. This allows them to practice new skills and strategies in a safe environment.

  • Enhances Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking: Experiential activities often involve problem-solving tasks followed by open-ended debriefings. As participants grapple with simulated challenges, they develop critical thinking skills, learn to analyze situations, and make informed decisions.

  • Improves Collaboration and Teamwork: Many experiential activities are designed to be collaborative, and a few are designed to work across teams. Working together on tasks or projects fosters teamwork, communication skills, and the ability to navigate group dynamics – all essential for success in today’s workplace.

  • Increases Engagement and Motivation: Experiential learning is often more engaging and fun than traditional methods. Hands-on activities, simulations, and real-world applications keep participants actively involved, fostering a sense of active ownership over their learning and boosting motivation.

  • Provides Opportunities for Self-Assessment: Experiential learning allows participants to reflect on their performance and choices in a safe environment, after all, “It is just a game!.” But by analyzing their individual actions and group decisions in simulations and games, they can identify areas for improvement and develop a growth mindset. Their choice to compete when collaboration optimizes is a reality in our Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine team building game.

  • Delivers Measurable Results: The effectiveness of experiential learning can be measured through post-training assessments, evaluations of project outcomes, or observing changes in employee behavior on the job. This allows organizations to track the impact of training programs and demonstrate their return on investment.

  • Creating Cognitive Dissonance: Games often force players to make decisions that might align with their vaues but work against corporate goals. Teams choose to compete in The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine rather than collaborate to optimize the overall results of the group. Since, “The goal is to mine as much Gold as we can” and the role of the Expedition Leader is to, “help teams be successful and maximize Return on Investment,” teams choosing not to collaborate and share actually generate measurable sub-optimal game results.

Creating these gaps between desired and actual IS a motivating factor for most people; they want to close the gap and are motivated to change to do so.

Thanks for reading. My goal is to demonstrate that effective team building games can have significant positive impacts on people and performance. MY games focus mainly on engagement and collaboration between teams, something that I have seen missing in my 45 years of working with organizations.

 — For the FUN of It! Dr. Scott Simmerman, designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game.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 Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a link to a press release about The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine teambuilding exercise and its 30 years of positively impacting people and performance.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a trademark of Performance Management Company

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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