Those Zoom happy hours and (pre-pandemic) escape rooms are having a negative effect on your team, according to a new study out of the University of Sydney.
“Many workers told us that they despise team-building activities and see them as a waste of time,” says lead author Petr Matous, associate dean of engineering at the University of Sydney, whose previous work suggested that team-bonding exercises are less effective than people voluntarily spending time getting to know each other. “We are expected to participate in drinks after work and team-building events. All this is done with the aim of improving workplace effectiveness, efficiency, collaboration and cohesion—but does any of this work?”
Short answer: no. “Many people do not want to be forced into having fun or making friends, especially not on top of their busy jobs or in stressful, dysfunctional environments where team building is typically called for,” added coauthor Julien Pollack, an associate professor of management at the University of Sydney. “These activities often feel implicitly mandatory. People can feel that management is being too nosy or trying to control their life too much.”
This is not to say that team-building activities can’t be useful and effective for work teams—just that they should not be mandatory, and should be deployed in a way that targets both the people and the activity. The researchers suggest:
- handpicking pairs of workers whose workplace relationship is critical to communication and collaboration
- offering those pairs the opportunity to strengthen their relationship through various activities that make sense for the duo (which could vary widely, depending on the context)
- allowing the pair to continue building their relationship, or quietly opt out if wanted, unbeknownst to management
The word to remember here is voluntary. Team building is more effective when workers attend by true choice, and can plainly see the value in relationship building with select coworkers. You see how this differs from a mandatory hat dress-up Zoom gathering. Cheers.