Yikes, could it be that team building doesn’t work?


Yikes, could it be that team building doesn’t work?

Believe it or not it seems the current research on team building activities still doesn’t conclusively state that team building is effective. But, I did discover and experience a solid research based path which I will show you to benefit your company.

WHAT? Is team building not effective?

Teams BAD

Here is one such Harvard Business Review (HBR) finding and aptly titled: Stop wasting money on team building1.

In the HBR finding above the result was a framework which was created to be effective rather than a specific team building activity. A key statement from the research, “At Mars, we learned that to get people to work together, we had to let them figure out how that would actually improve results.”

Again, from another HBR article titled: Why teams don’t work2

Focused mainly on the leadership team one key point provided was, “Most of the time, his research shows, team members don’t even agree on what the team is supposed to be doing.”2

Teams GOOD

Contrary to the above and other research on teams there is also lots of research, which our team at Pat Doyle has gathered, showing the effectiveness of teams.

You can find our research on team effectiveness here3. We write monthly about employees and other topics effecting corporate culture which show positive outcomes for corporations. Based on my 30+ years of experience working with teams of all sizes and from many different industries, I have firsthand account of the positive outcomes from effective team building activities. When done correctly, team building activities do work and can work quickly.


With any business activity the company should set very clear goals and outcomes from the activities. This is nothing new, I think we all know this.  With team building activities, however, it is critical to determine and set these goals.  Equally important is for the team to know and understand the goals and outcomes expected.

Okay, let’s back up a moment.

There are many facets to team building: virtual teams, diversity in teams, team goals, team structure, team leadership, etc…

Here we will be focusing in on team building activities where teams will do things together (“activities”) for a specific outcome base on a goal of the activity.

So, the key factors to determine are what activities are most effective and what goals are achievable and desirable.

Goals and OUTCOMES

For example, let’s set an outcome to increase the output of widgets created and decrease the errors made in the processing. This is usually achieved through clearer communications within the teams to improve productivity. So, the goal will be to improve communication within the team.

Determine the current level of output and errors as this needs to be clearly communicated to the team as well as the new achievable outcomes the company is looking to achieve. This communication should not be tied to the activity but communicated so that the team can talk about it and determine a way forward.

Any communications about productivity outcomes are delicate and need to be dealt with in a careful manner. We are not going to dive into this communication strategy here.

Remember, we are simply using this as an example, but the key here is we are going to match an activity which will improve communication within your teams.


There are many team building activities which have been cited as the next best thing. You have most likely heard of companies taking employees on retreats and many outdoor activities, etc…  You don’t have to be this elaborate.

Remember your goal is to improve communication in your teams.

Here we are going to focus in on one activity of eating together. “Researchers led by Kevin Kniffin, of Cornell University, say they’ve found a deceptively simple method: Encourage teams to eat together.”4 In researching firefighters, Kniffin’s research5, found that “the officers identified significant positive correlations between eating together and team performance”4

So, simply encourage your teams to eat together. You can bring in food or take them on a short walk to a restaurant near by. Create spaces within your work environment for team members to gather to eat together. Align schedules so that the complete team can be together to eat. Overall, think food and gathering.


As every special occasion includes food, you have the opportunity to turn this simple act of eating into a special and memorable occasion for that team. Layer in different things to the moment.

Here are some examples:

Encourage photos to be taken of food and the team together and post the photos internally on a team wall. Photos capture the positive moments and provide reminders to the team. Over time these photos will be your corporate stories of the good times.

At some frequency, monthly, weekly, etc… inject some fun items into the meal experience. Perhaps a branded pack of eco friendly paper straws, or take away candles to set the fun mood as team members carry it out of the meal time. 

For these items and more consider creating a unique special team logo to put on these items. This is effective in creating team bonds for the teams within your larger corporate team. You will see the snowball effect of this which includes your desired goal to improved communication to reach the outcomes of improved productivity.

Our team is here to help your team with execution and help provide many other creative solutions to build your corporate culture and benefit your company.

Please do reach out to our team at Durham Promotional Products for items like this and/or other creative solutions to engage and connect with your workforce and customers. We excel at creating smiles, increasing productivity, and providing overall stronger corporate cultural bonds with our creative solutions.

1.    https://hbr.org/2018/09/stop-wasting-money-on-team-building
2.    https://hbr.org/2009/05/why-teams-dont-work
3.    https://www.patdoyle.ca/Blog
4.    https://hbr.org/2015/12/team-building-in-the-cafeteria
5.    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08959285.2015.1021049

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