Team Building? But There's No Team!

It baffles me how much time and money companies spend on team building. One phrase that Ive heard used to justify and vehemently support team building activities include, “itll help us work better together. This is fine in theory. But is this really the reality?

Ive only ever experienced one team building though Ive worked in three different companies. But even from that one experience, I learned so much that made me lose faith in the word team.


It all began with the announcement that we would all arrive in the office and then walk to the team building venue as a team. I actually passed the venue while in a matatu so that we could walk together only to get to the office and have some people get into their cars and drive there while the rest of us walked. I asked myself, why the announcement in the first place? In my books, that wasnt a good foundation for building anything.

On reaching the venue, we naturally separated. The management on one side, and the rest of us on the other side. This was so obvious, that a number of my colleagues pointed it out as well. The organizer of the event was wise enough to divide us into teams that had a mixture of all of us. Juniors, seniors and managers. Therefore, we were forced to mix.

The usual team building activities were carried out to demonstrate to us how to work better as a team. Insights and suggestions were given and sentiments exchanged. The highlight of the day was when we were asked to share things we feel are not going right in the company and suggest ways forward. Some people were reluctant to share their thoughts. Some because they feared they'd get fired and some because they didnt believe anything would change. That was certainly not a good sign and definitely not indicative that we were a good team.

Many issues came up. Favoritism, miscommunication or lack of communication altogether, being kept out of the loop, promotions, unhealthy competition… etc. People wanted equality, respect and to be valued regardless of their position. That would make them happier in the office. But like the late George Orwell said, all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

I feel that the application of this statement is the reason some companies will never achieve cohesiveness in their teams no matter how many team buildings they have. As long as  people are treated differently, the team will never be great.

Truth be told, not much changed after our team building. For some people,  things only got worse. Which then led to more questions.

Why should I sacrifice for the sake of the team when others are not doing the same? Why work so hard when I'm paid peanuts or I don't get any appreciation? Why get drained daily trying to do so much when others just watch and wait to take the credit? Why should I be nice and helpful when my teammates will stab me in the back anyway, or even get me fired?

Valid questions these.


Teamwork involves all parties of the team. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to tell you that. Its like how the body works. It takes all members, for the body to work well. For instance, with an ankle sprain, the arm cant step in to do what the leg was meant to do, which is walk. Neither can the ear step in to do what the eye was fashioned to do. In the same way, in a team, the Accountant cant step in to do the Marketers job, neither can the Graphic Designer step in to do financial analytics for the company. Each person has their own role to play.

Being a good team means letting each member do their work, and trusting that theyll do it well. It means not shooting down ideas from people just because you dont like it or them for that matter. It means helping each other because at the end of the day, two heads are better than one. Not competing and trying to outshine each other.  It means respecting every person no matter how much they earn or the position they hold and regardless of their sex, race, religion or educational background. If all those really mattered, then how did you end up in the same office?

It all boils down to respect and humility. Once someone thinks they are better than other people (for whatever reason), thats when the cookie starts to crumble. It takes one to step off their high horse and start to value each and every person they work with because they all contribute to the success of the company.  Who doesnt want to be valued? The success of a company does not lie with one person. Even super heroes need help because they too have weaknesses. No one can do everything on their own even though they like to think they can. No man is an island.

The problem with us humans is that were selfish. We want whats good for us, we want to  accomplish a lot, we want to outshine and we certainly want glory and recognition. It doesnt matter what we do to get it, even if it makes others lives miserable.  We want to mistreat other people once we get power, what because someone else did the same to us. Thats really horrible. We should be ashamed of ourselves. We forget that we need the same people were mistreating.

So before investing heavily on team buildings, retreats and similar things, honestly answer this question - are you really a team?

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