Team Building – Collaborative vs. Competitive

Copyright 2006 Sandstone Limited

Think back over all the team building sessions that you have attended over the years. There is a very good chance that at each and every one of them the facilitators organised your group into teams. Any that weren’t were probably small groups. Sound familiar? Why do they do that?

Well, one answer is to encourage maximum involvement from the participants. Small team sizes help ensure that everyone joins in. Quieter people will be less likely to fade into the background the smaller the team they are in. But that’s not the only – or even main – reason.

Most team building events are run as competitions. Teams are usually given identical goals and are awarded points as they move towards them. Points mean prizes and the winning team members get to take them away. Why?

There are a few answers to that one:

* Competitive events are relatively straightforward to run.

* Put a group of people into teams and it is easier to justify using the training budget.

* Competition generates a buzz.

* Many conferences are for sales people, who are naturally competitive.

If all of these factors are relevant to your conference, then a competitive event is probably a good decision for you. However, two factors might make it a less good decision. Organisations are increasingly looking to arrange events for non-sales functions and many of these see competition as a bad thing. Secondly, senior managers often prefer to stress the “one big team” approach as important to a large department or the organisation as a whole. If either or both of these are relevant to your group, then a competitive event is not the best choice.

The opposite of a competitive event is a collaborative one. The whole group is given a common goal to work on together rather than multiple, identical ones to work on in isolation. They may still be organised into teams or not, but the key characteristic is that everyone is collaborating with everyone else to achieve something as a whole group.

Options designed to be collaborative not only exist – they are among the most enjoyable conference or away day events for the participants themselves. They can deliver a superb mix of camaraderie, corporate message, learning and fun.

Isn’t that combination a great outcome from a team building event? Indeed, isn’t that an outcome that you want from your teams at work – day in, day out? Sure, you want your individual teams to aim to be the best – but not at the expense of the corporate goal or goals. You want the natural motivation that the best teams feel to be productive for the organisation – not detrimental to other teams and, thereby, detrimental to the organisation.

So what does a collaborative team building activity look like? I have written a number of other articles that describe the characteristics that you can expect to find in good options generally. Rather than duplicate them here, I shall concentrate on those elements that can focus on the collaborative aspect specifically. They are:

* There is a single, common goal that all individuals and / or teams have to work towards.

* There is a genuine possibility – indeed probability – of the group achieving it.

* Not all individuals and teams are doing the same thing – multiple, different functions is a feature of the workplace and needs to be a feature of a team activity if the learning is to be relevant.

* As at work, the participants need to exert some form of overall co-ordination to maintain the focus on the common goal.

So at your next team building event, don’t send your people away bragging about how they managed to outdo their colleagues – send them away thinking at least in part how well they worked with them. Then maybe back at work something might just rub off.