Written by Barrie Bramley & Keith Coats.
Most leaders have failed to recognise the real value of ‘team building’! It’s not that they’ve taken their teams to the wrong places or engaged in substandard activities, it’s that they’ve allowed their focus to stop before the finish line, and therefore missed what it’s all about.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not one of those fiercely anti-team-building drum beaters. We’ve built team with the best of them, and facilitated many a company team build. We have abseiled down incredibly high cliffs, jumped off waterfalls, collected ‘courage stones’ at the bottom of rapid infested rivers, and crawled through our fair share of mud pits, and most of the time we have come out better for the experience. But that right there is the problem; most team builds focus predominately on the experience. The experience becomes the end, instead of seeing it as the beginning.
We dream up challenging exercises and activities for our teams to undertake, in order to convince them that they can do anything they put their minds to. We sit before, during and after constructing lessons we’ve learned and contextualising them back into the work place. We extract leadership principles that will help us to become better leaders and followers on Monday morning. This is all good, but not sufficient.
Team building has a dark side. We take non-swimmers river-rafting, and claustrophobics spelunking. We ask alcoholics to sit around the camp fire while we consume copious amounts of alcohol, and we invite people who are weight conscious to trust the rest of the team to pick them up and lift them over a 20 foot high wooden wall. We ostracise anyone who dares not participate and make fun of those who perform poorly. In short, we set them up to fail as individuals and as members of our team. So much then for team building!
The true value however is not in the adventure, but in the weeks that follow. It’s not in the lessons learned but the new questions that will be asked. It’s not in our fresh resolve and our conquered fears. The real value of the ‘team build’ is found in the creation of a shared story.
Think back to the weeks and months following the last team build you attended? Back in the office as you connected with those with whom you shared the experience, what was your conversation focused around? In our experience it’s not the 14 irrefutable leadership principles learned while climbing a 20m rock face. It’s hardly ever your newly defined 7 step vision to success. It’s not even the similarities between the company’s mission statement and the life goal of the brown short-quill hedgehog. No, it’s none of that. It’s the story; the story of the adventure. That’s what brings us together around the coffee table.
We would go so far as to say that what has been referred to as ‘teambuilding’ should make way for ‘storybuilding’. For one thing, stories create belonging within an organisation and having a strong sense of belonging is a vital ingredient for any successful business. Recognising what we regard as teambuilding as the creation of stories and then knowing how best to utilise this within the context of the team / business is what it is really all about.
Going forward, if team leaders are going to extract the greatest value from a team building experience, more work must be given to the essential elements needed to create a truly great story. A story that is inclusive, in which every member of the team has a part to act out. A story that inspires, and forces us to look inwards to ask the questions that will ultimately lead us to become better human beings than we were before. Some of the most powerful stories do not have neat, conclusive endings. In the process of personal, collective and business development, a preoccupation with happy endings can mean missing the really good stuff (sometimes the messy stuff) that the story invites engagement with for our own growth.
When your approach to team building is to create a shared story, it matters less what you do or where you go. It matters more who goes with you and how they feel. Collective time that is centred on the creation of a story will have far more impact on the team than a mindless agenda of adrenalin-filled activity. New skills and activities are required to fully exploit the creation of story within the context of personal and collective growth. They are not impossibly hard skills to learn or master and perhaps the only requirement to start with is a measure of emotional intelligence that recognises the value of pursuing this direction. Sadly, in our experience, this ingredient often appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Where the onus and focus is so often placed on the external rather than on the internal; on personality rather than character; on short-term gain rather than long-term benefits, it is perhaps not hard to understand why this is so.
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Prospero explains to his daughter Miranda why they left Milan. After he has finished his tale, he asks Miranda if she has understood the reasons for their leaving, ‘Doest thou hear?’ he inquires. Miranda responds, ‘Your tale, sir, would cure deafness’. Such is the power of hearing each other’s story; it cures deafness. Listening to the story leads to understanding behaviour and in learning to work effectively together, there can be no greater ingredient than an empathetic understanding of who were are individually and collectively. Teams that pay little or no attention to this are in fact deaf; they are really not teams at all.
As we look to the future of business, what is certain is that stories will become increasingly important. Clients, suppliers, employees will all want to know and connect to the story: why should we buy from you, why should we work for you? The companies and executives who understand this will be the ones who lead the way in the emerging connection economy. That is why, within TomorrowToday.biz we have a ‘Director of Storytelling’ and should you wish to explore this subject further, we would be delighted to meet with you.
We hope then that for you and your team, this is only the beginning‌and not ‘the end’.

TomorrowToday Global