Team Building Exercises Work Better if They're Voluntary

A recent study revealed that team building exercises may have the opposite effect if employees are being forced to participate.

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Team building exercises to increase organizational and team rapport and productivity have become common during the pandemic. Unfortunately, new research published in Social Networks has suggested that employees have mixed feelings about team-building interventions, with the research revealing ethical implications in forcing employees to take part. 

"Since publishing our previous research on team-building exercises, many workers told us that they despise team building activities and see them as a waste of time, so we decided to look in more depth at what's behind this," said lead researcher, Petr Matous, PhD, referring to previous research where he argued that spending time developing relationships with people you aren't close to is more effective than general team-bonding exercises.

The researchers chose a self-disclosure approach for this study, where participants were guided through a series of questions that allowed them to increasingly disclose personal information and values. They found that team-building exercises that focused on the sharing of personal attitudes and relationships between team members may be considered too heavy-handed and intrusive, although the researchers say some degree of openness and vulnerability is often necessary to make deep, effective connections with colleagues. The key, it seems, is that the exercises must be voluntary. 

"Among the participants we interviewed, some were against team building exercises because they felt they were implicitly compulsory and did not welcome management's interest in their lives beyond their direct work performance," noted Dr. Matous. 

Hence, the authors conclude: "We recommend an approach where people can opt out of team building discreetly, by conducting team-building only among selected pairs of individuals who can choose whether or not to proceed with strengthening their relationship. Their choice would not be visible to management."

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