Employee Engagement Starts with Team Building? Actually, no, No NO!


Can you look through the power point presentation we have put together to justify a team building program we are trying to initiate?


I looked through the power point presentations and it appears you are attempting to use team building to increase employee engagement.  Is that right?

Using team building as your tool for employee engagement is extremely tricky and is just as likely to backfire and discourage engagement or create disengaged people.

Many people use traditional team building expecting greater engagement when that same team building is ridiculed by the ‘team’.  So, before we get into the engagement piece, let me ask you about the ‘team’.

One important question that is absolutely critical is – are they a true team? 
A group with a common goal who are dependent upon one another to achieve that goal.  If this is not a true statement, stop the ‘team building’ right now.

If these people are not a team, you can still run activities to improve engagement.  You simply need to modify them and carefully select it.  The key is you need to focus on the individual not the team.  This is true in team building as well.

Is this a new team?
I see you are using Tuckman’s model, which is a good one that you can use to your benefit but is most useful to new teams.  In The Facilitation Center, we have some information about Tuckman and how it relates to individuals.  I have attached a PDF called The Individual Group Loop.

There is some information on our Be Legendary website about engagement.  You might find some of it useful.  All of these steps are important to achieve engagement in an organization.  As you will see, team building is one small tool to be used in the entire process.

There is a statement at the beginning of the powerpoint, “Engagement Starts with Team Building!”  As you might guess from above, this approach is incorrect.

Engagement as an Operating System, Team Building as an App
Think of an engagement program in terms of technology – operating systems and applications.  Engagement is the operating system and team building is an application.  Trying to run the application without the operating system working results in frustration and discouragement.

Imagine you convince everyone, through a fantastic presentation, to put their heart into the new application (team building) and they go through a great training system on how to use the new application – all is AWESOME!  But when they go back to their desk and try using the application without support there is bug after bug after bug and it causes more problems than help.  This is the typical foundation of most ‘team building’ programs and initiatives.

Based upon the metaphor above, team building is a GREAT application to help create engagement, but only if it built upon a solid foundation and ‘operating system’.

I hope you can see now how engagement does not start with team building.

Questions about Engagement Prior to Team Building
Before team building, some operating system questions to ask are:

  • What kind of feedback system is in place to give the people a voice?
  • Have you asked the employees about engagement, received their input before rolling out team building?  If not, STOP what you are doing and go actually engage the people you are trying to impact.  This top-down approach DOES NOT WORK in engagement.  You need to get their input, actually listen to it and use it to create the applications moving forward.
  • What kind of leadership structure is in place?  Does it support true engagement?  In other words, if you have a ‘Command and Control’ military-style leadership and hierarchy, dealing with crisis goes well, but dealing with engagement is poor.  Soldiers in the military can be engaged, but they are engaged with each other, protecting each other and don’t really care much about the ‘vision’ of the organization.  So you end up with some true teams and many not.  And the only time they really come together is when they are in crisis – in a gun battle.  That leadership style does not work well with engagement.
  • Are you currently measuring engagement?  What are the goals – what is success?
    • Levels of engagement measurement are:
      • Satisfaction (disengaged)
      • Happiness (very basic engagement)
      • Engagement (emotionally engaged)
    • What level are you measuring right now?
  • How is conflict and diversity of opinion encouraged and dealt with?
  • Do we empower people to express their opinion?  How?  Where?  How is it captured?
  • Do we have a immediate feedback loop from employee to supervisor to employee?  How immediate?  Most organization have a yearly performance appraisal, with some also having quarterly reviews.  You need something with a fast feedback loop.
  • How is it 100% clear that each person is valued in their role?
  • How are authentic connections created?  (This is one area team building fits as the application)
  • Do the values of the organizations have direct applications in a person’s daily job?  In what way?
  • How does the culture of the organization support engagement?

These are a handful of questions off the top of my head that we use when we are helping companies create engagement programs.  As you will see, NONE of these have anything to do with working with groups, yet.  But we need to understand this and much more to ensure our operating system is working and agile enough to change with the needs of the applications.


Share your wisdom about team building and employee engagement below!





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