Can You Build a Team through Team Games?

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Recently, I came across this discussion on LinkedIn about agile games for team building. I then found this article that lists some of the more popular team-building games. The question we need to ask is: Can you really build an effective team through a game?

I have observed that most team games are encouraged by organizations after a major negative event in the company. This could be a major project failure or a sudden increase in the attrition rate. I have seen companies spend thousands of dollars on team-building activities during company or group mergers.

A strong belief exists that participating in a two-hour or daylong team-building activity will build trust and improve the communication skills of teams participating in the game. If trust and communication could be improved through these games, then every software project manager would have played these games and delivered a successful project every time.

If you look at the reasons behind team failures in the workplace, you’ll find that failures are usually caused by a lack of planning, accountability, and clarity of purpose. Most of these failures can be attributed to a poor management culture that drives the team.  

However, management often blames the team members for failures and in turn makes them go through the punishment of a “team-building game” with the assumption that after two hours, the team will be fixed.

Games will not be effective unless the overall system is fixed. Begin by recognizing the five dysfunctions of the team. My particular favorite is the trust factor.

Don’t waste your time and money on team-building games unless the stakeholders are committed to fixing the overall system.

As a coach, I encourage teams to spend more time bonding outside work. It could be as simple as meeting at a cafe to catch up. Once in a while, conduct your meetings in an informal setting like a bar. I encourage teams to do potlucks.

Team building is more challenging in a distributed environment than in collocated teams. Here are some key ideas to kickstart trust building in global teams. Mike Cohn emphasizes building trust at an early stage.

Remember, team building is not a one-time thing—it is an ongoing exercise. It needs constant nourishment from the stakeholders and team members.

Ask yourself: Have you ever built a team through a two-hour game or activity?

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Venkatesh Krishnamurthy

Venkatesh Krishnamurthy is an author, speaker and a coach. In his 15+ years of career in the software industry, he has played different roles as a developer, architect and an Agile coach.