Article presenting team-building games as “best practice” | AME

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

In his 1951 novel Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut describes team building games that were eerily similar to the ones in this article. This approach has therefore been around US corporations for at least 60 years. But does it work?

We know that simulation games are effective as a Lean training tool, for example, but they are direct metaphors for the production work the participants do. The idea that generic games, unrelated to work, would be effective at developing teamwork is anything but obvious.

A promoter of this approach is quoted in the article as citing “research from MIT,” which I couldn’t find on Google. Experimental proof would require two groups of similar teams engaged in similar projects, with one group using these exercises and the other not. Then it would compare their performance on work projects.

We are also supposed to show respect for people. How respectful is it to an employee’s expertise to put him or her through this kind of experience? With the same time and money, you could send a machinist to a seminar on new cutting tools, with the duty to report on learnings to colleagues, or you could send a warehouse manager to learn about, say, RFID.

See on www.ame.org

14 comments on “Article presenting team-building games as “best practice” | AME

  1. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    We have done some team-building activites with cross functional groups. Although no obvious direct metaphors effect as the team-building games designed for, but it does help the relationship as it makes people know each other more. The “confrontation” afterword becomes “soft” and healthy.

  2. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I would agree with Wei Chen that there is a potential for improved communications as a result of a Team Building exercise but unfortunately most people do not do an initial measurement of communication and team work to show where the team started and what the direct benefit of the experience was.

    Without data it is impossible to show how the team benefited from a Team Building function outside of anecdotal evidence. I would suggest that the biggest benefit to most teams is the break that a function like this typically provides them. A feeling of recognition coupled with the Hawthorne Effect will most likely be the bigger contributor towards better communication than any activity on its own.

  3. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    If you are worried about ROI, keep the investment small. Paper airplane exercise or the marshmallow challenge are good ways to break up training and mix in some team building fun.

  4. I was not asking for an ROI, just some proof that it makes teams work better, whatever that means. Assuming you have a budget for training, the real question is whether you should spend it on team building games in a forest or on the acquisition of technical and managerial skills that are directly and immediately applicable on the job.
    I have used an elaborate game called Legotractors to teach Lean Assembly and Lean Logistics, and two more to teach SMED, one to show what you can do in a machine shop as a result of achieving SMED, and the other on how to actually do it on one machine. I know this kind of games to be very effective as a teaching aid.
    But this is not what the article in Target is about. In it, you see middle-aged men helping each other walk tightropes, or carrying each other through a web of ropes. If it is a metaphor for the work they do, it is pretty far fetched.
    I have not reviewed the Hawthorne experiments’ data, but there is a wide body of opinion that the Hawthorne Effect is an urban legend, and in particular that the Hawthorne data don’t show any. I would be wary of spending training funds on the expectation of a positive result due to the Hawthorne Effect.

  5. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    For an organization to stay the course on their Lean Journey, they have to make the cultural journey as well. We have a 6 month program that our clients send employees to for them to become Lean Champions and facilitate the journey. The first courses they go through would be considered Team building as the first is on Communications and the second on Conflict Management and Team building. Usually at the beginning of the program, people are just participants because they are from many different companies. After the cultural classes, a total of 3, and Lean Priniciples they have three 3 day train and do events. These cover Value Stream Mapping, 5S and Setup Reduction. We offer this program twice a year and by the time we reach the second or third three day event, the people are functioning well as a team. These are people that did not even know each other at the beginning of the program unless a company had more than one participating. Our second half day course could be considered a Team Building Game and I would say the outcome at the end of the 6 months has been very positive for the participants and the companies. We look at positive results when the company stays on the Lean Journey and uses their newly created Lean Champion to lead that effort. Follow up visits to the companies have shown this to be a high percent have had tangible results. The others have not had the top management support to keep the journey going.

  6. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    If go Lean, better to have a real case on job training with a real good coacher to facilitate. It is much effective than the games.

  7. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I highly recommend effectively facilitated team-building EXERCISES as part of an effort to improve teamwork. They are especially effective when starting a new team, when starting an effort to improve poor performance of existing teams, and as part of a new initiative such as lean implementation.

    I think there is a difference between simulations intended to teach a concept, such as lean thinking, and exercises intended to help team members improve communication, reduce conflict, and improve teamwork. Certainly simulations have a team-building component to them. Care must be used to ensure that no fingers are pointed and no one is embarrassed about their performance in the simulation–it’s about improving the process, not ridiculing someone who performed poorly.

    I would be cautious about using games that make individuals uncomfortable as that may result in resistance to the change and make existing conflicts worse.

  8. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    “Do team-building games actually work? ”

    Depends what you mean by “actually work” but, in my experience, they don’t add any value other than taking time and providing some entertainment in a workshop.

  9. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I believe that Team Building is essential – Not just “games”. I don’t view Whitebelt Training as a game. It is developing another level of expectation from your employees. Once you complete them you need to have reinforcement on the floor so the employee’s don’t have a chance to go back into “the way it was always done”. It is consistency from your floor supervisors to management that make these exercises worthwhile. If you don’t have management buy in, I wouldn’t do it. Again, they are not games or entertainment. It may start that way but by the end of the day the employee should start seeing the advantage of how a cell is setup, how to communicate clearly, how many steps are they taking doing the job, can they devise a plan that works better for the team as a whole. Key function to team building is open / transparent communication. What you expect out of your employee’s expect the same from your management team.

  10. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    People learn from and respond to emotional events. Building a bridge or even getting drunk together can be emotional events. Ultimately, bonding is emotional experience. Compressed stress on a project can bond people, just as boot camp prepares people to risk their lives for one another. Pretty difficult to simulate, especially if people are not “buying in” – as is often the case. I have participated in executive retreats that were special and did help build the team, but the effect was short lived – perhaps several months halo effect or “Hawthorne effect”, if you will.
    Shared commitment, working together for common goals, and shared celebration might have similar, lasting effects in building the team.
    -Paul

  11. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    I’ve been to team building events that were horrible, conducted by people who didn’t know what they were doing and actually created more suspicion and division than cohesiveness.

    I’ve also been to events where I learned how to communicate better and made connections that helped my work in the future.

    Brainstorming is often part of the agenda. January 30, 2012, the New Yorker had an article by Jonah Lehrer called Groupthink: The brainstorming myth.

    He puts the popularity of the technique down to Alex Osborn, of the legendary ad agency BBDO, who wrote a book in 1948 called “Your Creative Power.” Lehrer then cites research at Yale in 1958 that found the technique ineffective, and more recent work at Northwestern, UC Berkeley. Some conclusions were that criticism made for better outcomes, not worse, and that simply locating people in closer proximity made teams better. The Toyota Obeya (see Jeff Liker’s The Toyota Way) – the BIG ROOM has resulted in some of the most impressive product development work by teams anywhere.

    I can’t summarize the whole article here, but the management literature is full of assertions based on a single study or pure opinion. Don’t get me started on Maslow – he was evidently an insightful guy but never empirically studied his model of levels of needs. He did want others to take his work, criticize it and make it better. Unfortunately, that got lost and it has been taken as gospel ever since.

    So I’d say team building is desirable, but the idea of simulation or training has its flaws, which have been discussed here. If your experience with one of these methods is positive, by all means continue to use it, but be careful in assuming that all are created equal.

  12. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    The group might want to check out Lencioni’s book “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” as a point of reference. They are (per Wiki):

    • Absence of trust—unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
    • Fear of conflict—seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
    • Lack of commitment—feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
    • Avoidance of accountability—ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behaviour which sets low standards
    • Inattention to results—focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

    Good book. Quick read.

  13. Comment in The Association for Manufacturing Excellence discussion group on LinkedIn:

    Paul said: “Shared commitment, working together for common goals, and shared celebration might have similar, lasting effects in building the team.” I like this.

    Additionally, team building is about trust. Whatever it takes to help people get to know, and give a hoot about each other, is worth an investment. However, if the team is dysfunctional, taking several valuable people away from the job for an “off the shelf” team building exercise might do more harm than good.

  14. The above comments contain accounts of personal experience, some philosophy, and some principles, but not reference to a scientific assessment of whether having people play tug-of-war or paintball in a forest has any impact on teamwork on the job.

    I had heard that the Hawthorne effect was a myth, and that the effectiveness of brainstorming was questioned. But, until reading Karen’s comment, at least I believed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be solid.

    It seems that, in the field of psychology and sociology of work, we accept assertions just because they are sort of plausible. In mechanics, chemistry, or electronics, we don’t do that but, in those fields, fallacies are easier to expose. I realize that experiments that could establish the relevance of team building games would be time consuming and expensive but, without such experiments, we can’t know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *