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Team building: In or out?

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Employees are becoming increasingly polarised when it comes to team building. Too often I hear friends and family describing their companies’ efforts as dreary and a waste of time, while the younger workforce are engaged only if the activities look fun enough for their social media.

Popular corporate team building away days – from kayaking and sand sculpting to a yacht cruise – appear to be a glamorous form of socialising. While a good relationship between colleagues can increase motivation and communication, this does not guarantee a strong high-performing collaborative team.

Other underlying concerns towards modern day team building include: How does a one-day activity make a long-lasting impact? Do these activities reinforce the existing office cliques instead of bringing all the colleagues together? Do they strengthen the employer brand?


During my interview with Pandora’s learning and development director Simpson Wong for this issue’s feature on personalised workplace learning, he was dubious about the effectiveness of a set team building scenario as well.

There is no particular one-day event labelled as team building at Pandora. Since Pandora’s Hong Kong office also acts as its regional headquarters, collaboration across departments or locations occurs naturally every day, and managers are the key to facilitate and build the so-called team spirit.

“There is usually a lot of labels in the retail industry such as front-line and back office employees referring to each other as ‘the staff upstairs’ or ‘the staff downstairs’. This kind of name-calling is unhealthy and unnecessary. Despite their job functions or work locations, they are still co-workers, and their work is closely tied with each others’ work,” Wong said.

To foster the relationship between employees on a larger scale, Pandora regularly produces digital materials such as “Retail 101” or “Finance 101” or video interviews with department heads to give every Pandora employee an insight into each department’s daily work.

Pandora’s team building focus – infusing the concept into everyday work instead of a one-time event – leads me to the question: Is team building obsolete?

Looking back, one of the earliest research into workplace behaviour, the Hawthorne Experiment, showed that employees’ motivation and productivity are linked to social interactions.

In the meantime, reflecting on business nowadays, there is not a single product or service produced that is a one-man show.

Good teams are intrinsically necessary for a healthy business, but achieving that takes time. Human resources professionals should rethink whether their existing practices are taking them any closer to their end goal.


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