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Why team building training doesn’t work (and how you can fix it)



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This article is brought to you by Griness.

Here’s how to translate learning takeaways after team building workshops into everyday work habits, as shared by the team at Griness.

On 2 January last year, my wife convinced me to accompany her for a trial lesson of hot yoga. I was surprised at how crowded it was. Seeing my reaction, the administrator told me not to worry. “It’s just today. It’s always like this the first two weeks of January due to New Year resolutions, you know.” She assured me that there would be fewer hot yogis by the end of January and twice fewer hot yogis in February.

You might be wondering what hot yoga and New Year resolutions have to do with team building.

A lot.

If done correctly, team building events leave participants with insightful takeaways. They’re motivated to start the next workday differently. However, just like with New Year resolutions, these good intentions eventually fade out when they return to their desks.

For example, our recent team building workshop for finance team of 35 participants. It was our signature game called SpaceX, which was inspired by a real-life NASA crisis that occurred when miscommunication between two teams of scientists led to the failure of a deployed spacecraft. The workshop focused on clear communication and building a positive team climate.

We achieved objectives by doing the opposite – we facilitated suspicion between team members to cause a toxic environment and miscommunication. Think of this game as a vaccination that helps team to develop protection from similar “disease” back in the office.

After the game, we discussed the lessons learned from the experience. As a result, the team came up with their own rules on how they wanted to communicate with each other. The team also learned that it only takes one team member to create a positive or negative atmosphere.

The participants left the session feeling motivated to implement positive changes at work by applying what they learned in the team exercise. Will these good intentions become good habits?

How can we ensure these intentions don’t fade away like new year resolutions?

The Fogg Behavior Model states that the initiation and maintenance of a specific behaviour requires motivation, ability, and a trigger. This explains why insights and new year resolutions fade, and how we can turn them into solid habits.

It states that the initiation and maintenance of a specific behaviour depends on three factors: motivation, ability, and a trigger. Motivation is how strongly you want to perform the behaviour.

Ability refers to how easy it is to perform the behaviour. The factors that affect ability include:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Physical effort
  • Brain cycle (whether thinking is required, or it is a no-brainer)
  • Social deviance (whether it rebels against the group norm or rules of society)
  • Non-routine (people tend to find behaviours simple if they’re routine)

A trigger is a prompt. It is the thing that says “do it now”. Trigger can take many forms – a new message notification, a face of your colleague, a growling stomach, and so on.

Motivation and ability can be traded off. If your level of motivation is high, you may accomplish difficult tasks. If your motivation is low, you may avoid challenging tasks.

The problem is that motivation cannot stay high all the time. It fluctuates. Since we cannot rely on motivation, we should focus on elements we can control – ability and triggers.

How can we increase ability?

By reducing tasks to manageable levels, we reduce the amount of motivation needed to perform those tasks.

How about a trigger? Instead of creating new triggers such as reminders in your phone, we can use your current daily routine as a trigger to perform new behaviour. Daily routines like ‘opening office door’, ‘switching on laptop’, or ‘having lunch could serve as an excellent trigger (click the link to find out some ideas for work time triggers).

To sum up, here is a formula for a sustainable behaviour change. Let’s call it the Tiny Habit Formula:

  • After ________ (write one of your current routines), I will _____________ (write your new behaviour – a tiny version of it).

Getting back to the participants of the team building workshop, how can we use Tiny Habit Formula to increase their adherence to new resolutions?

The group agreed to effective listening practices such as check-back (to repeat or paraphrase received messages to ensure understanding).  Tiny Habit Recipe for check-back technique can sound like this:

  • After I start talking to John (trigger), I will repeat or paraphrase what he is saying at least once (new behaviour).

The participants left the workshop understanding that it only takes one teammate to affect positive or negative energy in the environment. They had resolved to use this understanding to increase positive energy at work. What tiny habits may be implemented to affect the group positively?

  • After I touch the handle of the office door in the morning, I will take a deep breath and smile.
  • After I enter the lift, I will think about one of my colleagues I am grateful for.

That could be the first tiny habits to start with. They can be followed by other tiny routines related to team meetings, emails, and other aspects of your team’s office life.

The action of adding positive tiny habits to one’s daily routines creates surprisingly significant effects.  Following a recent five-day email introductory course on designing habits, 67% of participants reported that their practices had become either “Automatic”, “Somewhat Automatic”, or “Very Automatic.”

As a side effect, participants reported feeling more confident in their abilities to form new habits. They changed their thinking patterns from, “No way I can change it” to “I can change it easily.”

Here’s some of the feedback we got from our participants:

“I now see myself as a person who…

  • can create my own habits when I want
  • can see more than one path to my goals
  • can easily change behaviour
  • can actually do anything provided I start off tiny.”

I don’t want to create the impression that tiny habits are a magic recipe that will make your team building takeaways become part of the team daily routines. It is a much less powerful method compared to snake oil.

However, tiny habits allow us to start the process of change. They also allow us not to be affected by the ups and downs of our motivation. And, finally, they make us believe that “I can create own habits when I want”.

By the way, I did not sign up for hot yoga on 2 January. Instead, I’ve started doing small exercises as part of my routine during work hours. For some of them, I’ve already celebrated one-year anniversaries.

Please don’t be surprised to see a guy doing sit-ups in the lift lobby of the Trivex Building. That’s one of my little habits:

  • “After I press the lift button in the office, I do at least three squats.”

Griness Teambuilding Singapore is an award-winning team specialise in team building events, corporate training, and meeting facilitation solutions. Our signature team building experiences include Warriors of VUCA World, CSI, Running Man Race, The Domino Effect, Incredible Rube Goldberg Machine, personality profiling, food hunts, musical activities and suit of art jamming workshops facilitated by international artist Inessa K

We have compiled years of knowledge after holding hundreds of team building events, to come up with a comprehensive guide that walks you through the entire process of planning, budgeting, and running a team building event that is memorable for years to come. If you’re interested in finding out more about this team building guide, then you can visit our site for more great team building tips in Singapore.

Photo / Griness



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