Trust-building is one of the most common activities conducted for strengthening teams and integrating them when taking on new and challenging performance objectives. As part of this initiative, teams are taken out for trekking, rock climbing, raft building, and other such adventurous exercises where there is an element of challenge and risk, and where survival, safety, or fun depend on supporting and collaborating with each other. After a couple of days of such adventure, the teams get back to the workplace and once again things back to what they were before – the so-called ‘rat race’. HR and everyone else is left wondering what the outbound activity actually achieved.
From my experience of having worked with hundreds of teams across industry, culture, and hierarchy, I have some insight into where the problem lies. In the trust-building activity, safety and survival actually depend on collaborating within the same team while competing with other teams. The whole team has to reach the top of that hill or peak together. Only then can they win. The task is completed only when the last man has reached the top, or the other shore. In rock climbing and mountain climbing the best and most experienced climbers go first and bring up the rear, and the weaker climbers are placed in the middle.
Now imagine that the task was redefined as below:
The team size, let’s say is 20 people. The performance target for this exercise is to reach the top of that peak. The first person who reaches the top will get a special and very substantial reward amounting to 30% of the reward amount. The next 5 who reach will share the next 40%. The next 4 will share 20 %. The next 6 will share 10%. The last 4 get no rewards. The last 2 people are also liable to be sacked.
Though the above scenario may be an exaggeration, very often corporate tasks, corporate appraisals, and corporate rewards are defined in this way and everyone is left wondering why there is no trust in the team and no collaboration. We wonder why people are getting stressed.
As experienced in the “CorporateTheatre” workshops, competition between teams can raise people beyond comfort zones and perceived competence zones. Competition within the same team destroys the team and blocks collaboration, communication, and trust. It is also important to club together all interdependent functions responsible for a common goal, as one team. If functions within a team are defined, appraised, and rewarded as teams – marketing team, sales team, admin team, finance team, technical team, service team – it creates more of functional loyalty, distorts goal perceptions, and undermines the performance of the team as a whole.