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No, team-building is not (always) team bullshit! – Anne-Laure Pams, Director Grant Alexander – Leadership Development for FocusRH


Team-building is under attack! There is a proliferation of articles casting doubt on the concept. A study conducted by two teachers/researchers has set things alight. The participants interviewed, young graduates of the prestigious universities, described moments that were judged to be in turn absurd, grotesque, uncomfortable and even humiliating. Employees felt manipulated and infantilised by “orchestrated fun”. The authors make no bones about it: “In the tradition of bullshit jobs, team building also contains its share of bullshit1“. So should this exercise be condemned to oblivion? Absolutely not. As long as there is a clear understanding of its purpose and prerequisites.



Let’s clear up a misunderstanding: team-building is not about celebrating success or rewarding employees. An end-of-year event based around a cookery class, a good dinner and a thank-you speech may contribute to a good atmosphere in the company, but it is not team-building.

As the name suggests, the aim is to build a team. There are several possible typical situations: the installation of a new or renewed team following a reorganisation; or the malfunctioning of a collective, with recurring misunderstandings, opacity, a lack of cross-functionality, employee fatigue, etc. It can also concern a team that needs to be strongly aligned or re-aligned, to successfully carry out a transformation or get through a crisis; or that needs to strengthen itself further to perform better. In all cases, the challenge is to strengthen the feeling of belonging to the same team, cohesion, operating methods and the resulting commitment.

The consulting partner must therefore first endeavour to understand the customer’s precise needs and unique situation. This will enable them to design a programme that meets the company’s specific needs. This is why, in reality, there is no such thing as “turnkey” team-building: a proposal formulated in this way comes under the heading of events, not strategic consultancy.



What is criticised about team-building is the cosmetic dimension that some people have unfortunately given it.

But “real” team building involves subjective, deeply human processes that are anything but superficial or purely sensational. Its aim is to create not just a good time, but a lasting positive energy, and to ensure that it is properly allocated according to well-defined and well-understood priorities.

First of all, the approach requires an effort to align the participants on a common base: a shared vision, an agreement on the image we want to project. This means looking at the most structuring elements of the company, its culture and its operating methods. Sometimes it even involves questioning the manager’s own communication.

In addition, it is essential to identify the sticking points and assess their recurrence, so as to be able to tackle these situations differently by redefining the roles of each person, beyond their functions. Quite often, the issues addressed are by no means minor: the loneliness of the executive is brought out into the open, and potentially deep-rooted conflicts need to be purged. The aim of this very delicate process is to free up the floor to restore fluidity and confidence.

Finally, team-building is not a one-shot deal. It’s a long-term approach: you can’t build a team in a single seminar. It is therefore essential to make commitments by drawing up an action plan. It can be followed up over time, which is just as vital, with “anchoring” sessions lasting a few hours at regular intervals to take stock of the situation.



At the end of the day, we’re a long way from an accrobranche course, which is not team-building as such, or even a key stage in such a process.

But can a fun event still make sense? Yes, to bring work sessions to a close with an informal moment. Or to create a rhythm, provided that it fits in well with the approach, by highlighting and dealing with points of dysfunction by analogy. The aim is to get the participants to react and find an appropriate solution that can be applied to their day-to-day team life.

It is also important that these lighter sessions are designed to be consistent with the levels of responsibility and profiles of the participants. From this point of view, the sack race is probably not the best idea for management or executive teams…

Properly designed and run, team-building can be a tremendous asset to a company. In many situations, it is even essential, particularly at a high level. This is particularly true of the Executive Committee, which has a considerable impact on the other teams in the company through mimicry and modelling.


1- From laughter to tears: when team building goes astray, by Xavier Philippe, lecturer and researcher in the sociology of work at EM Normandie, and Thomas Simon, assistant professor at Montpellier Business School (MBS). The Conversation, 27 November 2023.


Read the article on FocusRH