What We Really Think About Team-Building Exercises

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When your boss alerts the department that it's time for some trust falls and icebreaker games, how do you respond? For some, the prospect is fun and rewarding; for others, eyeroll-worthy mandatory fun. Especially with remote work, it's always a challenge to keep your team unified and energized. But there's a right way to do so and any number of wrong ways.

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Researchers at the University of Sydney have just published a study on the ethics of team-building interventions. The angle may feel surprising, especially if these activities seem outwardly harmless. But for some workers, they're another form of coercion, at a time and place when their schedules and duties are already pretty circumscribed. "Many people do not want to be forced into having fun or making friends, especially not on top of their busy jobs or in stressful, dysfunctional environments where team-building is typically called for," coauthor Julien Pollack pointed out.

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Instead, the researchers call for focusing on smaller group dynamics and individual relationships in a workplace. Teams should be made of people who complement each other, like a good heist crew. Sometimes they do their best work when there aren't too many of them and when they don't know each other super well yet. If you are looking for a shortcut to good vibes at your workplace, video games are actually a proven path to success. Even group mindfulness has its benefits.

Just don't expect miracles from firewalking or Zoom costume parties. If your team is on the same page, you'll know it from their work.

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