Creating a positive workplace environment and harmonious teamwork among employees is a significant challenge for employer organizations of all types. As a result, employers delegate significant resources to team building activities.
A common team building activity involves an activity that is competitive to a degree. Regardless of the nature of the activity, if it is competitive it assumes the ultimate goal is to win. The problem is that if someone, or a team, is a winner there has to be a loser. Creating a team building event that ensures competition among employees, although a common employer practice and promises a fun event for many, ultimately risks breeding rifts among employees and increasing workplace conflict.
One issue with competition in team building events is that it results in a winner and a loser between teams. If a employer-sponsored outing pits employees or even departments against one another they risk creating greater rifts among team members.
In addition, some employees are naturally more competitive than others. As a result, it is more than possible that the competitive nature of the event will cause clashes between team members.
Who has been part of a team – whether a sporting event, card game, corporate event – where all team members have been happy with every decision made by their teammates? Even the members of the winning team can be frustrated with the performance and/or reaction of teammates. The disappointments and hurt feelings are often not left at the scene of the event; this can be a problem in the workplace. Specifically, a competitive employer team building event can increase workplace conflict versus building a harmonious workplace environment.
- A few years ago Sally and three friends engaged in a friendly game of euchre, a team-based card game. Sally does not remember who won, but she does remember that her teammate, Peter, “yelled” at her when he did not like her move. She confronted his reaction at the time, to which he defended his reaction and continued to criticize her game. The game continued. Sally had fun. It seemed like everyone had fun, but Sally experienced a different side of Peter: a side that she did not like. Years later she recounts that interaction during the card game as the catalyst for a change in their relationship – nothing huge to but a definite negative change in the level of trust and ability to effectively work together.
- Sally’s negative reaction toward her euchre teammate impacted much more than card game, she opted to no longer be on his team if she was able to help it. She freely shared her experience and concerns about Peter with the group when asked. Peter could be a valuable employee, but as a result of some friendly non-work related competition, he is not seen as a team player.
An employer looking at the above example may think that the hurt feelings of one employee may not spoil the benefits for the larger group. However, it is these small negative interactions that fester among employees. Negative employee interactions from the competitive team building event outlast the positive good feelings these events create.
For employers focusing on improving the workplace environment and teamwork among employees, a blatantly competitive event can easily trigger the opposite intent.
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