Team buildings - what are they for? Why do they exist? Who should pay for them? When should they happen? What about afterworks?

People can be very opinionated on this topic, and it’s quite a complex subject. Let me share my two cents. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

What are team buildings for?

Team buildings are organized in order to get closer to each other as humans. To know each other a bit better, to build trust for example by playing some games. All this in order to ease the communication within the team, hoping for a more efficient working environment. Ultimately it’s about increasing the profitability of the company. That’s completely fine, the goal of a business is to make money, and preferably even more than that with fewer resources.

But are team buildings really needed? Do we have to ease the internal communications by playing (not so much) funny games or by drinking massive amounts of alcohol?

Yes and no. We don’t even need to talk to each other. In certain extremely distributed companies the communication between devs are only through problem tickets. Of course, in most companies, we still do have to talk to each other, at least at meetings. But to be honest, outside meetings, regarding the work, I think we don’t talk (in person) that much. When we do, it mostly because of the lack of documentation or skills.

And instead of talking mostly we are using instant messaging systems (IMs).

More and more companies have open offices which according to the latest studies decrease the amount of face-to-face communication in the office and increase the time we spend on our IMs.

Based on the current trends, we will spend even more time on the chat. There are more and more companies based on teleworking, there are more and more teams who never meet in person.

I made a couple of friends at work. Some of the best ones. But that’s because of all the time that we spent talking at the coffee room, instead of working actually. And I don’t spend a lot of time in those common areas. Other people spend more sipping coffee with others or smoking outside with some others. There are people who completely mix their work and social life. Is that a problem?

Yegor would say so. There is a chance that people spend too much chatting about non-work related issues and spend a decreasing time on working. They are discussing their family issues while they are getting paid by their employers. Up until a certain point, it’s a calculated loss I think. But what’s more dangerous is that these company friendships will decrease quality - according to Yegor. In the field of software development, it might lead to buddy reviews, meaning that your teammates will accept lower quality pull request than they should, winking at you that this will make it.

I think Yegor might be right on this. But actually, there are people who just approve anything for anyone. They don’t care and they think that “Approve” button is there just to merge anything with the least amount of comments and as fast as possible. If someone is a real crafts(wo)man, he will not accept crap even from his friends. On the contrary, he might be even more strict with friends as he cares more.

Team buildings are for improving the interpersonal communications of a team, with arguable success but that’s not the only topic of this article.

Who should pay for team buildings?

As we just saw the goal of a team building is that the team work more efficiently. That has nothing to do with the goals of the team members unless it’s explicitly declared. But in that case, most likely you are not an individual contributor anymore. I mean maybe my manager’s goal is to increase the efficiency of the team whatever it means (it’s not a clear goal to me…), but mine would be most probably something like deliver high-quality code on time which will not generate serious problem tickets.

Regarding the personal goals, as an individual contributor, my personal goal is becoming more and more employable. What does this mean in practice? Getting better in what I do on a daily basis, increasing my knowledge and building my brand. This latter might include getting referrals and good opinions on me by my colleagues - but not necessarily. I don’t need any of my colleagues’ opinion to build a blog. Soft skills, like presentation skills, persuasiveness, just name a few are important but you won’t learn them at team buildings.

Team buildings are not likely to increase my market value. That cannot be a reason for me to pay for them.

Let’s not ignore that team buildings are there to have fun. True. If I want to have fun, I go out with my family or with my friends. And there might be an overlap! Yes, maybe even with the family - after all, I met my wife at a company training on personal effectiveness back in Hungary. Apparently, we were really effective… But this overlap is not necessary and practically it is never complete. You’ll rarely consider your whole team to be a set of people who you’d hang out with if you had to choose.

As we can see the purpose of a team building is to increase the profitability of a team, hence it’s definitely the company (no, not the bosses out of their pocket, but the company) who should pay for such events.

When should a team building happen?

The previous point leads to the exact answer. It should happen at working hours. At least in case, the event is appropriate for it. If it’s a drinking out (I know, I know…), a dinner, whatever that fits more for the evening, it’s okay to have it after work. But you cannot expect everyone to be there.

Is it fair to organize a team building for the weekend? No. I trade my time for a salary. I trade about 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday - depending on the contract and with some flexibility on both sides. I have no reason to attend team buildings during the weekend unless I’m getting paid for it. If it’s a very special kind of event that the company pays for or a multi-day getaway including, for example, Friday and Saturday, then such a timing might be acceptable in certain circumstances.

Other aspects

You might work for a team where there are a lot of young singles, possibly coming from other regions or countries. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have no commitments, friends, but it’s probable that they look for more company in their free time. It’s fine. But still, we shall not forget the differences between social activities, dating, meetups and team buildings.

It’s completely fine to hang out with colleagues. But having a few beers with Office Joe and Office Carla, while half of the team haven’t joined is not a team building, not even a team event. In a good scenario it’s about getting friends, in a worse one it’s about forming office clicks.

There might be strange setups where the official team buildings are not organized with those who you work with on a daily basis. They usually happen for contractual reasons. I’ve seen teams self-organizing team buildings for their own in their own time on their own money. It’s quite sad to me and the complete misunderstanding of the purpose of a team building.

Verdict

In my opinion, team buildings should happen in working hours, but depending on the type of the event, occasionally they might be in the evening or partly during weekends. As team building’s goals are to improve as a team to make the company more successful, they should always be paid by the company.

What do you think?