I was leading an Effective Leadership Communication seminar this week with a group of senior executives and CEOs when the question came up about if they should attend office team building events. I knew my immediate answer would not be helpful when I responded with ‘depends’.
When Not To Go
In most cases, I would say yes, you should attend, even if not the entire event. The times when you would not want to attend at all is when you have a specific session with a facilitator where you need the team to address internal issues preventing them from operating as a high functioning team.
Even in this case, the leader needs to show he is invested in the event taking place by prepping the team on the purpose and seeking some kind of summary report about the event from the team and the facilitator.
One particular retreat I facilitated started with the 2 department senior executives communicating to the team the exact reasons they were chosen for the retreat, why they were not attending and why I was chosen to facilitate. At the end of the two days, the executives came for the last couple of hours where the team presented them a summary plan on how they were going to move forward as a team and address specific concerns.
Many team building events are scheduled not because there are current issues in the team which specifically need to be addressed, but are planned as a way to socialize away from the normal office routine. These could be onsite, such as a turkey bowling competition in the main hallway on Thanksgiving or, (as I once had the joy to experience) a Royal Wedding Party taking place in the boardroom where everyone watches the wedding.
Or the team-building event could be held away from the office, such as at a retreat centre with a high ropes course or a laser tag party and then there is the infamous annual Christmas Party. As the team leader, no matter what your title, it is important you at least show your face at these events, participate a little, and appear to be having fun.
Reasons to show up:
- Build Respect – Too often, leaders come off as stiff, focused and not so fun. If you don’t think the event is important, your team won’t either. By showing the fun and potentially silly side of your personality, it shows you are human and one of them. Be willing to do what is asked of you and maybe a little more.
- Strengthen Relationships – Events are an excellent way to increase your social bond with the team by engaging in conversation outside the normal work context. You may discover you have things in common or that a team member is stressed caring for an ill family member.
- Research – These events are a great opportunity to take employees away from their daily routine and discover untapped talents and interests. Conversely, a weakness that could potentially hurt the team may be exposed.
- Recognition – Utilizing these gatherings to deliver employee recognition, especially if family members are in attendance. A special recognition should be delivered at a special event or in a memorable way. It could be a great time to give out this year’s company SWAG or yearly employment milestones.
- Host – You are the leader and you have approved the party, so show up. Would you have a party at your house and not attend?
Note that showing up and engaging doesn’t mean closing the bar and being the last one to leave, unless of course you are the captain on a sinking ship. If there is alcohol served at the event, I strongly recommend you don’t stick around till the end and your employees probably don’t want you their either at that point.
What are your reasons for attending team events? How have they impacted your leadership? Share your story in the comments below.