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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Do you want to play a game? (Team building over team bonding)

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

I don't prescribe medicine for my clients, but I have been known to recommend games. In fact I run an entire workshop session using a tabletop escape game to open the dialogue into team building. Whether you are talking about the work team, or the team closer to home - your family - a co-operative game is one of the best ways to recognise and respect exactly WHAT each other brings to the table.

The "Escape game" for example, puts teams under a time pressure which sees them perform under "stress", and the range of puzzles almost ensures that no singular person will be capable of doing it all. Moreover, even if you have an excellent problem solver, they may not have the organisational skills needed to keep track of the plot, nor the communication skills to ensure each person is working efficiently and effectively towards the goal; not forgetting, that you also need someone with initiative to ask questions or to seek information without being told, and the ability to motivate when the rest are flagging.

Now while escape rooms will offer corporate days - in the same way as teams used to go camping or white water rafting - there is a difference between team bonding (ie. experiencing something fun together and creating a shared memory) and team building - whch is the element I like to add. Ensuring that in reflection, what went on in the game is reflected on and thought about for one's own development as well as team growth. It's not just about bringing people closer.

When I observe a game, I will give feedback on the areas where you can develop your team skills and team strengths - and I will always identify the positives that I see - and sometimes they will be in people whom others in the group found surprising.

I delivered a mini-game at a conference in Dubai. The person who came to the fore and led the group to victory was the quietest member of the conference. Perhaps it was because she was a student, perhaps she felt she did not have the experience of the other speakers - but as far as the activity went - she was ahead of the game. She had the skill to do the job. Seeing the others listen to her, she grew in confidence, they grew in appreciation, and the chatter at lunch was far more inclusive than the earlier tea break.

Through desmontrating her skills, the group helped build her confidence (a strength), and through the strength of the leaders in the group, she felt comfortable enough to express them.

You need BOTH strength and skill for success.

In a debrief I will use perceived weaknesses (strength or skill) as a starting point - "I noticed you...why was that?" - in one session I observed that a delegate got fixated on picking a lock - when I asked her she related it back to a behaviour pattern "Sometimes I get so fixated on what font to use, I forget to send out the actual invitation." - this gave her food for thought. Development comes from reflection not just from having a good time - the fact that the activity is fun, is a bonus. ...And the use of the game itself is a benefit to a training session just talking about what makes a good team or using a psychometric alone because it gives delegates the opportunity to experience it - and simply to "behave" and receive feedback. "Involve me and I learn" said Benjamin Franklin.

But this is not a sales pitch for my session.

It is simply an illustration of how I get you to focus on two key areas of contribution to a team - strength and skill...when many (team bonders) seem to focus only on the former.

Strengths v Skills

Strengths are traits such as charisma, the ability to motivate, helpfulness, being a good listener; Skills are things which can be taught - clarity of communication, orgnaisation, problem solving. The biggest difference is a SKILL can be learned much more easily than a STRENGTH. A Strength can, on the other hand, be assimilated or "faked" more easily than a skill...but if you continually "fake" it, you will begin to feel at odds with your authentic self...and because of this, a skill - a bona fide genuine ability - is often more valuable!

Take a moment to list your STRENGTHS and your SKILLS.

I would say my strengths included:

  • Positivity

  • Drive

  • Adaptability

My skills include

  • Performance

  • Writing

  • Organisation

It is much easier to teach you how to deliver a presentation in a theatrical manner, than it is to make you "positive" if you have a more cynical or a neutral outlook. AND the thing I should add here, is while the more skills you have improve your chances of success; ALL of your strengths have an equal opportunity for success in the right time and place. "Positivity" is NOT necessarily better than "Realism" or even cynicism, and it's certainly made me over promise and under-deliver once or twice...niceness is not everything!

Games let me - and you - explore both strength and skill, and in the debrief, you can then decide how to work with that information. My short advice would be:

  • Teach people to recognise and appreciate their strengths (there are no "better thans" - just differences) and how each difference may be an asset depending on the situation

  • Teach people that they can always build their skills.

  • A skill proficiency may make up for a lack in an area of strength eg. a highly talented brain surgeon who is abrasive and abrupt is still my preferred choice to one with great bedside manner but a 50-50 success rate.

  • A particular strength proficiency may be more successful in some contexts than in others, and while adapted behaviours are possible, too much adaptation and the person can begin to feel fake. Therefore, try and find ways of allowing for their authenticitiy - especially if their skills merit'll even find that if they have less pressure trying to be something the aren't their work may get even better!

Ultimately, a team is a group of people coming together to achieve a goal. They don't actually have to like each other - it's probably nicer for everyone if they do, but skill - ability to do the job - is often more valuable than likability because it will always generate respect. Leaders are in a different position because part of their job is likability because they need to motivate to action....but even then - if you can do the job, I might just excuse your sharp tongue.

I am not belitting the role of personality - orgaisations need to influence, persuade and motivate to survive, and it's certainly a more pleasant environment when people get along - but what I am saying is, always build your skills and you will be able to find a place that suits your strengths, focus only on your strengths and it may take you only so far. A leopard can change his speed, not his spots.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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