In this episode of In-Ear Insights, listen as CEO Katie Robbert and Christopher Penn discuss the differences between team bonding and team building. Which is appropriate for what kind of situation?

Tune in to hear how the activities differ, what NOT to do, and ways you can improve your company’s team growth initiatives.

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
In today’s episode of in your insights we are talking about team bonding team building and the organization management of a team.

I’m going to preface this episode by saying I should, under no circumstance to be allowed to manage people because I’m very, very bad. I love working with machines much better. Which is why among many other reasons, Katie Rebecca here is the CEO of the company. But I wanted to the stuff I saying, I did hear something interesting. Back in our old agency days, there was one of one of my my peers and a park and said, there’s a difference between team bonding and team building. And people don’t people confuse the two. One is, you know, developing and deepening the relationships, and the other is making the team function better.

And other cases, I worked at a previous company where there were all these ridiculous things that people did it, like, you know, any day outings, not even that Mandatory Fun, but like really stupid, potentially dangerous stuff. And so how does somebody navigate this world of trying to grow the relationships with a team? And and how do you solve for when people just pull up a a book or a web page or blog post or YouTube video and come up with these crazy, crazy ideas that that inevitably are just really bad as well. You know,

Katie Robbert
there’s a reason why there are companies that specialize specifically in team building exercises and why a lot of it is outsource to professionals. Because it is there’s a lot of physical and mental and emotional elements involved with both team building and team bonding. And it what it real, what it really boils down to is trust. And trust is one of those ambiguous things that you know, it’s difficult to define. But you know what it is, when you have it, it’s believing in someone wholeheartedly. And you can get both through team bonding and team building. And I looked at it, I like that example, that they are two different things because there is such a difference. So one of the things that we used to focus on at other companies was team bonding, but we called it team building. And so what we were really doing was having the team become better friends with each other be, you know, break down those personal barriers of you can get to know me as an actual person versus me as a professional, but it didn’t necessarily strengthened how the team operated together. Um, you know, I would like to get sort of your perspective on

what what do you think makes a good team building activity? And why is it important,

Christopher Penn
I have no idea why. That’s why you’ve always managed people,

Unknown
but part of teams before and you part of people yeah, and

Christopher Penn
I’ve been part of teams but

I’m, I’ve been I guess the easy way says I’ve been part of teams, but I’ve never felt like I was part of the team.

And part of that I completely acknowledge is my own social ineptitude of, you know, not having a lot of common ground with people. And so the team bonding stuff, you know, hanging out with people and going out for drinks afterwards, things, not something that I ever felt comfortable as, as a person doing, you know,

one of the, I remember at one of our other companies, one of the, the hiring criteria was, you know, would you feel comfortable being, you know, stranded overnight in an airport with this person. And I don’t know, that’s a good barometer. Because I wouldn’t be feel comfortable with most people

in general. And so when we talk about team bonding, and team building, and what makes a team function better,

I don’t know that there are exercises or things you can do so much as being very clear about your purpose in your mission, and telling people here’s why, you know, yes, you’re here for a paycheck, we get that. But there’s, there’s more to it than just that you can get a paycheck anywhere. But here’s why you should care about the work that you’re doing. Or in some cases,

maybe it’s it’s the opposite. I remember working at one company in the past in financial services at a student loan company. And the product that was being sold was, was literally harmful to the people that was being sold to, because, you know, a lot of cases, these people who had absolutely no chance of paying back their loans.

And so, in a case like that, we pivoted a bit on the purpose over the content marketing we were doing to be like, here’s, you know, we’re going to create the best scholarship resources on the internet. And we did the book we wrote in 2009 is still valid today. And then we could say, look, if you are unwilling to do the work to get a free education, then yes, you can take a loan and and it comes to these penalties. But we did our level best to create a mission and a purpose that somewhat mitigated the evil we were doing. Hmm.

Katie Robbert
I I find it I want to go back to sort of what you were saying about that question about being stuck in an airport overnight, um,

personally, and what what are the kids say, Don’t ask me when I share my opinions, you know, don’t tweet at me that I’m wrong. But basically, I feel like team building is much more important than team bonding in the context of getting the work done for the client or getting the work done for the company. I think team bonding is important for company morale, for employee morale, but I don’t, I don’t think you can replace one with the other. I think team building is essential. And so to your point about you never felt like you were really part of a team, I would go back and say that what whoever you were working for, at the time, probably didn’t do a great job of distinguishing team building from team bonding. So a great example of team bonding is like you described it’s drinks after work, it’s maybe getting stuck in an airport, where it’s not necessarily about the skill sets and getting the work done. It’s about how do you relate to those people as other humans? And can you get along with them in a setting long enough to not kill each other? And hopefully, the answer is yes, in your case, I never know. But in terms of team building, you know, I’ve seen people do trust falls and those types of things that to me, is such a poor way to do a team building exercise. Again, that’s a team bonding exercise. A team building exercise was really focusing on those team dynamics and the skills and so a great example of a team building exercise is an escape room, it’s something that we wanted to do in previous jobs. But just for the resources and timing, we were never able to. But what I like about an escape room is it forces communication, it forces critical thinking, problem solving. And everyone really needs to work together, which is very typical of being in a team setting. So you can get some bonding out of that. But really, the goal is the team building because really where teams breakdown is communication

Christopher Penn
is interest. Interesting, because I remember I was at IBM think earlier this year, and they had at IBM Security had an exercise table, it was it was the, the very scaled down version of escape the room but it was like, you know, you as a, you are part of a group of elite hackers, you have to break the codes to get, you know, some surprise as, like, a T shirt or something. But it was amazing. And watching, you know, seven or eight of us all sit around this table and be able to work together, never met each other. Some was barely spoke each other’s languages, but we were able to, to accomplish the exercise, right. And

Katie Robbert
people, you know, what you what you see very quickly is people who are interested in being part of a team. And so if you have an employee who goes in and says, You know what, I can do this all by myself with that, that says a lot because they’re not willing to work together as a team. And that’s a red flag for you, as a manager, that that’s going to be a problem, either immediately or down the road of people who are unwilling to work alongside others, or share what they know, or learn from other people. Because that’s really what you’re trying to get to, with a team building exercise and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of all of your employees, and how you can work with that to make a stronger team.

Christopher Penn
How do you get us because there’s two polar extremes that happen with that are, they’re likely at cause when somebody says that it’s either insecurity or narcissism. It’s narcissism, like, I’m just better than all these people. And, you know, I’d, we don’t need them at all, I can just do it myself, I’m so good. And then there’s the other shame, which is, I don’t want to be shown up. I don’t want everyone to know just how bad I am, if I saw her imposter syndrome, how do you navigate that? Because you’ll have that that reason, and it could even be a bit of both someone could be putting on a a very egotistical front to cover up the fact that they don’t actually know anything

Katie Robbert
well, well, first and foremost, as a manager, what you’re doing with those team building exercises is you’re collecting information, you’re not looking to maybe call somebody out and course correct right there on the spot. Because, you know, you’re going to put them on the spot, and they’re going to feel very uncomfortable. Most likely, what I would do in that situation is, I would in my one on one with each individual team members, sort of, I would review what happened, how they felt about it and start to point out, I noticed that you stuck behind the rest, I noticed that you didn’t participate as much do you want to talk about what was going on there. Or in the other extreme, to your point, I noticed that you really took charge, which was great. But you weren’t letting other people help or step in or have their voice? Let’s talk about that piece of it. So what you’re doing as a manager is collecting the information about the person in the context of the workplace, you can’t inherently change people in who they are. But you can do a certain amount of that within the context of work. And if you can’t, then it’s also a good data point to figure out is this person right for the team at all? Or do I need to think about a different role for this person within the agency or company? Or maybe it’s best if we start to counsel them out?

Christopher Penn
How do you I guess, how do you deal with the fat with it? Is it possible to take somebody and

train them, re educate them, condition them, reprogram them to fit into the distant culture,

Katie Robbert
you can, it’s very, very difficult. And it depends on the person, it depends on the person, it depends on the manager, those are very high touch relationships, where, you know, actually in both instances of someone who’s insecure, and not a great team member yet, and someone who’s above and beyond, but a little bit narcissistic, those are both high touch players on your team. And you need to have a manager who’s dedicated to really working with them on a daily basis, and giving them very concrete things to work on that are measurable to say, I asked you to incorporate this person into the conversation, but you didn’t. So we need to work on that. So it needs to be very clearly defined and outlined so that there’s no gray area. And it is it’s a lot of work, it’s a full time job to just manage those types of personalities. But it can be done because you’ll you’ll figure out very quickly whether whether or not those people are willing to put in the work. And if they’re not, again, it becomes a conversation of is this the right role for you? Is this the right time team for you? And that all comes back to you? What’s the overall purpose and goal of the team?

Christopher Penn
Okay, in terms of team bonding, it was something I think about team building is very easy to do with a very diverse group of people, because they have a common purpose, you know, escape the room, break the code, whatever,

with team bonding, you’re you’re trying to find common ground at a personal level. And, you know, there are certain commonalities and things such as we all, you know, eat and sleep and stuff like that. But do you find that team bonding is more of an obstacle when you have a highly diverse team or or, you know, certainly in our last roles, we worked at a very homogenous with a very homogenous group of people. They were all basically the exact same demographic, exact same ethnic background and stuff. And so team bonding was almost a non issue because they were literally carbon copies of each other.

Can you speak to Yeah, the bonding aspect when it comes to diversity, since diversity is such an important mandate for companies now? Yeah, absolutely.

Katie Robbert
And I would disagree with you a little bit about the previous team. Yes, physically, there was a lot of similarities in terms of ethnicity and background, those types of things. But you had a lot of varying personalities in terms of introverts and extroverts. And that in and of itself can be very challenging. I know that the team really despised when I would break out the icebreaker games and question and, you know, to to send a lie. But that was all done purposely, because it’s very easy for one or two strong personalities to dominate the whole conversation if there’s no structure behind it. So that was the reason why I would go sort of the cheesy corny route of let’s do the icebreaker games. And, you know, what’s one thing you don’t know about me, and those those types of conversations tend to be more inclusive, it really gives someone who might be a little bit more shy the opportunity to share something that they’re comfortable with, but you can’t, you can’t force them to do something that they don’t want to do. I think that’s a blanket statement. You cannot force someone to do something they’re not comfortable with. But if you’re doing those icebreakers with the team bonding even if you’re taking the team out for drinks, you as the manager is the person who’s in control of the situation, she’s still playing to have some of those things bank if you see that the conversation is getting to cliquey or people aren’t, including the entire group. So that’s personally how I navigate some of those situations. It is tough. And with a diverse group of people, it is really important to make sure that you’re doing something whether it’s playing a game that everybody can participate in, like a family feud, kind of a thing, or you’re, you’re having those questions bank that allows for everybody from different walks of life to really be effective, and share things that you might not know about them. And you, Oh, you know what, I also really like reading crime novels. You know, let’s talk about that. So you just use you never know what you’re going to find out about a person you can’t go in with assumptions to say they’re two different from me, I have nothing in common with

Christopher Penn
Okay, it for I guess, blanket statements in the world, the worlds of team bonding and team building what for sure, 95% of the time or greater does not work

Unknown
don’t make someone do karaoke?

Unknown
Well, I think, you know, don’t,

Katie Robbert
you can’t treat everybody like they’re an extrovert and that they’re interested in getting up on a stage or giving a presentation. Um, you know, putting them in front of a large group of people, because not everybody’s comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable with that. I dislike that very much. One of the things that used to happen at other companies, not just our previous this company was on your first day, or within your first week, you had to share something about yourself to the entire company. I can remember trying to do that. And the whole time I my whole body was shaking, just because I don’t know these people. What if I say something dumb? What if I stutter. And it’s very nerve wracking. So I think, you know, be mindful of not everybody’s a public speaker, not everybody’s comfortable in front of a large group. And if you know that about people on your team, you need to find other ways to approach having them share information about themselves. So maybe it’s you have everybody write it down. And then you nominate one person to read everything out loud. And so that way, you know, people don’t feel like they’re so put on the spot, but they’re still sharing something about themselves. You know,

I think extreme sports is not something that’s always a great idea. So those trust falls or the zip lines. Yeah, I find them a lot of fun. But not everybody does. There’s a people have a lot of fear of heights, things that do work, food, food is always a great equalizer. Everybody loves some type of food. And it’s a great way to get people interacting and talking just to put some food in front of them.

Christopher Penn
How do you navigate particularly with the current? Yeah, culture, all the various dietary needs?

Unknown
I should have a good answer to that question.

Katie Robbert
I think it’s just asking. And so there, we’re fortunate that we live now in a time where there’s a lot of ways to accommodate different dietary needs, and you will have to get creative. So maybe, you know, chips and guacamole don’t necessarily work for everybody, but chips and hummus or hummus and vegetables. And so it’s having if you pick one theme and do variations on it, that could possibly help work for everybody, then you might, you might be able to navigate that it’s tricky. Honestly, it’s just asking people up front, do you have any dietary restrictions versus assuming that everybody can eat a pizza with extra cheese?

Christopher Penn
I guess I’m going to just wrap up on team bonding and team building things. Where Where should someone who is particularly for a first time manager, where should they be spending their time reading and researching and getting training,

Katie Robbert
they should talk with their peers, they should talk with other managers, they should even talk with senior leadership because there’s a good chance that they’ve done a lot of this before. So my advice to a first time manager is don’t go it alone seek advice. And perhaps maybe there’s value depending on how large your team is to outsourcing it to a professional company that actually specializes in team building and team bonding.

Christopher Penn
So yeah, I I almost go to disagree who there because depending on the company, relying on other resources within the company, the company is, is not in a good place in you might be perpetuating the problem. So if you’re, if you’re at, you know, programmers, Silicon Valley tech company, you probably don’t want to perpetuate the expectation that, you know, all female employees will sleep with all male employees. It’s, that’s not a cultural thing that you want to pass along.

Unknown
Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Um, okay. So. So in in that example,

Katie Robbert
well, I guess I would still reach out to your peers, but perhaps outside of the company working at reach out to your friends who are working in other companies, they don’t have to be the same type of company. But at some point, the majority of people are part of a team. And so talking with other people, your friends, your peers, your family members, what have they experienced? What types of activities did they do? What do they like, what they not like? You’re gathering information to figure out what works best for you and your team? And ultimately, it comes down to What’s your goal? What are you trying to accomplish with doing a team building exercise, we found that in previous roles, our team actually function pretty well as a team and communicated very well. So we didn’t really need those team building exercises. But we found that the team bonding exercises were really valuable to bring people a little bit closer together. So as a first time manager, figure out what’s your goal, what are you trying to accomplish, and then just reach out to other people and talk to them about what’s worked and what hasn’t. Yeah,

Christopher Penn
I would agree with that. Because team building if you have a strong conductor of the orchestra doesn’t need a whole lot of extra assistance of of and make sure the conductor is doing the job. But if

if you are in a case where you need employees to be a lot more autonomous the bonding does become important because people need to rely on the relationship power not enroll power particularly if they’re all appears on the team they don’t have role power over each other right

i think that’s I think that’s exactly it. You’ve hit the nail on the head

I’m going to hitting things Alright, so as

Christopher Penn
And on that note that note please do subscribe to the podcast if you have not already done so are available on iTunes and Google podcasts and wherever fine podcasts are served and swing by the brain trust insights website to to find other resources, including some of our insight, instant insights, one pagers to help with the sort of thing. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time.


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