A calendar invite will appear with a cryptic note: a strange location attached — somewhere in the middle of nowhere up north, across the bridge — and a dozen or so people on your team will be subscribed. It might be bowling, or a visit to a farm, or a fancy dinner. There will be emojis and long threads and emails announcing the time and place. Sure, you’ll go — you have to enjoy all this mandatory fun — and you hope it won’t be awkward as the last time. Yet since no one wants to be there, it always is.
You’ve found yourself trapped at a team offsite, and you can never escape.
This is how a lot of tech companies think about team building and I’ve always loathed these exercises, not because I hate fun and never want to set foot on a farm ever again, but because they reveal a certain kind of naivety about team-making and building morale.
I’ve always felt that great teams don’t need day trips to wine country or mini vacations. Instead, the best team building exercise is to give folks good, worthwhile work. Honest work. What kills great teams isn’t the lack of team offsites but the lack of focus, direction, resources, support, and financial recompense. A trip to the arcade or the bowling alley is incapable of fixing any of these problems. They are, at best, a distraction from mismanagement. Look at how well managed this team is! Look at all this fun!
But going to a cocktail bar is not enough to forgive the rambling, anxious meetings that go nowhere or the flip-flopping when it comes to decision making.
Offsites cannot make bad teams better because it’s always bad work that kills great teams.