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A Team Building Idea That Actually Works

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Every season hundreds of teams everywhere participate in a variety of "team building" and "team bonding" activities in hopes of improving and increasing everyone's motivation, productivity, trust, and communication. These teams will be navigating ropes courses, jogging around lakes, shooting paint balls, building human pyramids, telling each other secrets and even falling backwards into their teammates' arms.

But do these activities really work?

The answer to that question most definitely depends on exactly what you are trying to accomplish. Looking for an excuse to get out of the gym? Want to blow off some steam and have a day of fun? Have a reason to get everyone in the program together and celebrate together?

If so then these kinds of activities and many others just like them, can be perfect for what you want to achieve. However, as Margaret Neal, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford's Graduate School of Business says, "They make us feel good. What they don't do is improve team performance."

Think back on your own experiences with team building exercises for a second and see if you agree with Professor Neale. Have you ever come back from a ropes course, or something similar, and discovered that the members of your team are working harder, communicating more clearly, and being more productive on the court? When the activity was over did you notice that they got along drastically better with their teammates? I'm willing to bet that you haven't. And if you have I'm willing to bet that all the new "improvements" didn't last more than a day or two. Have you ever gone into a playoff game thinking, "My team is really going to come together and play for each other tonight because we went paintballing"? Of course not!

Well if these exercises don't have any long lasting effect, what can we do to build and bond our players into a close, highly motivated, unselfish, productive team?

The answer lies in a phrase that is not often used on basketball courts or in locker rooms and that phrase is "shared suffering."

Who are the most productive and most emotionally bonded teams that you can think of? If you said the Miami Heat or the Duke Blue Devils or any other NBA, NCAA, NAIA, or high school team in America you would be wrong. The most productive and emotionally bonded teams in the country are the squads, companies, and battalions of the United States Armed Forces. Those soldiers become closer to each other than they do to their immediate families and most would be willing to die for each other in a heartbeat!

One of the reasons those troops are so close to each other is because together they have endured a large amount of "shared suffering" both mentally and physically. It starts with being pushed to the brink of their physical limits in boot camp where many find an inner strength they didn't even know they had and where they come to rely on the strength and support of others to not only survive but to excel.

I'm not saying your practices need to be boot camp quality but I am convinced that extremely hard work will build and bond your team much quicker than falling backwards into the arms of teammates. Your players will rally around each other and will both give and get support from each other. At first they will just try to get through the extra demands, then they will endure it and then finally they will start to take pride in working harder than anyone else on your schedule.

Before long they will become physically stronger and mentally tougher. In the beginning they won't like you because of what you are doing "to them" but in the end they will love you because of what you did "for them." And if you want to make the bonding even quicker and even more concrete then lead from the front. When they run you run. When they lift you lift. Players love and respect coaches who sweat with them as the "shared suffering" is even more meaningful.

So the next time you want to have a good time with your team do a "team building" activity. However, when you want to do some real team building try increasing the intensity of your practices and conditioning by at least 50%. The process won't be as much fun but the results will both be better and long lasting.

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