Are company-wide retreats really universally hated or am I missing something? - Pronexia

Are company-wide retreats really universally hated or am I missing something?

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A post on recently explored the horrifically awkward experience that is a typical weekend-away company-wide retreat.
The comments section made me wonder if there is a universal hatred for such team-building activities, or if maybe these companies are just really, terribly missing the mark when it comes to company culture.
Because honestly? I love socialising with my co-workers. They are a bunch of awesome people and we have a lot in common (namely, our work).
If the idea of spending some quality time getting to know your company team sends you a wave of terror: maybe it’s time to change jobs. However, benefit of the doubt: maybe your company just really, really doesn’t understand its employees.
In any case, this post provoked me to think more on the value of smaller and medium sized business. When a company has fewer than 30 staff in total, “forced” team building usually isn’t an issue. Smaller teams foster stronger connections by the sheer fact that you have a much higher chance of dealing and interacting with the same people on a regular basis.
Larger companies where you know most people through email address or name posted on staff list only: for sure that is a different challenge, and yeah, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to be forced on a weekend away to hang with people that you had previously delegated to “work only”, with interesting talking points being email etiquette or that they are the new “Helena” or “Dave”, when in fact you never met the previous incarnations of either. The possibilities for awkwardness have no limits is this situation.
As you may be aware, Pronexia ‘s niche is recruiting for med-high level positions for med-small businesses. While it may not immediately make sense why we choose to limit our focus, the reason for our preference is because of the value we hold in our relationships with both clients and candidates. (And because awkwardness makes us just as uncomfortable as it does you!)
We want to be sure that we are placing a candidate with a company who we’d want to work with ourselves: and that means we need to know our clients well! And one of the key aspects that we love about our clients is the strong team feel and culture they have got going on. You can tell their employees wouldn’t hide in the other aisle if they accidentally bumped into each other in the supermarket.
This isn’t to say the same kind of team bond can’t be established in bigger company offices. I suspect, as complaints and comments on the forbes post indicate, often large companies are over compensating in their efforts to build a strong team.
I personally love the idea of team-building retreats, but in an office where you already have incredible teamwork ongoing, it’s a nice touch, not a necessity (and it’s optional!).
If companies are struggling with spirit and morale, I don’t believe a companywide retreat is even the answer. What I have seen work well is personalisation for individual departments: changing the focus from creating a company-wide strength where you expect everyone to bond with everyone, to focusing on developing individually strong departments with exceptionally close team members, who are in turn managed by leaders who can ensure smooth cooperation between departments. You gotta favour the micro over the macro approach here.
In any case, stories of company morale building activities gone terribly wrong are certainly entertaining and educational. If you have a story to share, please do!
I’ll start:
The company with which I was previously employed never held company-wide Christmas functions because this was usually our busiest and most profitable time of year. Most individual departments would try to organise something, but it would usually be impossible due to working long, busy hours right up until Christmas day.
Their solution? An Awards Ceremony held towards the middle of the year: a great idea to celebrate the achievements of our top employees and bring everyone together for a huge party that was simply unfeasible over Christmas.
While this sounds like an excellent idea on paper, in practice, it neverworked. The three years I attended these functions, I witnessed tears and arguments every time (it would’ve made an excellent reality show). Employees livid (and tipsy livid, which is always so much worse) that the prize they were so sure they were going to win – that it was in the bag – had been awarded to someone else, someone they had never met, someone they were unaware was even competition. Despite the company fine-tuning the guidelines and performance criteria, every year it was the same story.
Lessons to be learned here? If you’re trying to bring your team together, just do exactly that. No need for complication. And start out small!