From Trust Falls To Escape Rooms: The Evolution Of Corporate Team Building

By Robert Channick
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A series of exercises meant to encourage cooperation, goodwill and, ultimately, increased productivity, “team building” has long been fodder for corporate satire. In recent years however, team building has evolved with companies offering more creative and engaging ways to energize employees.

CHICAGO

Corporate team building, which for years brought co-workers together in disdain for activities such as trust falls and ropes courses, has elevated its game.

Escape rooms, “Survivor”-style competitions and improv training are bringing a new level of excitement, and perhaps effectiveness, to the once-dreaded outings, meant to bond employees and fortify roles outside the confines of their daily cubicle-farm existence.

A recent excursion to a Chicago escape room by a team of 15 United Airlines employees proved challenging, surprising and successful in shaking up the status quo, with an intern leading his managers to freedom and participants energized in the process.

Whether a simulated jail break transfers to an improved workplace, however, remains an open question.

“It’s not clear yet what are the benefits of it, other than people love it because it’s something outside of work,” said Eduardo Salas, an organizational psychology professor at Rice University in Houston. “But when they go back, the same conditions are there, so the long-term effects of team building are unknown.”

A series of exercises meant to encourage cooperation, goodwill and, ultimately, increased productivity, team building has long been fodder for corporate satire. The quintessential team-building activity was the trust fall: closing your eyes and falling backward into the arms of your colleagues, secure in the knowledge that they have your back, or not.

While team-building facilitators proliferated and business was brisk, the old-school outings rarely hit the mark, according to experts.

“It really didn’t improve their performance,” said Wendy Bedwell, an assistant professor of organizational psychology at the University of South Florida.

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