Culture-Building vs. Team-Building

So, Your Teambuilding Failed?

Last week we discussed the uncomfortable subject of failed teambuilding. Turns out, quite a large number of groups that subject themselves to “teambuilding events” aren’t even teams in the first place. No wonder the results so rarely live up to either expectations or the vendor’s hype!

Companies invest in “teambuilding” and wonder why their group’s performance doesn’t improve. That’s a lot like thinking you’re buying fantastic new tires and wondering later why the roads are still so bumpy.

Let me give you a new way to think about the conference slot where you’ve been putting what you thought “teambuilding” activities. Instead of tires, let’s go get some asphalt.



Culture_by_AagaardDS | Via

French novelist and art theorist Andre Malraux said that “Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.” While he wasn’t referring to corporate cultures, the underlying idea – with some modification – can be applied as a definition for any organization’s culture.

  • Art :: Expression
    This is analagous to all forms of expression in an organization. How do people speak, write, email, telephone, whisper, or otherwise communicate? How are people addressed? How are the organization’s stories shared and preserved?
  • Love :: Relationships
    This applies to the way people relate to and interact with each other. How hierarchical is the organization? Do people from different divisions and levels of the organization interact? Is that interaction required? Natural? Forced? Tense? Relaxed?
  • Thought :: Processes
    This relates to the practical and analytical activities that occur within the organization. This may span everything from work habits to clarity of mission to the choice of hardware and software used in attempting the mission. (There are good and not-so-good things to be said about both Macs and PCs, but there is no doubt that the choice of technology platform can affect an organization’s culture!)

Of course I’d never suggest that we are enslaved, but the sum of these things can allow us to be more engaged, enthusiastic, and productive in our work. We aren’t throwing off shackles of enslavement, but rather those of drudgery.

Do you see? All those concepts you learned about culture in drama, art, music, or language arts classes in school aren’t limited to the academic or artistic realm. Your organization can benefit from your ability to see parallels in the way culture is built and strengthened in the community and the way corporate culture affects your business model and your workplace relationships.


Culturebuilding Objectives

Now that you understand the distinction between teambuilding and culturebuilding, how does that change the way you engage in activities in the future? Here are some ideas.

    1. Instead of teambuilding, look at the group activity as an opportunity to have a shared experience that contributes to strengthening the culture of your organization.
    2. Save your ‘high performing teams’ management-book-of-the-month for groups that are actually teams. Measuring a group on the basis of characteristics of teams is doomed to create unneeded stress and no useful insight. How does the activity support one or more of the three overarching principles? Measure that, not whether a group of people who won’t interact again until next quarter or next year are now performing as a “team.” (If you need a refresher on what teams are, see last week’s post.)
    3. Create objectives for your group activities based on how they relate to the three overarching themes of culture. For example:
      • Does this activity provide the opportunity for people to share our organization’s stories with our newer people?
      • Does it provide the opportunity to create new ones?
      • Does this event encourage people to interact across functional divisions in our organization?
      • Does it encourage interaction across hierarchical levels?
      • Back at the office, will people be encouraged or restricted from communicating with the people they interact with during this activity? Why or why not?
      • Will this activity be used to communicate and emphasize our core values?
      • Does this activity provide an opportunity to emphasize our mission and vision?
      • Etc.


What Do You Think?

As I’ve written the last two blog posts, I have been struck with the idea that these ideas might form the basis of a new keynote. What do you think? Do you think HR managers, meeting & event planners, and other audiences might find value in understanding the distinction between teambuilding and culturebuilding? Am I complete off-base in drawing that distinction? Your comments are not only welcome – I’m actively soliciting them! Please share this article and let’s get a conversation going.



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One Response

  1. I am so on board with the idea of building a culture of LOVE! I don’t want a team, I want others to live the culture of LOVE, starting in the home. We can all do our share of building love and start a revolution!
    Please contact me at

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