Friday, April 17, 2009 by Dave Blum

Why is it that Corporate America is so afraid of feelings? Whenever I ask a potential client what they’re looking for in their team building exercises, they tend to answer the same way: “Well, what we DON’T want is one of those touchy-feely, New Age encounter groups where everyone expresses their deep, dark secrets and practices falling into each other’s arms.”

I can certainly understand their concern–by and large, corporate team building activities are designed to increase group productivity. I can see how your typical manager might want her offsite to emphasize organization, efficiency and strategizing — three left-brain activities that seem to directly impact the bottom line — and de-emphasize feelings, thoughts and emotions, which somehow seem less pertinent to the process of getting things done. But are emotions really un-related to productivity? If your team is overwhelmed by workplace stress (as many of us are in this economy), won’t it impact their ability to get work done? How about employees who are scared about their job security…or co-workers who are engaged in a personal conflict? Or team members who feel unappreciated and out of the loop? The list goes on and on — since emotions are a part of being human, it’s logical that you would bring what you’re feeling to the office environment, and that it would effect your productivity. I know that when I’m down, or engaged in a conflict, my own work product naturally loses some of its energy and a lot of its accuracy.

So here’s my question again: If feelings really do seem to matter when it comes to efficiency and productivity, then why are they often “off limits” during team building offsites?!! My guess is that managers are simply afraid of emotions in the workplace. If you open Pandora’s Box of feelings, you might have people getting sad, people crying; you might have people expressing anger. It can all get very messy! And let’s face it, most of us (managers included) haven’t been trained in how to facilitate the strong expression of emotions. It takes a lot of skill and sensitivity, a lot of conflict resolution experience, a lot of mediation. You can see why your average team leader might want to avoid this situation; he might simply not have the training for it.

And yet…off sites are a rare opportunity to talk about what’s really going on in your organization. You’re away from the office, in a “safe” environment. No meetings; no phones ringing. If emotions are getting in the way of productivity, you’ll need to talk about them sometime–and why not during an offsite? Is this easy? Nope. If you’re worried about your ability to keep it all “reigned in”, you’ll likely want to hire an outside team building company that is strong in facilitation and mediation. I believe the effort (and the risk) is really worth it.