Tuesday, February 17, 2009 by Dave Blum

A client called me yesterday to inform me that she was putting the selection of this year’s team building activities up for a company-wide vote.  Her entire staff had been offered a choice: a day of solving Dr. Clue’s treasure hunt clues OR a day of team cooking lessons (with another outfit).

I found this to be an unusual and rather refreshing practice … giving everyone the power to decide their own team building exercises.  In my experience, most organizations delegate the responsibility for choosing their corporate team building activities to a small “selection committee”, often one or two people from management.   This committee then pronounces that their off-site is XYZ…and participation is mandatory.

You can imagine how people respond to the latter approach:  grumbling, a sense of coersion, skepticism, and resistance.  Inevitably, these are the events in which people ask, “So, what are the prizes?”  In other words, “I didn’t choose to be here, so what’s in it for me?”

This goes back to Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards”, in which he posits that intrinsic (or self-generated) motivation arises when you have Three C’s in place:

1) Collaboration
2) Content
3) Choice

In other words, people tend to buy into a project when they can work together with others (collaboration), contribute to a meaningful cause (content), and proceed according to their own self-direction (choice).   Without the Three C’s in place, you have to motivate people “extrinsically” (or externally).  That means offering everyone incentives, prizes, compensation, etc.   According to Kohn, intrinsic motivation is far stronger and more long-lasting than extrinsic motivation.  Moreover, external “reward giving” can be a slippery slope; you need to continually up the ante, increasing the quality and value of the “prizes” to keep people motivated.

Getting back to my potential client…I certainly hope they choose Dr. Clue (naturally)!  But even if they don’t, I’ll bet that the participants bring a high degree of enthusiasm and buy-in to whatever activity they select.  After all, they’ll have chosen the content themselves.  It’s their activity!  And that makes all the difference.