Case in Point
I didn't fully appreciate the concept, 42 years ago, but have gained a better understanding over the years. Of course, I did have several older mentors who helped me to understand by showing me, rather than simply telling me.
It's all about relationships. I recall an old machine-tool salesman asking me to let him take me out for lunch. At the time, I was a very young and naive manufacturing engineer with my "nose to the grindstone", working a scheduled 60-hour week, plus additional overtime (as much as 20 more hours) as needed. I was setting up new production lines at a Ford axle and suspension factory. I was not accustomed to having someone else buying my lunch and I was not accustomed to taking more than 15 minutes to eat a "brown-bag" sandwich. What the old guy told me was an important lesson.
He said, approximately: "My company gives me an expense account to take people like you out for dinner and drinks. When I take you out for lunch, the company pays for my lunch too. If I don't take anyone to lunch, I'll get fired. When I take engineers and managers out to lunch or dinner, I get to learn about them and they get to learn about me. I am not in the business of selling socks or shoes.
In our business, we are talking about tools that cost more than $100,000 and automation systems that cost more than $1 million. So, it is important that we completely understand each other in our business transactions. I don't expect to sell anything to you, today, or even this year. But, my firm has been in business since WWII and Ford has been in business since before WWI, so we need to look at the big picture in the long run. I want your business and I want you to know that I can help you when you need help. Dinner and drinks are not bribes but a way for us to get to trust each other outside of the plant environment."
I have no doubt that corporate lobbyists might say similar things to freshmen
Congressmen. What is different when firms or leaders get their own personnel together
for food, drinks, and group activities is that the personnel already work for
the firm (or the leaders), so there is no bribery. The purpose of such activities
really is to improve interpersonal communication, trust and cooperation. Some
employers see this as a waste of time and money because they think of their employees
as slaves or automatons. It's even worse when some - or many - of those employees
are contractors or "temp" workers.
When I worked on some assignments for Joe Joseph, executive head of General
Motors University (the in-house GM training and education organization, not the
General Motors Institute of Flint, MI) he used to sponsor many team building events
and his philosophy is that "everyone who works here is part of the family - salaried
and hourly employees, contractors, temps, and suppliers". Joe developed a lot
of successful teams and a very effective and respected corporate organization.
Many managers will invest huge money in preventive maintenance of machinery that is often not even used to full capacity, but balk at investing in their people who are far more valuable than machines.
Most of the troubled projects that I have been asked to save were usually in trouble due to unrealistic requirements, budgets and schedules that came about due to "poor communications". I put "poor communications" in quotation marks because, usually, the existing team members already knew their situation. Unfortunately, the PM was unwilling to confront the sponsor(s) or client(s) with the facts.
In summary, set aside the time and money for team building. Get everyone on board to make the team building happen. If anyone thinks it's lame, just tell them to enjoy the food, drinks and exercises. Make it fun. If it's not fun, then it's bad. Don't know how to make it fun? Ask the team. They'll know how to make it fun.