I design and facilitate many team building workshops and it's fascinating to watch how people relate to each other. I'll often observe everyone participating actively but deferring to the leader or looking to him (or her) for permission to participate. The other dynamic that frequently occurs is that everyone acts very outwardly happy and bubbly but, when we probe deeper, all kinds of rifts and conflicts are exposed that reflect the kind of workplace leadership has created.
When I see these types of interactions it tells me a lot about how workplaces are run and what kind of work environments they create. Leaders have a dramatic effect on how team building is practiced in their workplaces. Here are two different approaches.
The Autocratic Workplace
Everything goes through the leader and everyone is required or expected to check in with the leader before anything happens. People are tentative and dependent because they're not encouraged to work on their own or make independent decisions. The leader in these organizations often believes there are functioning teams but, in practice, the teams only operate based on his or her directives and limits. Team building in this type of workplace is usually not very active because people aren't encouraged to work together and decisions are made through one central person rather than a group. The spotlight is firmly on the leader in this type of organization.
The Collaborative Workplace
There isn't one central focus or source of information in this type of workplace because people are given the opportunity to share their wisdom and expertise. Employees are encouraged to work collaboratively and share information with each other and the organization. Leadership is available as a resource if people get stuck or actively participates as an equal partner in teams if invited. Team building in this type of workplace is consistently positive because people are encouraged to work together. The spotlight is on every member of the team because they all are welcome to share their insights and each person is valued as a contributor.
As a leader, you decide what kind of workplace you create. If you value team building and help your employees collaborate you'll enjoy the additional brainpower, idea generation, improved interpersonal relationships and morale that comes from people working together well. If you promote an autocratic workplace you'll create a different type of environment. Both approaches can create productive, successful organizations but only one gives employees power and helps them feel like an important and valued member of a team. Which will you choose?