4 Ways Team-Building Rituals Can Actually Destroy a Team

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Team-building rituals are meant to strengthen a company culture, but they may in fact be doing the opposite.

In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers sought to find out the overall effects that team-building rituals have on a business. It turns out that while outings such as team retreats or weekly team lunches can in fact bring a team closer, overall they can actually destroy a company.

Related: 10 Signs You’ve Got a Toxic Workplace Culture, Bro

From eroding trust to segregating employees, team-building rituals can actually make employees feel like outcasts. Here are four things that the researchers discovered about team-building rituals.

They can segregate employees.

Through team-building rituals, researchers found that employees end up separating themselves into “in-groups” and “out-groups.” By going on outings or doing things that involve only a team within a company, that group begins to favor this in-group over the out-group, causing segregation within the company.

Related: Want to Preserve Your Company’s Culture As You Grow? Here Are 4 Ways.

They can erode trust.

In the first experiment, 100 students were asked to estimate the number of dots in different images every day for a week. Before doing so, half of the students were instructed to perform a ritual together, which involved moving and bowing their heads. After estimating the dots for the week, all of the student participants played a collaborative game involving money.

As a result, the people who had performed the week-long exercise entrusted more money to those who had participated in the ritual and less money to those who did not.

They can create bias.

Rituals that involve more effort also heighten a team’s cohesion. In another experiment involving 90 participants, the researchers separated them into three groups and gave each group different assignments, including performing an elaborate ritual for a week, performing a simple ritual for week and then not performing any ritual.

Those who performed the elaborate ritual had strengthened their ties with one another in their group, more so than those who performed a simple ritual together or those who did nothing at all. Overall, the more effort and time spent completing one ritual together initiated and increased a person’s bias towards their own group.

Related: 3 Strategies for CEOs to Improve Corporate Culture

They can cultivate poor attitudes.

To learn the impact of the in-groups and out-groups, the researchers tracked participants’ brain processes using electroencephalography (EEG) when these people received feedback. When a person saw someone from their same ritual or in-group receive positive feedback, they too felt rewarded. However, when this person saw someone who was not from their in-group receive negative feedback, they still felt rewarded, feeling joy from this person’s misfortune.

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