Three days after I re-injured my knee, the faculty and staff at my school went on a mandatory team building trip over the weekend at a hotel about one hour outside of the city. We left after school by bus on Friday and returned late Sunday morning. Given that most of us found out about the trip only 1.5 weeks before it happened, the group was in relatively good spirits. I for one was pleased to hear that the term “Chinese team builder” was not in fact an oxymoron. Plus I knew the experience would make great fodder for blogging (you can be the judge).
Ironically, the weekend did not start out building camaraderie as I and most of the westerners would have expected. The principal of the school, the main proponent of the entire experience, drove up in his own car separate from the rest of the staff on the bus, leaving us to wonder what his personal involvement would be. Similarly, one of the first activities of Friday evening actually involved splitting our entire group into two permanently separate teams and stoking intense competition between the two. While I somewhat understood it from a logistical stand point (there were nearly 30 people there), looking at the impact on the whole group dynamic, it did not seem like the best move.
Despite the rough start, the team building went well on Saturday. The day started off with a group run and exercise session, in which I participated only partially. Throughout the morning we did some bread and butter team activities like the “Spider Web” and “Trust Fall.” But the afternoon included some new ones to me like the “Geometry Challenge”, “Group Ball Bounce”, “Magic [PVC Pipe] Forest”, and plenty of Chinese chants, which were fun to learn. There were only a few activities my knee prevented me from joining. It was great that our principal joined in everything as well.
After each activity, we held a team debrief. Usually, we did so in small groups and most were fairly short. However, one was with the full group and substantially longer. For this one, they passed around the mega-phone. There was a lot of repetition, and it was mostly for the Chinese staff. At one point, I excused myself quietly and went to go check out the ostrich farm next door.
From the debriefs, I observed an emphasis on the importance of having an identified leader and for that leader to give clear directions to their team. There was less focus on facilitating conversation, gathering of input, and team brainstorming. While we sometimes disagreed with conclusions drawn from activities, my western colleagues and I thought this theme seemed about right given what we have personally observed in Chinese organizational leadership.
After dinner, we took over the resort’s game room and played pool, ping pong, and video games. They even had archery and karaoke. It was a good time. Waking up on Sunday morning, we saw the season’s first snowfall, which made the ride home a little longer than it normally would have been.
All in all, it was a nice weekend. But I was definitely glad I got to work from home on Monday.