Team Building – Chinese Style

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. 

The first activity of the trip was to split our group into two teams (red and blue) and immediately ignite a fierce competition between the two.  It was an interesting choice that probably wouldn't have been my approach.

The first trip activity split our group into two teams (red and blue) and ignited a fierce competition between the two. It was an interesting choice that probably wouldn't have been my approach.

Each team had to create a team name, flag, motto, and song in about 20 minutes.  My team was called "Team Won."

Each team had to create a team name, flag, motto, and song in about 20 minutes. My team was called "Team Won." Ironically we lost the team intro competition.

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.

The trust fall.  A team building favorite.

The trust fall. A team building favorite.

By far the most abstract activity of the trip, we debriefed the "geometry challenge" for about an hour.

By far the most abstract activity of the trip, we debriefed the "geometry challenge" for about an hour.

This was a great team builder.  I highly recommend it.  The goal was to bounce a soccer ball on the middle drum at least 10 times.  Our group did 22.

This was a great team builder. I highly recommend it. The goal was to bounce a soccer ball on the middle drum at least 10 times. Our group did 22.

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. 

One debrief lasted an hour and featured a megaphone.

One debrief lasted an hour and featured a megaphone.

There was an ostrich farm next door!

There was an 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. 

The game room had an actual archery range.

The game room had an actual archery range.

The first snowfall of the season came abnormally early.

The first snowfall of the season came abnormally early.

All in all, it was a nice weekend.  But I was definitely glad I got to work from home on Monday.

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2 comments

  1. Ann Caspar · ·

    Jeff,
    Just wanted to wish you and Tian a happy Thanksgiving. I am truly thankful that I can have adventures on the other side of the world through your blog. Congradulations on your engagement. It has caused many happy smiles here at school.

    1. Ann,
      It was so fun to get your comment. We are having a good time here, though we often miss people at MPA! I’m glad you are enjoying my blog. It’s been a lot of fun to write. More to come…
      Jeff

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