Team building tasks can be considered different from team building exercises in certain essential aspects. They are not the same. When team building involves giving the team a task to complete, something meaningful that must involve all team members, and that has a deadline, it differs significantly from an exercise that is little more than just a game.
Games can be challenging. They can require a considerable amount of problem solving that can involve every member of the team. Once the problem has been solved there will usually be jubilation and it will appear that the team has bonded and learned from the exercise. This may be so to some extent, but the true value will not be as great as when team building tasks are employed.
Consider for a moment a fire exercise performed by trainee firemen. It could take any number of forms, but imagine that a small team of three firemen are tasked to shut off a valve located at the base of a fire wall.
The fire wall is a large steel wall with a number of nozzles on it. Inflammable fuel flows from the nozzles and is ignited. The effect is a literal wall of flame at least ten feet deep. Turning off the valve to shut off the fuel and kill the fire is no easy task!
The team of trainee firemen are not playing games. They advance on the fire wall with a hose set to spray water in a wide umbrella fan pattern. One team member leads the hose; another is immediately behind helping to keep the protective hose spray pattern steady – their safety depends on it. The third team member is at the rear, pulling in the excess hose to make progress easier.
In this way they literally walk through the solid wall of fire, protected by the spray pattern of the hose. Once they arrive at the wall the valve can be located and shut off. This kills the flow of fuel to the nozzles and the fire immediately goes out. Mission accomplished.
What happens here is that the team is given a task. They may also be given a deadline to accomplish that task. They are completely dependent on each other doing exactly what they are supposed to do, or the task will not be accomplished. Even more to the point in this example, they could all sustain serious injury if any team member fails.
There is no suggestion here that team building tasks should involve potentially dangerous fire fighting. However, the example illustrates that a military-like approach where a definite task must be accomplished has better team building qualities than an exercise that really has little beginning, middle or end to it.
Team building tasks have a definite purpose. There is a definite goal that must be accomplished. The goal should be difficult to achieve, but not so difficult that it becomes almost impossible. The fire fighting task illustrated earlier appears very difficult and is very frightening for first time trainees, but it is actually not as difficult as it first seems, and not really as dangerous either. However, it certainly has the effect of quickly building a strong team!