“Sh*&, my feet are on fire.”

“Sh*&, my feet are on fire.”

This is something that you don’t want to hear when you are doing team building for your organization. But that is exactly what happened when a Swiss company decided that having their employees walk on hot coal would be a great idea. (Learn more here)

Walking on hot coals is a several hundred years old practice. Typically done as an initiation or a show of faith. It was popularized to be used in a corporate setting by Motivational Speaker Tony Robbins as an expression of moving beyond one fears.

But what about common sense.

There are physical-chemical principles that keep most people safe if they walk briskly across the hot coals. Yet . . .but still. . .is it going to build a better working relationship within your team.

Ah – no.

I remember when I was a leader in corporate America and suggested to my team that we do a rope course. The reaction I got from some team members took me by surprise. “There is no f—-ing way I am doing a rope course; I will quit first.”

Team building is important. Especially in business when people are artificially being brought together to complete a task or goal. How we interact with others is critical not only for ourselves but also for the team, department, or business.

Over the years, I have had many great team experiences…and unfortunately, I had many poor ones as well. One of my favorite memories is when I worked with a small team to lead the building of a new broadcasting studio for a major television network. We worked hard, sixteen hours a day, six days a week but we all had a singular vision of the efforted needed to meet the company expectations and this fueled our teamwork.

Doing extreme sports is not the way to build good team relationships. However, let’s not dismissed it entirely, it does have its origins in good concepts. Think of military teams that are forged under extreme conditions or champion sports teams that are formed because of the adversity they go through to reach their goal. Members of these teams talk about how well they worked together, what they accomplished, and the trust between team members.

Today’s Question: “If extreme sports is not the way to build good teams, what is?”

There are numerous factors that go into building a great team.

  1. Share Purpose: Being part of something bigger than ourselves.
  2. Direction: A clear vision of what you are setting out to do.
  3. Defined Behavioral Norms: How we act as teammates is important. Defining our behavioral norms based on our values is a critical part of how our culture is developed within a team. For instance, how the team deals with conflict.
  4. Trust: Trust is the foundation of great teams. If people don’t trust each other, they won’t become a cohesive unit.
  5. Accountability:  Holding team members responsible for their assignments and more importantly holding them accountable for being part of the team.

Read over this list. Is there anything that happens during a fire walking exercise that leads to improving or supporting the factors above?


Building a great team starts with knowing when to lead, when to coach and when to consult. The higher-performing the team is the less the leader needs to get involved. In the beginning, the leader is going to have to be clear on the direction the team is going and what purpose it serves for the bigger mission of the organization. But as time passes, and those things become engrained in the team, the leader needs to become a coach, providing them the resources and support they need to be better.

“John, how do we build trust? I have people on my team that don’t trust each other.”

Ugh-how many times have we heard that….

Trust is foundational. I found the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni very helpful. But here are my thoughts, trust is built when we do what we say we are going to do. As a team leader, you need to hold everyone accountable for their responsibilities and the team needs to hold each other accountable. We do this by encouraging direct and honest communication between team members, which means they might be taught on how to do this well.

Can teams be built by doing team-building exercises? The short answer is no. However, team-building exercises allow the team to work on the team and not on the team’s day-to-day responsibilities. So, getting out of the building and talking about what it means to be on the team can have positive effects on the team’s morale, team’s trust, and accountability.

Please no more fire walking or rope courses or wilderness canoe trips.


Do you need help improving your management core? From strategic planning to employee engagement, manager training, leadership coaching, to organizational compliance, I help organizations become better. 

Get a COMPLIMENTARY Consultation to see how together we can build a better team. Or check out the workshops I can customize for your organization. 

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