Team Building: It’s About Raising Not Hazing

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To those who say hazing and initiation rituals are simply synonyms for team-building…I regret to say, you are sadly mistaken.

Echoing this narrative only contributes to this very serious issue, and continuing to repeat this myth makes the supporter part of the problem.

In light of the recent incident at St. Michael’s school in Toronto and the recent stream of media attention brought toward the subject of hazing in hockey, by former NHL’er Daniel Carcillo,  the issue has once again hit the spotlight.  I feel the need to have an open and honest discussion about its place in the world of team building.

Team-building is the result you are trying to achieve; hazing, on the other hand, is the avenue or action you chose to leverage to get there… let’s not confuse the two. To suggest hazing rituals are a reasonable way to build cohesive teams is simply inappropriate.

Let’s take a look at a few common arguments for the “perceived value” of hazing and initiation rituals in the team-building process.

Argument #1 – It helps establish seniority, hierarchy and respect within the group.

While this appears to potentially be true on the surface, it could not be further from the truth.  Far more effective and intelligent strategies exist, and all of them create and establish seniority, hierarchy and respect, in a positive, safe and organic fashion.

Let’s call it for what it is.

Hazing is simply about establishing power, control and dominance over an exposed cross-section of a group.  It has absolutely nothing to do with respect.  It is all about leveraging a vulnerable person’s fear, guilt, shame and thirst for acceptance, against them.  It is peer pressure to the Nth degree!

Time served on a team or in an organization, does not mean you indiscriminately deserve respect as a leader. It is time to rethink the long-standing tradition that leadership simply comes with years of service…this is a lazy attempt at building leaders.

If the goal is to establish respect and hierarchy within a group, nothing creates this faster and more positively than mentorship.  Think “raising” over “hazing” and everyone always achieves more.

Create a leadership group that possesses both experience and notable leadership skills, in charge of mentoring the less experienced members of the group.

Encourage these leaders to “raise” the overall spirit, sense of comfort, safety and trust among the group, by opening up and actively sharing about themselves and their journey.  When they speak from a place of experience, the long-term impact can be profound on the at-risk people involved.

Encourage them to share the fears and hurdles they faced as novices.  Have them share their past stories of personal struggle and frustration, as well as messages of hope and inspiration they found along the way.

Leaders earn respect by sharing the lessons from their journey, their experience and wisdom…not by establishing dominance over team members.

Argument #2 – It teaches mental strength and adversity.

Hazing does provide adversity, but experiencing adversity does not mean someone is learning.  Nobody would try and teach someone to swim while they were in the process of drowning; at best, they’d survive.  Thriving and surviving is not the same thing.

As with any skill set, learning and growth happen, when a well thought out strategy and an appropriately paced learning curve is established for the individual/individuals involved.  The process would have defined outcomes, checkpoints and support systems in place to debrief the lessons along the way.

Hazing utilizes none of these learning strategies.

One size does not fit all when teaching something…individual physical and emotional needs are all unique and must be considered in the learning curve.  To suggest that mental strength and adversity training can be done with a cookie-cutter strategy is a sad overstatement.

We simply can’t assume all people have the same level of emotional stability and/or breaking point.

Each individual comes from a different state of mental health, a different home environment, and has experienced different traumatic events, all shaping their lives.  Any suggestion they would all handle and grow through adversity the same way and at the same speed, is irresponsible.

Surviving something, does not, by default, mean learning has taken place.

Want to nurture mental strength in adverse times?

Build a game plan where everyone goes through a task together…and keep that task relevant to the applications and needs of the group in question.  We would not train a junior hockey team under the same emotional demands and distress, as we would a group of elite Navy Seals.

Intensive team building sessions must be handled as a collective, not simply done to a select few, for the entertainment and empowerment of others. Some positive examples:

  • Take a tough group hike, facing some fears, and fostering communication and problem solving
  • Competing in some recreational group activities…board games, sports or scavenger hunts
  • Teach the group a new skill outside their comfort zones…juggling, sketching, or anything outside their normal daily existence
  • Power through a hard-conditioning workout together as a team, exploring and pushing the growth of personal and group limits together
  • The options are endless but none require hazing

A group can face adversity together and learn relevant lessons along the way.  These lessons can then be experienced together as a collective, rather than passed down anecdotally from year-to-year.

Argument #3 – It creates lasting bonds.

Sure…trauma in any cross-section of society will bring about a spirit of unity and teamwork.  It happens in natural disasters or major traumatic events all the time.

But this does not mean we should try and indiscriminately create these experiences of shame or grief, for the sake of growth and self-serving purposes.

Hazing rarely creates tight bonds…it almost always creates scars.

All too often, these lasting scars – both physical and emotional – lead to larger issues.  Things like anger management problems, substance abuse, mental health concerns…honestly, the list of consequences could go on and on.

The cycle becomes self-perpetuating and the mantras of We all went through it and survived, it’s a right of passage and that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, are thrown around recklessly to soften the reality of what is being done to manipulate and control others.

Under no circumstance should we physically try and re-create our own prior physical and emotional trauma and place others in it as a learning opportunity.

Personal stories and messages can be powerful when shared as speaking topics, and should only ever be shared and used as anecdotal messaging.

What creates lasting bonds?

Personal connection, open conversation, group problem solving, group growth, building trust in one another, going through something “together” with your peers and superiors rather than “for their entertainment.”

Collective achievements have created more bonds than surviving personal humiliation ever has.  Let’s be very careful with our actions and words…there are always more positive ways to get a point across.


Have the BEST day you can!

Trevor Moore, CPGA, TPI-CGFI, CFI


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