I’ve been taking the tube a lot recently and so I keep seeing Vodafone’s new ad campaign splashed all over the walls. The tagline is “There is a better way to build your business,” and in the adverts various office-types are being subjected to what are obviously nightmare team-building exercises: being fed through a hoop by their colleagues, navigating a muddy obstacle course, all stood in a circle balancing on one leg, that sort of thing.

I’ve had some fairly horrendous team-building experiences myself (in one exercise we all had to pretend to be clowns, for reasons which now escape me), so it did raise a smile. And obviously for the campaign to be effective other people must feel the same way. Is this how people see team-building exercises, even people who have never taken part in one?

Team-building programmes like this seem to have gone out of fashion, especially in this economic climate. They were always viewed as a bit naff anyway – something that had to be sat through and endured instead of embraced – and with firms tightening their belts, it seems to be the end for the company paintballing weekend, or ‘trust exercises’ involving falling off chairs.

However, nobody debates that teamwork is essential to good business. Why are team-building exercises now the subject of fun?

Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to quantify what companies and individuals are getting out of such experiences. I’ve taken part in team-building days in which the facilitator obviously didn’t have a clue about business management, and so it was hard to see how the stuff we were supposedly ‘learning’ was going to help us in the workplace. And they are hardly a bespoke experience. While some people might like the idea of rolling up their sleeves and crawling through an obstacle course, many are likely to recoil in horror. Who’s going to get the most out of that experience? I actually rather enjoyed pretending to be a clown, but several of my colleagues thought it was hideous.

But teamwork can be improved without resorting to theatrics. Simply improving communication skills and giving people a better understanding of the way their colleagues operate can work wonders. An integral part of the part of the ‘old’ team building exercise was letting staff get to know each other better. What if there was a better way to learn about other people, to speed read what makes them tick?

One of the positives of psychometrics is that the results are measurable (that’s essentially the point). And because the results are measurable they can be quickly adopted and adapted, leading to useful and insightful suggestions on how to improve things. If you can get all this without having to go out and builds rafts or bridges then so much the better. Not that building rafts can’t be fun.

Good psychometric techniques lead to a bespoke portrait: every individual’s portrait is different, and every suggested solution is tailored to their personal profile, so the results are simple and immediate. It’s much more efficient than setting up a vague team-building exercise and hoping people draw the right conclusions from it. It’s also more empowering and enjoyable: increased self-knowledge leads to more than just increased performance in the workplace.

The Vodafone adverts aren’t actually offering an alternative to team-building; they’re simply marketing a new telephony network. But while poking fun, but they aren’t far from the truth. You can get increased team performance without having to jump through hoops.

Have you ever had a bizarre team-building experience? Share it in the comments section below, and if we get any really good ones we’ll share them on our twitter feed (@INSPIRErational).