“Team Building” seems to be one of the most frequent requests I get from prospective clients.
“We need to improve our team work”, they say. Why? “So our people will focus more on the work that needs to get done instead of focusing on each other!”
Does the typical approach to team building create the desired outcome and lasting impact?
No. I have seen a great deal of time and money wasted on “quick fix” approaches to developing team performance, trust and communication as well as group problem-solving, decision-making and planning abilities.
Yes. Team building, planned well and supported with the right resources, can be effective and optimize the performance of teams – even an already top-producing team.
My friend Becky Robinson of Mountain State University gets right down to it when she asks “Why Teams?” After all, working on a team can be difficult as she so aptly describes. When people work on teams:
- They may experience confusion about the team’s mission, role or assignment.
- They are compelled to rely on others.
- They feel frustrated if everyone doesn’t contribute “equal” effort to the team’s process and goals.
- They don’t understand each person’s role, let alone their own!
- They struggle with scheduling, timeliness and getting things done to a common standard.
- Communication gets complicated, as does decision-making and problem-solving.
- Each team member’s performance and success is contingent on others.
So can Team Building really have a measurable impact on Team Work?
How do you know there is a problem?
Is the primary purpose of your team clear? Do you strongly share a common interest? Are you achieving predetermined team goals? Are you meeting milestones and deadlines? Are you or your teammates frustrated with your roles? Do you even understand your role on the team? Do you understand the value of your teammates’ roles? Is everyone playing by the same rules (including both written policies, procedures and regulations, as well as “unwritten” rules that the team uses to govern behavior and process)?
What if you are the problem?
The biggest mistake I see with teams is that leaders schedule team building activities and programs without giving serious thought to how they are contributing to problems on the team. If you don’t recognize your contribution to current team success and setbacks, it is unlikely you will play a valuable role in improving team performance.
If the team has taken weeks, months or even years to develop its current culture, level of performance and expectations, why do you think it will only take a few hours to improve them?
Team building shouldn’t be a program or a workshop. I’ve never seen a team advance while in “retreat”. Certainly, “getting away” from production and customer service issues for a time to focus on team culture, processes and relationships is critically necessary from time to time. Spending a few hours with a facilitator on a team building course can be quite valuable – as long as that is not all you are doing to develop your team.
Is team work training what you need, or could leadership development and strategic thinking create more measurable and sustainable results?
One of the best ways to improve a team is to improve team leadership. One of the best ways to measure leadership is to measure the production and performance of the leader’s team. Develop the leadership and this should have a direct positive impact on the team. Likewise, one of the most effective and meaningful projects for developing any team, for any reason, is strategic thinking and planning. When done right, this process allows team members to conceive or develop a sense of ownership for the team mission and strategic aims, clarify role definitions, clarify shared values and rules, and iron out any behavioral style differences.
There is nothing like a few simple strategic thinking sessions to get people focused on taking the right action on the right objectives instead of whining over the water cooler about one another’s “difficult personalities.”
Strategic planning can be a long, drawn-out process that changes little about the team or its outcomes – but it doesn’t have to be. We have helped numerous teams develop their strategy and implement those strategies as intended. Strategic thinking can be hard work…and as a result it can be some of the most rewarding time any team spends together.
Performance objectives for team building can include standard business measures such as cost reduction, increased sales, reduced waste and variance, and raising your organization’s Customer Loyalty Score. Other outcomes may include:
- To build commitment and camaraderie by having some FUN together!
- Emphasize the interconnectedness of the team members and how they impact each other.
- Recognize the different contributions/skills of each team member and strategize ways to utilize them effectively.
- Transfer the team member’s experiences during THIS ropes course to what they experience while working together as a team in the classroom.
- Practice team skills like: clearly communicating ideas, asking questions, listening to others, actively sharing information, keeping a positive attitude, taking initiative, setting goals, following through on goals, building commitment to goals, solving problems creatively, making group decisions and resolving differences productively.
- Build Trust! Recognize the importance of demonstrating trustworthy behaviors such as reliability, consistency, honesty and confidentiality.
Strategic team building can be fun. At Performance Development Network, we have numerous methods and plenty of experience in developing teams. If you think we could help you and your team, ask me about our Performance Vehicles program, the Personal Responsibility Pledge, Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, Pelican Island, Team Building Adventures and similar programs.