Does team building work? The answer depends on what you mean by team building.
For many, team building conjures up images of campfires, over-sharing personal information, and maybe even group-hugs. A consulting friend of mine refers to these kinds of activities as woo-woo.
The activities can create strong positive or negative reactions. Some love team building activities and particularly like the good feelings they create. Others find them extremely uncomfortable, and they don’t see the results.
I experience a little of both. In general I find them to be fun. In terms of significant and lasting impact on teamwork—I don’t see it. Like cotton candy, all the fluff quickly dissolves into empty calories.
Here’s the problem, a strong team is a function of many variables. Good feelings gained via shared experience (think high ropes courses) is one contributing factor, but a small one.
If you want to build your team, stop thinking about an event or activity and instead think about a process that will help move the group toward effectiveness. There are three phases in that process.
Phase One: Vision
People are quick to complain about coworkers. They know what they don’t want, and will talk unproductively about it to anyone who will listen. When I’m at home complaining to Marie about something I don’t want, she turns my thinking around with, “Tom, I know what you don’t want. So what is it that you do want?”
In this first phase, your goal is to change the group’s focus from complaints to creation of a positive team vision. Over the years I’ve used a variety of exercises to help groups create this vision. Regardless of the approach, in the end, the group should have something to rally around, a common vision that all members want to achieve.
Phase Two: The Plan
If phase one is successful, the team should be excited about its vision and energized to make it happen. The challenge is that reality is often a long ways from the vision. That’s okay. Think of the vision as the team’s long-term goal. It’s not going to be achieved easily or quickly. You want the group to start moving toward it.
Ask team members, “What must we do to move towards our vision?” Instead of a debilitating focus on all the problems, planning should be an energizing process of identifying and prioritizing goals, developing essential projects/initiatives, and solving the puzzle of how to get it all done.
The secret to creating a good plan is to not bite off too much at once. Pick just one or two goals that will make a noticeable difference and work on them. Once they are accomplished, move to another.
Phase Three: Accountability
Once the plan is in place, the group needs to act. Individuals need to keep their promises. This is where the whole process typically falls apart. People don’t keep their commitments, and nobody does anything about it.
You can increase the chances for success by making sure your planning includes the question, “How will we make sure this works?” There are many strategies that can help. Here are some that should be used in most team building processes:
- A system to measure and monitor all work.
- Regular check-ins with team members.
- A way to reward and recognize progress.
- The skills and willingness to confront people who aren’t following-through on their commitments.
Build Your Team
Team building isn’t an event of activity. It’s a process that takes time and persistence. It’s about having an inspiring vision, a workable plan, and the systems and willingness to hold all parties accountable for keeping their promises. The goal isn’t happiness. It’s effectiveness.
Is your team ready for team building? If you want to discuss the possibilities, contact us to help.
Image credit: Michael Cardus, Flickr (cc)