Each year organizations invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in team building. Where some claim transformation others report little change and poor results. It’s unsurprising then that many employees react with cynicism when their trusty leader announces it’s time for the team to build and bond.
What exactly is team building?
The term team building is used to describe so many different activities it can include almost anything from the long-term process of structured team development, to pounding the boss with paintballs or even an extended lunch at the pub. No wonder results vary.
Effective team building however, involves a deliberate and planned intervention that improves the team’s performance by strengthening its relationships and systems. By keeping this in mind and by addressing each of the points below, leaders can avoid the pitfalls to increase the success of their team building initiatives.
1. Define the Teams Performance Needs
A thorough gap analysis enables the design and selection of the most effective team building strategy so it’s important to clearly identify where the team is now and where it needs to be. Identify and prioritize the issues, systems and skills that need to be developed. Involve the team in this assessment as it builds awareness and ownership.
If you don’t have the resources to do this or if you’re dealing with a particularly challenging team then consider engaging an independent consultant.
2. Determine the Purpose
Use the results of your needs assessment to determine and prioritize the objectives of your team building. For example will the team building focus on:
Improving and strengthening the team’s dynamics, climate and culture, or
Establishing or improving team structures, systems and processes, or
Are you using team building to recognize the team’s achievements?
While these areas are interconnected (often one factor will positively influence another) it’s unwise and unrealistic to incorporate too many into one programme. Focus on a few, do them well, and establish the new or improved practices with the team before moving onto the next
3. Differentiate between Recognition and Performance Improvement
Fun team building events, which are designed to reward the team, let the team know they are valued and their efforts appreciated. It’s important to invest time in building relationships through social interaction too so do allow time for team building of this nature. However, no amount of social interaction or team “trust falls” will produce sustained improvements where issues exist with the team’s leadership, design or dynamics. Just because we worked well once as team suspended 50ft in the air doesn’t guarantee we will come Monday when systems crash, calls spike and phone lines jam. Teams return to the same environment with little insight, agreement or the skills to make the necessary improvements to their system.
4. Increase Insight to Improve Performance
If you work with a consultant, ensure they design programmes which involve action learning to generates individual and collective insight. This doesn’t mean you need ropes, a cliff or a kayak. Meaningful insight occurs with less adventurous and expensive activities as long as effective debriefing supports it. Debriefing is the key to deep team learning so ensure your team building dedicates time to thoroughly debriefing activities and exercises.
5. Follow Up and Follow Through
Even well considered and structured team building events fuel cynicism when the team fails to follow through. Raised expectations go unmet, little changes, cynicism and resistance deepen, morale and performance plummet. The team building “buzz” fades and it’s back to (bad) business as usual.
To avoid this ensure your team building produces a record of the team’s learning. This record and most importantly, the team’s action plan are the tools the team needs to implement new skills, great ideas and agreements. They are far more powerful than team building tales and anecdotes. They help to keep the team on track so the buzz lasts much longer.
6. Team Building is Not the Silver Bullet
Recognise that team building events are only a small part of the overall team development process. However invest as much time upfront with your analysis and planning as you can. When poorly conceived, designed and executed team building can deliver a big dent in your budget for little more than a short-lived blip in morale.