Team Building - Building a Good Team
Team Building Programmes and Team Building Events
This is a word we hear a lot these days: 'we need some kind of team building activity'. But from our point of view, often the people saying it don't really know what they mean.
It's as if we all know that teams are good. We understand the sum of the parts thing, but we don't quite know how to make a team work in the way we think we want it to.
When it comes to team building, the very first question we have to ask is, what for? In other words, what are you building it to do?
Sometimes it can genuinely mean building the team: new people coming together, a change of roles, new expectations, sorting out difficulties or communication issues. All good things to prompt the need for team building.
But sometimes it isn't that at all.
For example, we were recently asked to run a team building day for a group of people and almost as soon as we met them and started putting the programme together, we realised they were a very 'built' team already. That wasn't the issue.
The issue was that their 'output' wasn't what the company expected from them and so they (the company) thought if they had a team building event the team would work better.
Uh uh. That's not team building. It is, however, team development. And increasingly, we find that when people talk about team building that's what they really mean.
Part of this whole process is learning about how teams work. And, get this – no matter what the books say (and there are plenty of them) - every single team is different: there is no model you can follow that will create the perfect team.
You’ll read that you need ideas people, drivers, completer-finishers, etc., etc., etc. And yes, possibly you do need a variety of 'types'. But for our money, the 'types' are far less important than ensuring that your team knows why it exists and what its aims are.
So let's look first at just exactly what being a team means. You might think that the very word 'team' is clear in and of itself: a group of people working towards shared goals. We wish it were that straightforward. As it isn't, we thought we would unpick it a bit.
The common enemy
The most obvious kind of team that you'll know about is a sports team. Everyone is on the same side trying to beat the opposition. They train together, get to understand how to make the most of each other's skills, and when working well, they are able to fulfil the manager or coach's strategy.
They know who their opposition is and they have very clear goals. Yes, there may be personality quirks and differences, but the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.
However, it's not quite so straightforward when it comes to work teams, though, is it? Personalities, which in a sporting context might get absorbed by the team for the good of the game, often take centre stage in the workplace.
The oddest thing of all, of course, is that it's not always clear who the 'opposition' is. You'd think it would be the competition - whoever your closest corporate rival is. Unfortunately, far too often, the opposition turns out to be right at home base: another team or department, the 'management' or someone sitting right beside you.
Now the thing about 'opposition' is that it gives a common focus, a common 'enemy' if you will. Now that's great if it's productive. Creative ideas can pour out of a group when they have to figure out how to handle the competition.
However, when the common enemy is someone or some group or some department or a 'them' and 'they' are within the same company, then the results are divisiveness, gossip, complaining. The end result of this is of course a loss of productivity and people working against, not for each other.
Then it's all about 'them' and 'us', with people running around using their energies to get more of 'us' to agree just what's wrong with 'them'. We see this in company after company after company - people are spending vast amounts of time and energy having a 'go' at each other rather than using that same amount of time and energy to make things work better.
This is one of the key reasons why team building is such a hot topic. People can easily recognise that something needs to be done, but they aren't quite sure what.
What can be done?
They are right. Something does need to be done because there are real payoffs and advantages to being part of a well-functioning team. To begin with, it's just pleasanter being around people who get on.
More importantly, real payoffs include:
- A feeling of identity
- On-going support
- Creative pooling of ideas
- Increased confidence
- Things tend to work better as a result of team effort
- You aren't alone
- Goals that make sense
- You don't have to reinvent the wheel, or if you do, so is everyone else in the team
So the first thing you have to ask yourself is this:
What kind of team are you?
These days we see a lot of 'virtual' teams - people who hardly ever see each other, or even work in the same office or even the same country.
Then there are teams that all sit in an open plan space and chat with each other all day as things arise.
There are teams where people sit in separate spaces and get together once a day/week/fortnight.
There are teams that seem to do all their communicating via e-mail or conference calls.
There are teams that work on projects together and others where people go off and do their own thing and come together every once in a while to report and bring everyone else up to date.
At Impact Factory, for instance, our 'team' consists of a group of freelance partners and associates who come into the office as and when, some full-time permanent staff who are at 'base camp' most of the time and a bunch of associates in training and support staff who we see when they are needed.
Everyone is however still a member of the Impact Factory team. What makes it a team are shared values, goals and objectives. And, of course, our old friend communication. Sometimes we fail abysmally, but a lot of the time we get it right; enough so, that people do feel part of this identity known as Impact Factory.
To work effectively you need agreement on exactly what sort of team you are: what the goals are, what each member's role is, who needs to work closely with whom, what the game plan should be. Sometimes it's as simple as learning more about the people you work with, and sometimes it's a whole lot more complicated, such as working through entrenched difficulties or defining how a long-distance team communicates.
So what is your team? The better you are at identifying what kind of team you are, the better you'll be able to identify what it needs to work well. Yours doesn't have to be a classic team. This is actually where many people get confused. They have a picture of what a team is supposed to be, but then find themselves part of something that doesn't fit that picture.
Here are a couple of other things teams don't have to be:
- They don't have to be a family
- People don't have to be bosom buddies
- People don't even have to like each enough to want to have dinner together
- Teams aren't group therapy
- Teams can, on occasion, be any or all of those things
It may still be a team; it just may not look like one. Whatever it looks like, however, it still has to be able to function well and achieve its goals.
Which leads us to the second question.
What do you want your team building event to achieve?
Teams are complex machines and it's not surprising that they malfunction occasionally or need re-alignment.
- Do you want people working better together?
- Do you want to set new team goals and agreements?
- Do you need to iron out communication difficulties that have crept in?
- Do you want a jolly - to reward the team for being terrific?
- Do you simply want to get everyone's creative juices going and brainstorm new ideas?
- Do you need to set clear parameters and boundaries so everyone knows what's expected of them?
- Do you want to inject some fresh enthusiasm and energy into a group that's been working too hard and may have lost sight of the goal posts?
Perhaps the goals posts have moved and you need to let everyone know that.
A team event can encompass any and all of those questions.
The one thing that everyone recognises is that whatever you want to call it (building or development, event or away day), 'it' needs to be done away from the office environment. The idea is to slow things right down; to get away from e-mails, phone calls, questions and demands, people dropping by, being asked to pop into unscheduled meetings. It means getting away from all the day-to-day stuff that sometimes makes it hard to see what's going on and what's needed.
Once you know what you want your event to achieve, then you can decide what it's going to look like. You can do the go-carting thing, the throwing people off Welsh mountains thing. You can have the cosy get-away in a country hotel thing. You can have it non-stop fun, be business focused or have a bit of both.
The key with team building is always to ensure that your event has a positive effect on the morale, motivation, confidence and effectiveness of the team and its individual members.