Sunday, December 20, 2009

Five Tips for Better Team-Building Events

Many so-called “team building” strategies are divorced from the everyday realities of the team’s life. As a result, the team feels more demotivated by the non-related event than if they had been left alone to get their work done.

People form into teams naturally under situations of group opportunity or stress. A team is a group of people who function cooperatively as a group toward a common goal. Under the wrong conditions teams can form that don’t have the same goals as the organizations they work in. Conditions may include resistance to change, coping with stress and punishing people they see as outside their group. Managers and leaders want to promote teams where the cooperative work is aligned to the organization’s purpose, and the team’s productivity is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Five steps for planning a positive team building event

1. Make sure that the team is a team

Too often, the team is really a group of people who happen to work in the same department or in the same function. They don’t have common goals; they don’t share rewards or work on projects together. They just sit together, report to the same manager or work on the same project. Pulling a “team” like this together for team building that is separate from the group’s normal way of doing business just builds cynicism. Send people to a team building event when all the rewards in the group are based on individual goals will have no lasting impact.

2. Let the team plan the event

We know this sounds dangerous! The success of the team building event begins a long time before the event occurs. Wouldn’t it be a little ironic to try to build team behaviors without letting the team exhibit those behaviors? Let the team model the behaviors you are trying to instill, and coach and guide them along the way. Delegate the task properly and the team building event will give the team the sense of empowerment and collaboration you want them demonstrate.

3. Plan the event around a meaningful business purpose

We won’t lead events that are out of context for the team or unconnected from their regular work. Perhaps the meaningful business purpose is celebrating a recent success, or working as a group to set team norms. It doesn’t matter in a big sense if the business purpose might otherwise be a downer for the team. We have seen successful events built around the theme of recovering from losing a major account or building bridges with a client after a serious project misstep. Don’t have a team event just to build an overall sense of teamwork. We worked with a VP once who took her team out to Paint A Plate for a day. It was a waste of time because the event was just a fun day with no link to anything the team did back in their cubicles. If someone had linked painting plates with good team behaviors it might have worked. Instead we might just as well have been throwing balloons around or going boating. Try selling those to a team that’s going through a work slump.

4. Follow up with meaningful activities back at the work place

Probably as part of the event the team will learn something about each other’s strengths and development opportunities, or someone will come up with a new strategy for cross-functional cooperation. Make sure that there is a visible process that everyone contributes to that brings the team building event back to work. Make it an agenda item at a coming management meeting to debrief the event for what went well, what opportunities were uncovered, and what commitments were made.

5. Finally, if you want the event to build good team behavior you had better know what good team behavior looks like

If you don’t already know what good team behavior looks like you need to get a list together so you monitor, recognize and reward the right behavior when it occurs at the event and back at the work place. If you want a quick checklist you could do a lot worse than use Patrick Lencioni’s model. He describes Five Dysfunctions of a Team, but to make it easier to see the positive side of his model I will rephrase it to make Five Functional Behaviors of a High Performing Team. Simply put they are: trust each other, embrace conflict positively, commit to the team’s goals, ensure and accept accountability and focus on the team’s stakeholders’ results.

Plan an event that will build your staff into a positive team. First, make sure they really are a team with common goals, work processes and rewards. Let them plan some team building together. Make sure they build the event around a meaningful business purpose. Make sure they follow up by bringing the learnings of the event back to the workplace. And finally, make sure you have set clear expectations with them for what good team behavior is.

Now, do you trust them enough to let them loose with your team building objective and a budget?

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