Teams are a good thing. No one doubts that. So, how can we doubt the benefit of team building?
Team building has become a multi-million Pound/Dollar/Euro… industry. Search for it online, and you’ll find dozens of service providers offering everything from cake decoration to high risk expeditions. But:
- what is it?
- why should you use it? and
- what should you know about doing it well?
Why do Team Building?
If you have a team, it make good sense to invest in its effectiveness. And sometimes day-to-day leadership is not enough. Maybe that’s because the team isn’t getting that, or possibly, it cannot solve the problems the team has.
So team building is a solution. It can be designed for many purposes, such as:
- Alignment around team objectives
- Clarity of roles and work allocation
- Improving collaborative behaviours
- Increasing trust and confidence
- Strengthening relationships and group cohesion
- Reducing conflict
- Appreciation of individual strengths, values, and styles
- Solving problems and improving critical thinking
- Strengthening decision-making processes
- Finding better ways to communicate with one another
- Building team member motivation to participate in workplace team efforts
- Enhancing commitment to the team as a social unit
Broadly, team building interventions will have one of two purposes, though:
To improve an already well functioning team, and raise it to higher levels of performance
To ‘fix’ a team that is failing, due to one or more team-related problems
In the article: ‘There’s a Science for That: Team Development Interventions in Organizations‘, Marissa L. Shuffler, Deborah DiazGranados and Eduardo Salas argue that:
Teams with clearly stated, challenging goals can enhance motivation and reduce conflict (Buller & Bell, 1986). Goal-setting team building, therefore, may motivate the team as a whole to work harder and be more effective through setting specific goals, whereas role clarification helps to set individual purposes and goals, affecting individual motivation as well.
What is Team Building?
We can define team building as:
A team event or activity designed to increase social cohesion and collaboration within a team.
It is not about functional, technical or process skills
The second part of this is important. It sets up the distinction between team building and team training. Returning to ‘There’s a Science for That’, the authors say:
…team building is most effective for solving specific teamwork breakdowns, whereas team training is most effective for providing the knowledge and skills needed for teamwork.
They go on to say:
Team building is an intervention designed around targeting problems that arise in teams during performance, such as a lack of cohesion or trust.
Team training is designed to prepare teams prior to performance so that they can competently work together. Both of these types of interventions therefore have different effects in terms of their outcomes and when they should be utilized.
The emboldening and paragraph breaks are mine.
Team Building and the Tuckman Model
Regular readers of the Pocketblog will know that we are big advocates of the Tuckman model of group development. We can relate typical team building objectives to the four stages of Tuckman’s group/team lifecycle.
At the earliest stage of group formation, your priorities are likely to include:
- Strengthening group cohesion
- Establishing a coherent purpose and goals, and ensuring everyone fully understands them
- Creating the kind of positive culture you want
- Setting out your role as a leader
This is the most uncomfortable stage of the cycle, where personalities can clash. So you probably will want to focus on:
- Strengthening the team members’ alignment to your purpose and goals
- Starting to forge constructive working relationships
- Initial problem solving and ideas generation
- Getting people to work together, to start to establish team processes
- Hitting some short term goals or milestones to create wins that the team can celebrate
Now the team is starting to work together well, it’s time to stabilise and grow the effective work practices you’ll need, going forward. So, you might prioritise:
- Forging a strong team culture, values, and norms of behaviour
- Creating effective and efficient working practices
- Developing strong working relationships
- Extending the team’s network of infuence
The last stage in the cycle (while the team remains together) is where the magic happens. So, team building here is largely enhancing something that is working well:
- Sharpening knowledge and skills
- Innovation and problem solving
- Incrementally improve processes to create ever greater efficiency
- Setting up the basis for effective team self-management
How to Do Team Building Well
The Process is simple to state. But it can be time consuming and resource intensive to do well. Trying to do team building on the cheap can set the team back as readily as it can move it forward.
There are three principal stages:
- Clear objectives
Understand what the team needs to achieve in the work context, then assess what needs to improve, so the team can better meet its goals
- Careful design to meet objectives
This takes skill and experience. Especially as you have real constraints to respect: culture and existing team dynamics, individual needs, resource and budget limitations
- Effective debrief
The reflection stage is every bit as important as the ‘team building activity’ itself. Here, you will relate activities to the work context, discuss issues, and crystallise learning. This needs a skilled facilitator who understands both the activities the team has carried out together, and the workplace context and challenges that motivated the team building initiative.
Three Cautions, to get Team Building Right
People can rebel against team building activities if they do not see sufficient links between the activity and the normal roles of the team. We all will be patient for a while, even if we can’t see the reason why we are being asked to do something we don’t understand. But at some point, we get frustrated.
It’s easy to defer the point of frustration by making the activity more fun. But hedonic pleasure may defer curiosity about why; it won’t avoid it. And, if people can see no point to an activity except ‘fun’, they may well question its value.
You must consider accessibility and the appropriateness of the activity for each individual in your team. If one member cannot participate fully, you will lose the point. So, consider the following factors:
- Cultural and religious
- Physical ability
- Personal preference
And remember, stretching someone outside their comfort zone is quite different from leaving them inside their discomfort zone.
Some team building activities have risks. Others are designed to be as risk-free as possible. Whatever choice you make, do be sure that you can justify the risks in terms of the need and value that are driving your event.
Principally, you need to do a health and safety assessment and foresee all possible consequences. And you must also mitigate all risks and provide suitable contingency plans. By the way, for outdoor activities here in the UK… Weather.
The ultimate caution
You have a duty of care to your colleagues and staff. So, all this points to a consequent need for tested activities, that are planned and run by skilled and experienced facilitators.
What is Your experience of Team Building?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.
To learn more…
The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook is full of practical activities for managers and team leaders to shape and inspire your teams.