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Team Building

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Team building is one of those things that many managers – and professional trainers – get badly wrong. I think that part of the reason for this is that there is no simple underlying model that helps people to understand what it is, what they need to to achieve and therefore how to select and combine team-building activities effectively.

So here is a model to fill that void, in the sure and safe knowledge that there will always be a vast number of team building activities that you can access on the web, simply by searching on:

‘team building activities/exercises/games.’

A Model for Team Building

Creating a model needs a strong definition as a starting point and I will start with my own definition of a team.

‘A team is a small number of people who collaborate to achieve a shared goal.’

You will see that I have highlighted five of the words in the definition, which help us understand what team building is and is not. By looking at each of these words in turn, we can get some valuable insights.

Small

A team is a small group of people. This is not the place to get into the definition of ‘small’ and how different sizes of team operate. For our purposes, it tells us that there has to be some selection that stops the team from becoming too big and ceasing to function properly as a team. The selection takes place before the team comes together, or sometimes is a culling process to remove unwanted members from the team to improve its performance.

While this may well be a trigger for needing team building, it is not, itself, a team building process. All of the other four highlighted words lead to team building interventions.

Team Building Model

Goal

A team needs a goal to work towards and some team building activities are focused on creating one, interpreting what is already there, or articulating the goal in compelling and powerful manner. These sort of team building activities are about more than just rallying around a banner – they give team members a sense of purpose, because a good goal answers their need for meaning in their work, by answering the question:

‘why are we here, doing what we are being tasked to do?’

People

Meaningless team cliché number one: ‘There is no I in team’. A team that is not made up of individuals, each with their own passions, experiences, skills and perspectives has no power to it. So some team building activities are designed to emphasise these differences and make team members aware of the resources that their fellows bring.

The sort of activities that we find are discovery, exploration, sharing and respect activities, which answer the question:

‘who am I working with and what can they contribute?’

Shared

Working together, towards a shared goal requires an infrastructure, norms of behaviour, procedures, organisation and motivating culture. Consequently we sometimes need team building activities that will help create these from scratch, modify what we have, if it is not working, or embed what is working to make it more efficient.

These sort of activities answer the question:

‘how will we work together in an effective manner?’

Collaboration

By far the most activities that you will find are focused around our fourth priority; collaboration. These activities work on team necessities like communication, trust, relationship building, problem solving, negotiation, decision-making and conflict resolution. many exercises that you will find deal with these and, helping to build the capability to get on well with one another. Trainers and facilitators love these sorts of exercise and know them well, so avoid the trap of getting drawn into doing one of these when the collaboration dimension is not your top team building priority.

Three top tips

  1. Make sure, before you start planning any team-building activities or events, you know what your reasons are and what objectives you have in setting out. Set yourself a success criterion that answers the question: ‘how will you know if the event or activity has worked?’ Use this as the basis for selecting, designing and planning your event. Ideally build yourself a business case to demonstrate that your plans are worth the costs.
  2. Ensure that your activities have a real link to what your team does and needs to do. Team members will quickly become de-motivated if they fail to spot a good answer to the question: ‘why are we being asked to do this?’
  3. Make sure that whatever you plan is fully inclusive and that every member of your team will be able to participate with minimum barriers – physical and mental. Any barriers there are will create tensions an divisions in your team, undermining your objectives.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook
  2. The Teamworking Pocketbook
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Team Decision Making

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Managers often need to reach decisions as a part of a team; either as:

  • a member of a management team
  • a facilitator of their own team

In both cases, it will serve you well to understand some of the do’s and don’ts of team decision-making*.

Group Think

In the 1970s, the social psychologist Irving Janis examined how groups make decisions. He found that the group’s dynamic often inhibits exploration of alternatives. People find disagreement uncomfortable, so the group seeks consensus before it is properly ready. As the group approaches consensus, dissenting voices are rejected (and, indeed, often self-censored). Janis said:

‘Concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive group that it
tends to over-ride realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.’

When we fall prey to Group Think, decisions tend to be based on ‘what we all know’ – members feel inhibited from challenging the consensus and relevant information, ideas, challenges are not fully introduced.

The group tends to a higher collective confidence in a decision than individuals have in the same decision made individually. Groups tend to endorse higher risk decisions than the individuals would – perhaps due to the degree of confidence resulting in group members agreeing to decisions that they would not make as individuals. This is called Risky Shift’.

Other features of Poor Group Decision-Making

People with more extreme positions are more likely than others to have clear arguments supporting their positions and are also most likely to voice them. This enhances risky shift.

The order in which people speak can also affect the course of a discussion. Earlier comments are more influential in framing the discussion and moulding opinions.

Once people have expressed an opinion in a group, it can be hard, psychologically, for them to change their mind.

Charismatic, authoritative and trusted individuals can also skew the debate around their perspectives – which will not always be objective or ‘right’.

Finally, it takes time for a group to discuss a topic and time is often at a premium. There will be pressure to curtail discussion and move to a decision.

Towards Better Group Decisions

  1. Start with a diverse team.
  2. Don’t let leaders, experts or charismatic individuals state their opinions or preference up front
  3. Start with a round robin of facts, data and evidence. Follow up with another round robin of comments, questions and interpretations of that evidence. This forms a solid base for discussions.
  4. If you must take a vote, put it off until after discussion and then ideally, do a secret ballot to establish the balance.
  5. Appoint a devil’s advocate to find flaws in data and arguments.
  6. Before a decision is finalised, ask everyone to take the position of a critical evaluator and look for errors, flaws and risks.
  7. Divide the team into subgroups to discuss the issues, and have them debate the decision.
  8. Invite outsiders into the team to create greater diversity of thinking and overcome prejudices and confirmation bias.
  9. Give all team members equal access to raw data, so they can reanalyse it for themselves.
  10. Facilitate the discussion to ensure every voice is heard and respected – even the least senior and least forceful members of the group. If they deserve their place in the group, consider their perspectives to be of equal value.

Further Reading 

  1. The Decision-making Pocketbook
  2. The Wisdom of Crowds

* Grammatical Note

To apostrophise do’s or not?

  • In favour of not apostrophising is that it is neither a contraction nor a possessive term, suggesting that there is no good grammatical reason for introducing an apostrophe
  • In favour of the apostrophe is the core function of punctuation to improve readability. The apostrophe stops it being dos and don’ts.

We sometimes forget that grammatical and punctuation ‘rules’ evolved to codify standard usages, but that language is fluid and grammar must serve the primary purpose of aiding communication.

By the way, you’ll see that I did not apostrophise 1970s.

If you think I should either have written dos, or found an alternative (thus subordinating words and meaning to style and correctness)… Sorry.

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Bruce Tuckman's Group Development Model

There are a number of Pocketblogs about Bruce Tuckman’s highly successful model of group and team development.

Here is a quick reference to them all.
Click the headings to go to the blog.

Forming, Storming, Norming: The Tuckman Model of Group and Team Development

… a general introduction to the model – part of the Pocket Correspondence Course series of blogs.

Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

… introduces the model and looks at the storming phase and uses the concept of ‘swift trust’ to understand why some teams skip over this phase.

Tuckman Plus

… looks at an additional phase: the ‘yawning’ stage.

Tuckman Plus, Part 2: Transforming

… looks at another additional phase: the ‘transforming’ stage.

Team Performance Beyond Tuckman

… isn’t strictly about Tuckman – it introduces the ‘Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model’.

There’s more to Bruce Tuckman…

But if it is Tuckman and his ideas that interest you, then you might expect him to feature in our Management Thinkers series. And you’d be right. He’s here:

Bruce Tuckman: Group Development

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Team Leadership

One of the most popular models of team leadership is John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership.

Three Circles

In this model, leadership expert, John Adair, identifies three overlapping circles of concern for a team leader: the team’s task, the team itself, and the individuals in the team.

It is a wonderfully simple model that encourages you to weigh the attention you give to each, against the needs of the situation.  Adair has much to say about your responsibilities in each category.

John Adair's Three Circles Diagram

More Circles

Like any model, part of its value comes from its simplicity.  The price of simplicity, however, comes from what the model misses, neglects or under-represents, in achieving a memorable elegance.

Here are three more circles (among many), that one could add to Adair’s model.

Organisational Context

There are a lot of reasons for team leaders to focus beyond their team and onto the wider organisational context within which their team sits.  Firstly, how does the team’s task set fit into the wider group of activities?  Team leaders need to know this to set the team’s tasks in context and therefore give them meaning – one of the most important motivators.

Under this heading, we can also consider the team’s relationships with a wide range of stakeholders, and the interest those stakeholders have in the team’s work.  Particular among those stakeholders are other teams.  The team leader needs to find ways to manage the interfaces and dependencies with other teams and work streams.

Finally, we have to acknowledge the role of politics.  Not what many of us sign up for in the world of work, but for team leaders, actively navigating their organisation’s political reefs is a necessary expedient.

The Leader’s Emotional State

Never under-estimate the impact of your emotional state on your team’ was arguably the best management advice your author ever got (thank you George Owen, if you ever get to hear of this blog).

Team members will look to you for all sorts of guidance and, unconsciously, will take their emotional cue from you.

Vision of the Future

Not only should you be looking beyond your team, as team leader, but look beyond the now of today’s tasks and today’s team and today’s individual.  What will your team need to do tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and next year?  And how do you need to evolve it to prepare the team and its individuals to deliver?

Show your team vision.  While some are motivated by pride in what they are doing today, others need to see what is in store.

Join the debate – what would you add?

Please do use the comments facility below to tell us what you would add to this model.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

You can read about John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership in The Management Models Pocketbook.

The Management Models Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

Other Management Pocketbooks you might like are:

The Leadership Pocketbook

The Teamworking Pocketbook

The People Manager’s Pocketbook

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