What is the first thing that pops into your head when I say team building?
Most likely you are thinking of a day that happens annually or bi-annually that involves some sort of outdoor activities, or a day of workshops, or both, and that usually ends with drinking.
The “fun day out of the office” has been the teambuilding standard for years.
Yet, how often has it resulted in a real, demonstrable change at work in your experience?
There are many challenges associated with this traditional model of team building.
Traditional Team Building Challenges
First off, it lacks context. It’s great to build trust in a simulated environment such as playing certain team building games. However, it’s utility quickly wears off when people step back into the office and are faced with pressure, politics, and performance appraisals.
Secondly, there is no follow-through. “We always talk about the same things, yet nothing ever changes.” Sound familiar? If there is one thing we know about change it’s that it takes time. We need to reinforce and remind people of the change that we want to see. Once off team-building efforts can never do that.
Thirdly, teams are seldom prioritized and celebrated and that’s the exact attitude they bring to team building activities. When I facilitate sessions, I can clearly see that no-one has ever told the teams how important their work is or affirmed to them that they are indeed a team.
So, if we are really going to affect change in our teams, we need a different approach.
Below I have outlined 4 principles I think we need to consider moving forward. (This is not an exhaustive list)
Before I move on though I want to make it clear that I don’t think that traditional team-building exercises are a complete waste of time. But more on this a bit later.
Four Principles For Modern Team Building
“Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie
1. Start With The Team
Most teams are not teams. They are simply groups of people who happen to work for the same company. And, for the most part, we are ok with that.
We lob people together and call them a team.
Starting with the team means that as a team we make a commitment to continually improve how we show up for the team and how we show up as a team.
Do not skip over the commitment that team members need to make towards each other.
Team building cannot succeed without a Team Pledge.
2. Continuous Team Development
I have often said that we don’t bring the same intensity to team development as we do to individual development. This is a massive mistake.
It’s for that exact reason that we think a once a year team engagement will be sufficient.
A team is a living, breathing organism that needs to be nurtured for it to evolve into its most powerful form.
Therefore, on-going team development is a must.
Not only for the sake of the team reaching its full potential but also because of the on-going change that teams are facing when existing team members leave, new ones join, leaders move on, personal disasters happen, and obstacles present themselves around too many corners.
3. Not Just For When Things Go Wrong
For a long time coaching was seen as something that people receive if they are under-performing and need an urgent wake-up call.
Thankfully, we have moved on from that.
Do not fall into the same trap with team building.
Do not leave it for when things are falling apart.
It’s too late.
Do it now, today, so that your good team becomes a great team, and so that your great team becomes an exceptional team. And so that your team can weather the storm and thrive.
Build on the good rather than from the ashes.
4. A Time For Fun, A Time For Deep Work
As I said earlier, I have nothing against traditional team building activities. However, they should be seen as part of the process and not as the process.
There is immense value in people having fun together, laughing, and building relationships. It has been shown that developing close friendships at work can boost employee satisfaction by up to 50%.
So, please do it. In fact, have fun as a team more often.
But do not neglect the deep work that is also required. The conversations that we have to have around conflict, creating psychological safety, feedback, and aligning ourselves to a mission.
Moving forward team building needs to be an intentional, continuous activity that allows teams to do deep and meaningful work together. In the process, we should have fun and celebrate team victories. But we should never lose focus of team health. This means that teams need emotional exercise and sustenance.
Do not forget that!
Happy team building!
This is by no means an exhaustive list but I needed to get some of my thoughts on to paper and out into the world. It’s my hope that this inspires you to think differently about how you approach team building.
Want to chat to me about your team? Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org