Team building: A waste of time or a route to success?

Some teams love team building exercises like rafting, wine tasting and even mountain climbing but does getting employees together for a group activity really benefit your business?

While there might be a time and a place for ‘organised fun’, often the focus of team building events can be too much on the activity and not enough on the team. So how can you get more business value from team development?

Start with the leader

When I create team off-sites, I work closely with the team leader to understand what it is they want their team to achieve, do differently or more of. This involves some thorough preparation. I begin by interviewing all members of the team, finding out what issues or opportunities they face in their roles and how the team could work better together to tackle these. By getting a truthful idea of the current situation, the leader becomes more driven towards the value the off-site can bring.

Agree the team’s purpose and the members’ roles

What makes a team is a common goal so establishing this is critical. This can surface a surprising array of ideas, which then need to be filtered and agreed by everyone in the team.

Once the team has an agreed purpose, the next step is to encourage individuals in the team to articulate their role and the inter-dependencies among them. It might be the first time they have ever thought about their team’s work in this way. Once everyone is aligned around a clear purpose, with their own defined roles, you have a great starting point for working more effectively together.

Spend equal time on business development and team building

I’m not saying that team development should not involve an element of fun and smiles; there is certainly a place for this. But if the team comes away with greater clarity, motivation and ambition towards working together and doing their job well as a result of time spent together then the impact of the day will be more powerful and long-lasting. An external facilitator can be really useful here. One team I worked with told me their tendency was to get too much into the detail of an issue and lose sight of the bigger picture, so I drew their attention to this whenever it emerged in their discussions, allowing them to have a much higher level conversation, instead of getting distracted by detail.

Don’t shy away from the underlying issues

When I facilitate team sessions, I ask team members to give honest feedback on others in the room, either in a group or on a one-to-one basis. I can feel the initial resistance in the room when I do this as some may want to keep a veneer of polite co-operation without revealing what they really think. It is essential to go beyond this front, or trust may not build and nothing will change. The leader must set the example by asking the group to share their views on him or her, and graciously accepting their feedback. This shows that this is a safe environment and no one will be judged.  

Try speed dating

It sounds harsh but trust me on this. A great way to discover people’s true impressions of their teams is this simple speed dating exercise. In pairs, everyone in the room says one thing they appreciate about the person they work with, and one thing they could do better. They thank each other, and they move on to the next team member. Initially people may dread this exercise as they presume others will only have negative things to say. When they learn what their colleagues appreciate about them it can really change a group’s dynamic for the better. Some teams I’ve worked with have found this so effective that they now use it in team meetings to debrief.

How does your company build high performance teams? Have you had any particularly positive (or negative) experiences of team building? I’d love to know your thoughts. And if you want to know more about the subject, here is a great article from Raconteur, with the views of several experts.