There are four factors that are important to remember when considering whether or not to do team building. These help ensure that time invested in team building yields result.
1. Team building does not have to consume a lot of time in order to be of value. Team building sessions of one to two days can have a major impact on a team’s subsequent performance. Performance is the key deliverable for teams. This applies to teams who make things, teams who lead others, and teams who recommend things. Every team faces its own unique challenges. In spite of these differences, there are common performance essentials than effective teams share.
Every team needs a clear sense of mission or shared purpose. This describes the team’s reason for existence and the interdependence that makes them not just a group but a team. Similarly, teams need specific goals. These goals are unique to the team; they are deliverables to which every team member commits. Goals give each person a focus and, combined with clearly defined roles, describe what each person contributes to the team. These three components — shared purpose, specific goals, and clear roles — form the foundation of the team.
In addition, teams must agree on how they will work together. Their agreement of a common and collaborative approach defines how they make decisions, solve problems, resolve differences, share information, and do other things that enable them to work together effectively.
Both new teams and teams that have been in existence for a while can use a short, one day to two-day team-building process to put in place all of these essentials of team effectiveness. A two-day investment in team building is fundamental to the success of a new team. New teams accelerate their progress and development by using team building to establish purpose, goals, roles, approach, and accountability agreements. Teams that are struggling often find that one of the essentials of team effectiveness needs to be addressed. Doing so through team building gets the teams on track.
2. Team building needs to focus on strengthening team performance rather than promoting team environment. Team building is much more likely to benefit team when it is designed to achieve specific performance results that meet the needs of the customers, employees, and other key stakeholders. Team building for the sake of creating a team environment or promoting teamwork without more specific goals generally falls short of projected performance impact. Just as teams need a reason to be a team, so team building needs a purpose that is worth the time and investment.
3. Typically, team building is most effective when led by an external trainer rather than the team leader. In most cases, it is beneficial for the team leader to work with a trainer, either from within or outside the organization to lead the team-building sessions. It is important for both the leader and team members to be fully engaged in the team building process. Someone must also ensure that the session meets its goals, the discussion stay on track, and that everyone participates. It is difficult for the team leader to play both roles of participant and facilitator. Often, the manager tends to dominate the sessions and drive for quick resolution of issues. Conversely, there are times when the manager takes such a passive role that the team feels lack of concern or real interest. Working with a trainer, managers can be active participants, using their energy to create a productive and worthwhile sessions for everyone on the team. The trainer takes responsibility for leading discussions, keeping the session on track, and engaging everyone’s participation. Together, the manager and trainer ensure team building is successful.
4. There must be a commitment to team building. Like everything else that is important to team’s success, the team leader and the team members must commit to the team building process. Team building is a series of events and commitments. Although the two-day session is the focal point, the team must be willing to diagnose the issues, to work on resolving them, to implement the agreements made, and to seek to upgrade their performance continuously.
Team building usually results in a change the way team members work, both individually and together. It is important that everyone on the team understands this and commits to making the necessary behavioral changes. For example, a leadership team responsible for managing research and development activities used team building to set strategic priorities and realigned the responsibilities of each manager’s work unit. Prior to the team-building effort, there was considerable overlap and duplication of work. In fact, each manager was apt to work on strategic initiatives independently and competitively. This meant the team as a whole needed to be successful in order for any one manager to be successful. The shift from competition to collaboration required a major change in the way the individuals worked together, shared information, and made decisions. It was not easy to change but the team believed the benefits where worth the effort. The commitment that resulted was dramatically improved execution and greater ability to influence subsequent R and D priorities.
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