Have you ever asked someone to come in and do a team building workshop for your team? Recently, a client called and asked, "I want to do a team building session with my team next week. Can you send me some fun exercises?" If you have ever done this, please, never do it again.
I turned down a number of requests to facilitate team building sessions. My experience has been that unless a team can commit to a longer, more sustained process, it’s better to say no right away. Building strong teams is an ongoing process. When leaders treat team building as a one-time activity, they waste everyone's time, energy, money, and creativity.
Last year someone called me, frustrated. He had brought someone in to do a half-day team-building workshop and now that his team was under-performing, he was convinced he needed someone to do a better workshop. He was referred to me by a client who had told him I could deliver a better session that was a lot more engaging. I might have been able to deliver a better workshop, but he was likely to still have an under-performing team. I had to explain that a one-off session was unlikely to address his issues and we would be happy to help facilitate a more sustained approach to building his team.
This story is not unique. Many people are under the impression that team building is about fun activities. Admittedly, fun activities, when well used, can help provide teams with perspective, but team building is about a lot more than enjoying time together. Team building is a continuous process that when designed well fosters, trust, creativity, engagement, and enhances performance. If teams aren’t fostered, they fall apart quickly. A group that is high performing today can be low performing tomorrow. So, the first thing to understand is that teams are a work in progress.
One of the biggest challenges with building teams is that employees have often had a lot of poor experiences in workshops that have made grand promises. So, people often grumble at the thought of sitting through yet another seminar that does nothing to help them with their day-to-day activities. Most workshops do a poor job of transferring learning from the session into the workplace. These dynamics usually produce a situation where you have a leader who thinks his organization needs team development, but he is face-to-face with a hesitant audience, has limited time, and a limited budget.
“Single events that don’t focus on bringing learning back into the organization are a waste of time, money, and resources. Creating high performing teams is both an art and a science.”
There are four things you can do to help foster high performing teams:
Use coaching as part of your design.
As a rule, try to incorporate coaching into any learning event. Pay particular attention to the kind of coaching that occurs after the event has occurred. In our experience, we have learned that top teams perform at a high level because of the things they do and say on a daily basis. Coaching helps integrate what you have learned from an event into your daily activities.
Develop a planning process.
High performing teams can always benefit from a planning process that takes them from where they are to where they want to be. A planning process that sets a clear agenda for where you are heading helps align your organization.
Focus on the willing.
Do not try to win over everyone. A common mistake is that we think everyone has to buy into our ideas or a new way of working. If you get 20% of your team to work in a new way, it can often pull the rest of the team in the direction you want to go.
Foster psychological safety.
Focus on creating an environment where people feel it is safe to take risks and be vulnerable or psychologically safe. High performing teams know how to have pointed conversations without making it personal. They can debate about ideas and not with each other. Through the debating of ideas, they generate new ideas, products or services. This ability to question makes them a high performing team.
“The next time you think about doing a session on team building, ask yourself, will this produce the outcomes I hope to achieve? Chances are the answer is no, and, if so, I suggest you consider taking a different approach to team building, one that helps you move from performing team building to fostering performance."