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Real Answers to Real Team Challenges?

Why use a Turning Point for your team? What is it really? How do you really make it work?

By Stephen Blades, CEO, Elephants in Main Street International

I have often been asked these three questions. No matter where I work, be it in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australasia or North America… the same three questions come up. They emerge in the minds and on the tips of the tongues of nearly every new, and even existing, leader I meet. They sit in the hearts and souls of every team member at some point in their journey through organisational life.

These questions emerge for people that have joined a new team or who have been put into an existing team, whether it be by acquisition, rationalisation, recruitment  or expansion of the organisation or group they work for. The truth of the matter is that we are all part of a team, in fact we are part of many teams. Just think about it… we are part of a team from the very moment we arrive on this planet.

Whilst some of us may occasionally die alone, we are all born with someone, if even for a short period of time. We discover that in our quest to survive, we need to interact with others, we need to trust and be trusted, we need to help and be helped, we need to manage communication, create agreement, deal with emotion and find the understanding we need in order to survive. Not that easy on your own, is it?

You need a team to survive well. So what is a team? Well at it’s simplest level, a team is a minimum of two people who hopefully have a common goal or purpose, are in communication with one another and have a plan they both work on to achieve that goal or purpose together. Some great examples of this kind of team are a father and son team, a mentor and protégé relationship, a husband and wife, two friends who work out together in the morning or two partners who start a company together. Of course, I mentioned that we are part of many teams.

Families, classes, schools, lift pools, dinner parties, project networks, church associations, companies, fan clubs, countries and even FaceBook are just a few to mention. Within each of these teams we have a choice in terms of how we choose to survive… and that is really where teambuilding begins.  Effective teambuilding tips the scale of survival from a less optimum existence to a more optimum and fulfilling experience.

Whilst some individuals would say, “I survive just fine on my own”, they might not have looked at the picture from a long term or big enough view. Teambuilding is our only answer to making this world a better place, for us and for our children. I remember seeing a sign in the Witbank area in the late 80’s when I was working on addressing the black/white interface in power stations that has stayed with me for years. It said, “We have not inherited this land from our forefathers, we have merely borrowed it from our children!”  So we realise that if indeed we have a basic purpose to survive as mankind, that teambuilding is not just a short term instant gratification objective, but rather a long term strategy in building a sustainable future for yourself and others.

This is something that is not always confronted by the average team member, leader, partner or mentor. This is particularly true in the West, where we seem obsessed with quick fixes and managing the singular chapters in our careers.  But let’s stand back and examine some of the economies that are still ahead of the game in this recession, and where strategists and economists are telling us to invest. Let’s compare short term survival vs. working together for the long term vision as a team or group or nation. Team China and Team India. They are obviously aligning their goals in a far more successful way in terms of “What do I want for myself?”, “What do I want for my teams?”, “What do I want for my industry?” and “What do I want for my country?” Alright, let’s stop saving the world for a minute and bring it back to our day to day existence. Where does teambuilding fit in, what is needed to build an effective team and how do we make it work? 

Teambuilding (team member ability and application) relates to a scale of effectiveness that we all should have, that we should be “fit” or proficient in. It is part of a scale of fitness for life. At the base of the scale is Personal Effectiveness, the ability to address problems as an individual and be in excellent communication with your environment. Just above this is Team Member Effectiveness, the ability to confront, communicate and comfortably solve problems together with others in pursuit of a common goal.

This is followed by Supervisory, Leadership, Mentorship and Organisational effectiveness as seen below:

  6.  Organisational Effectiveness
  5.  Mentorship Effectiveness
  4.  Leadership Effectiveness
  3.  Supervisory Effectiveness
  2.  Team Member Effectiveness
  1.  Personal Effectiveness

There are many forms of teambuilding and this is for good reason…there are many different types and combinations of needs that emerge for teams in terms of this scale. You may gather that each level of the scale can be expanded (e.g. team member effectiveness may expand into the field of self-directed teams, fluid organic teaming, cross functional teaming or even “salt and pepper” joint venture project group interaction). Different organisations require different types of teambuilding (beware of the chap in the safari suit who has an off the shelf package of one size fits all).  You need to ask yourself what needs to be addressed and then select the correct program or intervention. There are some important points to consider in terms of the scale.

If you have a set of people who are in bad communication, quarrelsome, argumentative, emotionally over-sensitive or easily upset… you may need to start off with raising their Personal Effectiveness first so that they are more able to deal with life, people and problems as individuals. If you don’t, you will get limited value from more advanced levels of teambuilding. Why? Well the basic requirements of communication and the ability to interact comfortably will trip the team up in its effort to move forward. This is one of the reasons why teambuilding fails. There has been improper diagnosis of the needs of the team and the skill levels required to function effectively as a team. Another reason is that even a well diagnosed problem is handled with a badly structured or poorly facilitated program (this in itself is a subject for further articles).  Progressing up the scale we see that by raising the Personal Effectiveness of the members of the team, their team ability is directly improved. This is true at a supervisory or leadership level too. There are many cases where the team is not functioning well because the Supervisor, Manager or Leader in the team is weak or is the “bad apple” in the team, or is unable to deal with the “bad apple”. We see that for anyone to be effective at a higher level on the scale, they need to have the abilities of the lower levels in place. How can you lead a team if you have never been part of a team?

Or, how can you mentor a team if you have never lead a team or been mentored? Teams that miss deadlines, produce poor quality, don’t achieve targets, fail to innovate or who are at constant war with each other are dramatising one or more skipped levels in the above scale.  People that leave teams or organisations actually don’t leave teams or organisations, they leave the people or leaders in those teams or organisations.

They leave them for better leaders, better people, better cultures and better futures as a result of these. Effective teambuilding is about creating better cultures and futures for your people.  The way in which you do this is by mapping out a journey for the team and deciding how you want to use teambuilding to get the team behind an idea or vision. You need to consider how to keep them inspired enough to apply their strengths and skills in the process and consistently interested and excited about delivering the results needed. As part of this process you need to decide what levels of teambuilding you should do internally vs. contract in a specialist organisation or facilitator vs. jointly manage different stages of the journey.

Teambuilding works when the following aspects are in the place:
  1. There is a clearly defined purpose for the session
  2. There has been proper diagnosis of the needs and abilities of the team
  3. The intervention has been structured and designed to address these needs and raise the effectiveness of the team members
  4. The correct facilitator(s) have been selected to guide the process
  5. The correct environment and platform is used to house the session
  6. The correct support and resources are made available to achieve the result

Teambuilding lasts and provides maximum return for the team when it is sustained and supported… like a marriage. Any good marriage must be one where each party takes responsibility for each other, contributes to the marriage and is prepared to confront issues that inhibit the survival of the marriage. Any team like a marriage needs a healthy mix of work and play.

In saying that, there are eight different types of teambuilding (phases of teambuilding) you can include in your team’s journey.  Start off with Consultation Opportunities. These are well designed, interested focus groups or professionally facilitated feedback sessions where people are invited and encourage to share ideas, raise concerns and contribute points of view regarding where the team is now and where the team should be. Typical examples would be a series of short work sessions in the office or off-site that are well chaired to get people talking and looking at issues. We often recommend that this kind of teambuilding be designed to support a live project at work which tackles everyday real life problems rather than theoretical case studies.  You then progress to Introspection and Evaluation Meetings. These include powerful team and process examination tools which allow the team to examine processes, product offerings, strategies, skill levels, structures of interactions and to determine what is causing them to work or not work.  Honest, open communication and analysis are essential ingredients in making a step change in team performance. Teambuilding programs often fail to provide the traction required because they attempt to treat symptoms rather than causes.  This kind of teambuilding is best done in conjunction with Type 1. I have seen this work incredibly well using the backdrop of a Crime Scene investigation or Court Room environment which gets people out of their normal thinking patterns and allows new thinking, observations and learning to surface.

Use Inspirational Sessions which are highly creative in design. These sessions include music, art, expression and visualisation media. These allow people to create the vision, define the values or visually design the future. A great deal of value can be derived from Exhilaration Incentives. These are those once in a life time pattern breakers. They shift people out of their comfort zone. They are remembered forever and generally help people realise that they have infinitely more potential than they ever thought possible.  They range from climbing Kilimanjaro, Team-skydiving to sailing in the Mediterranean to adventures in the bush or out at sea capturing the sounds of dolphins off the coast of Pemba. Use these mechanisms as pivot points in the journey.  I am a great fan of Motivational Events. If done well, these are shorter half day type injections that sustain the levels of energy and drive. They reinforce the goal and recognize progress towards the goals as well as encourage and strengthen successful actions. Great examples include community responsibility projects (extreme makeovers), experiential projects which enhance planning, delegation and prioritisation; as well as fun sessions which raise levels of getting to know one another, blow off steam and enhance communication between team members. They don’t need to be too physical or too theoretical, but rather a healthy balance of both. For the marketing folks there are Activations & Educations. These include the clever hybrids we have seen over the past few years where one turns a product launch, reveal or brand repositioning into an interactive experience that raises both intellectual understanding of the product, brand or organisation and at the same time boosts emotional connections. Great examples include challenging a group to create their very own newspaper which tells the story of how they managed the future from the present using high tech laser experiential theatres. The new product or structure is linked with the attitudes, imagery and behaviours of the process. An awesome way to get people behind and idea.

Something to keep morale up? Use Socialisers & Energisers. What a great way to end off a week. Get the team together for a crazy cocktails session, perhaps some wine blending or cooking. There is no heavy duty purpose here other than to let their hair down, build affinity and tell some stories. Stories make the culture. Give each unit or sub-team a chance to re-inforce the team DNA. This kind of teambuilding encourages personal willingness and raises levels of morale and flexibility. People build pride and forge a sense of identity and find purpose in their journey together. It’s also a great way to include clients and suppliers and build stronger teams with critical members of the supply chain.  To end off, my favourite… Celebrations! Turn being entertained into entertaining! An evening at the Oscars! A night at Rock Concert! A dancing festival! A family fun day! Remember to celebrate successes! The year-end function or start-up provides opportunities to celebrate and turn a party into a fun filled experience that cements the culture and inculcates the vision into the hearts and minds of your people. These large scale teambuilding events require support from a firm that has capacity - a capability to deal with big groups and at the same time provides professional eventing and audio visual expertise. Choose your providers well.

In the last 20 years I have seen teams and leaders do this well, and not so well. The secret to success lies in constant, interested attention. If you want to survive well, you will want to get your people working on being a team better than your opposition are doing it and together surviving by producing results of a higher value, at a better cost in a faster period of time. These will surely ensure your team will still be in the game with Team China or Team India in the years to come.

 

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