Oh No Not Team Building!!

It was some lonely out of the way converted barn in the middle of Wales, in the middle of winter. The barn was also barely converted. My company’s CEO had felt that the best way to fuse the staff into a team was to drop us in a field, miles away from intended destination and with the aid of a map, compass and each other, we would find our way triumphantly there. We were told in advance that we may argue and fight, but we would see how if we all worked together, as one, we could battle the elements and reach our goal. We did bond as a team on that cold November evening, as we trudged back to the drafty, cold barn, wet and muddy. We bonded and agreed that we hated the CEO and that there must be a better way of making a living than this.

For me this was my first experience of someone’s idea of a Team Building weekend. I have been on many more since. Some worse, some a little better, but not much. One was organized by a Human Resource Director/Drill Sergeant, who felt that a good physical test in the great outdoors would be good for bonding. It was good for a broken leg (not mine), a mild heart attack (also not mine) and a bee sting (yes that one was me).

Team Building for many people is an Oxymoron, like Government Initiative or Happily Married. I am of course joking about the last one. Especially, if my wife is going to read this. As she always tells me we are very happily married. I however digress. The one thing I discovered on that night in a cold field in Wales, and that I have found on every subsequent ill-conceived weekend away since, is you simply cannot make teams of people this way. The facts are simple, when you bring everyone back from the woods, after they have been learning to pitch tents and build campfires, nothing at work really changes, and it shouldn’t be a surprise.

So what can you do? Well it’s a big subject. It’s gotten to be way more complex also since many of us are working with virtual teams, different time zones as well as geographies and some companies have a complicated matrix structure. Cultural differences also play a very big part in the dynamics of teams. So let’s concentrate on one aspect – A virtual team spread over 10 countries. When you do bring everyone together, perhaps once or twice a year, what do you normally concentrate on? Well I know from experience that this tends to be some presentations or discussions on numbers, or a new initiative followed by some drinks in the evening. How about gearing the time together to ensure that those conference calls and WebEx sessions are more productive in the coming 12 months. Rather than spending this valuable time together largely doing what could be done on those conference calls, how about you spend a little time talking about the idea of the team.

Get everyone to give the team a score out of 10. Add them up and find the median. So if the team scores 6, ask them all to write down some of areas that will bring that score up to 8. Throw these up on a flip chart there will likely be areas of agreement. In one such meeting I held, it was agreed that we all receive simply too many emails. People were getting bogged down reading mails. In many cases they did not really apply to them, but only discovered this after reading them of course. We had a consensus to have a good think before sending mails. To use the phone when it was more appropriate. We followed up and month on month and we kept track. The mails got better in terms of size and number and there was less confusion in general. I even know of one company who now has a rule that no emails are to be sent on a Friday. If you want to talk pick up the phone or organize your communication for another time. It was one simple aspect of thinking as a team that paid off.

You need to keep talking about teams. You don’t have to spend forever on it, but how about once a month dedicating a meeting to tracking proposed improvements through feedback? It’s a few minutes each month that could save you a fortune in all kinds of ways. It’s got to be better than dragging your employees out to a cold Welsh field in the dead of winter and telling them to be a team, and they might not hate you quite so much!

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