Kevin P. Dincher
So, someone at your weekly staff meeting just said two words that sent shivers down your spine: team building.
You’re hoping that no one noticed you rolling your eyes, but you know you saw the person sitting next to you cringe. There must be someone somewhere who has had an experience with team building that was a success and not a waste of time, but you’ve never met them—and you certainly aren’t one of them. When the exercises are over, everyone just goes back to doing what they were doing before—having learned little more than that Bill is allergic to peanuts, Liza has four cats and Jack is just as annoying outside of work as he is on the job. It is easy to become cynical.
There are many reasons why many team building effort fails. An unskilled facilitator. Poor planning. Bad or inappropriate exercises. Unclear goals. But a common reason team building efforts fail is that you shouldn’t have been doing team building in the first place. Team building is not a panacea; there are problems that cannot be solved with team building—and trying to solve them with team building is counterproductive.
Do not do team building to try to solve individual performance issues. Team building is not a substitute for supervision. When an individual’s performance is negatively impacting the effectiveness of the team, deal with these issues one-one-one. Using team building to address individual performance issues will backfire and damage morale. Everyone knows that they are suffering through this only because George is a poor performer.
Do not do team building when the problem is a lack of resources. If a team does not have the people, budget, materials or technology that it needs to succeed, team building will not make up for that. You need to work with your boss to determine how to acquire the needed resources. Doing team building when the real need is for additional resources will only increase frustration.
Do not do team building when the problem is that team members do not have the skills needed to do the job. Do training instead. It can be difficult to determine whether the problem is team related or skill related, particularly when it comes to issues such as poor decision-making, communication, priority setting, etc. But careful assessment is needed to determine whether to do team building or training. To do team building when the real problem is lack of skills will result in frustration and morale problems.
Do not do team building when the team has had a bad experience with team building. In these situations it is important to hold off on team building. Effective team building results in a change in the way people work individually and together–therefore, team building requires commitment. It is important that everyone on the team—both the leader and the team—understands this and commits to making these changes happen. When your team has had a bad experience with team building, they will not be able to commit either to the team building process or to the changes that team building might require. Instead of an all-out team building initiative, leaders need to look for ways to help your team improve its effectiveness during regular meetings. As the team makes progress, it may eventually become ready for a full-fledged team building effort.
The concept of team building has been around since the 1960s, and team building efforts will continue to multiply as leaders increasingly embrace developing people and teams as an indicator of their own leadership success. Effective team development requires knowing when to do team building—and when not to do team building.
Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education, counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.
LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher