When Should Managers Do Team Building?

Kevin P. Dincher

In a recent article about why team building efforts are often less than successful (Team Building?!?! Oh, No!) I said, “…effective team development requires knowing when to do team building—and when not to do team building.” Since the article was about failed team building efforts, I focused on knowing when not to do team building and identified some situations when managers often attempt team building but shouldn’t. Of course, that left the other half of the statement hanging: when should you do team building?

Do team building when you can clearly identify a need for improving the team’s performance.  Team building is about improving team performance—not about promoting a team environment. Effective team building changes the way your people work (both individually and as a group) so that the team is better able to meet its goals and achieve its mission.

Team building that focuses nebulously on “building a team environment” or “promoting teamwork” or some other “feel good” purpose rarely result in change—and are the type of team building sessions that tend to produce cynicism and resistance. No one believes anything will be different once everyone returns to the office—except perhaps that they will be further behind in their work after being away for a day or two. And they are probably right.

Effective team building addresses your team’s real needs and enhances the team’s ability to meet the needs of its customers, co-workers and other stakeholders—and needs to be designed to achieve tangible and important performance outcomes.

The need to improve performance may be internal to the team. Obviously, any breakdown within the teamwork indicates that a team needs help. Poor execution and troubled interpersonal relationships are frequent reasons that managers initiate team building. Dysfunctional behaviors like

  • Avoidance of team interactions (i.e., missing meetings)
  • Chronic complaining
  • Decreased communication, directness and openness
  • Absenteeism, apathy or lack of interest
  • Blaming others or undermining the efforts of others

keep people from working effectively together and may be signs of “team distress.”

Managers must determine if these are the behaviors of just one or two individuals or are widespread throughout the team. If they are the behavior of a couple of individuals, then the manager needs to address these behaviors on an individual basis. If, however, these behaviors are widespread, then team building can help address the underlying issues—but only if you pinpoint the specific issues and needs, establish clear performance goals for the team building effort, and design a team building effort that specifically addresses those issues.

The need to strengthen team performance may be strategic. Even if your team does not show signs of “team distress,” changes and circumstances can challenges your team’s ability to maintain its effectiveness or provide opportunities for your team to “up its game.” Team building can help with a wide range of these needs.  Just a few examples are:

  • You are new as the team leader or there are several new team members;
  • The team needs to agree on its strategic vision or clarify its shared values in light of changes in the company’s strategy;
  • The team needs to strengthen its relationship with internal and/or external customers;
  • The company is going through a major change—such as a merger or acquisition—that impacts roles, structure and lines of authority, and your team needs help shifting gears.
  • The team needs to form strategic alliances with another team and start to work more effectively across what had previously been clear boundaries.

Team building can help your team determine how to address these issues and ensure its ongoing effectiveness—although, just was with issues of team distress, only if you pinpoint the specific issues and needs, establish clear performance goals for the team building effort, and design a team building effort that specifically addresses those issues.

Identifying real needs helps build commitment. Since the expectation for team building is usually some change in the way people work, team requires a commitment by the team leader and by every member of the team. Everyone on the team needs to understand that the effort is about making changes and needs to commit to the resulting changes. When team building addresses specific needs that your people experience as real and when the goals of team building are clear, tangible and important, then your people are more likely to commit—and your team building effort more apt to succeed in improving your team’s performance.

So, when should you do team building? When you:

  1. Can identify a need for improved performance on the part of the team,
  2. Can establish clear, tangible and important goals for the team building effort, and
  3. Can plan a team building effort designed specifically to achieve those goals.

Kevin P 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.  Kevin currently provide services to non-profit organizations through a partnership with Professionals in Philanthropy.

LinkedIn: Kevin P. Dincher

 

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Good Managers Hire Slow and Fire Fast—Not Vice-versa (Part 1)

Kevin P. Dincher

I’ve never watched The Apprentice, the TV series that turns getting fired into a game show, because I don’t find firing people particularly entertaining. 25 years ago as a new and inexperienced manager, I fired an employee for the first time. She already had a lengthy history of poor quality work, low productivity, bad judgment, negativity and troublesome work relationships when I inherited her; nevertheless, firing her was a drawn-out and excruciating experience. As a result, however, I learned early on the importance of hiring the right people—and not hanging on to the wrong ones. You need a top-notch team to do your best work, and so the most important thing a manager does is decide who to hire and fire. Making good decisions about who is—and who is not—on the payroll is critical to your company’s success—and your own success.

Don’t Hire too Quickly—but not too Slowly Either

Because the pressure to fill vacant positions is enormous, the tendency is to rush. The wrong help, however, is worse than no help—and hiring the wrong person is costly. You need to take time to really think about each and every hire you make and not settle for a warm body. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal: a high performing employee who meets your needs and is a good fit for your company and team.

Identify What You Need. 

Before you start recruiting, whether filling an old position or creating a new one, figure out what your real need is. If your business is growing, identifying the need can be especially difficult but also incredibly important because you need to be forward thinking and hire for where you want your company to go, not where it has been. But every hiring manager needs to remember: you are hiring to fill a need, not a slot. And don’t forget the intangibles; how important are collegiality, commitment, passion, confidence, communication skills, patience, high energy, and the like? Identifying these intangibles is just as critical to making good hiring decisions as identifying technical skills.

Put It in Writing

After you have identified your needs, create a job description with as much detail as possible. You want candidates and new hires to be clear about responsibilities from the start so there are no confused expectations. Additionally, be sure to have your company policies and procedures for employees in writing. That will save you big headaches later if someone doesn’t work out.

Don’t “Wing It” at the Interview

I am always amazed when managers tell me they don’t prepare their interview questions ahead of time. There isn’t enough space here to go into all the reasons why this is a bad idea—and how that contributes to hiring the wrong person. Prepare your interview questions before you start scheduling interviews. Yes, a good interviewer is flexible because a good interviewer is a good listener and knows when to follow-up on something unexpected, unusual or unique. But remember your ultimate goal:  a high performing employee who meets your needs and is a good fit for your company and team. In order to achieve this goal, you need to come away from the interview with the right information. If the interview process ends without your having obtained that information, then the interview was a failure. Forbes has a list of some good standard interview questions—but be sure to include some company specific questions and to ask questions that give you a sense of the candidate’s personality.

By the way, never be the only person to interview candidates; have other managers and team members do interviews. They provide important perspectives and make sure that the new employee fits with the existing culture.

Finding someone you like, your team likes and fits your needs and company can take time. Don’t rush it.

But Don’t Take Too Long Either.

Hiring too slowly can create its problems. It is possible to over-process a hire. I have seen teams who think “just to be sure” they should interview 3 more candidate—and then just 3 more, and then just 3 more. I recently spoke with an HR Director at a company that had recently filled a large number of new senior level positions. Candidates went through 15 rounds of interviews! 15! The best candidates withdrew from consideration before finishing the process. When you take too long, you actually risk losing the best hire.

When you are too slow to hire, you also risk your team members becoming overwhelmed and falling behind as they try to fill in or work doesn’t get done. Your organization goes into firefighting mode, and acting strategically becomes increasingly difficult. It becomes harder to solve the hiring problem; the more behind you are due to everyone being so busy, the less time you have to devote to finding and interviewing candidates. In the end, hiring too slowly then flips into hiring too fast as companies over-correct. “Just hire someone so we can move on!”

You need to find a balance so that you are hiring slowly, but not too slowly

Fire Fast … continued


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

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Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (II)

Kevin P. Dincher

Continued from Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (I)

Your team can’t describe its mission?  Then maybe you are actually leading a “group” masquerading as a “team.”   Calling a group a “team” doesn’t make it so – and if you are a leader, knowing the difference between a “group” and a “team” needs to be more than a case of semantics.   “As a leader, it’s important to make this ‘Groups v Teams’ distinction.  Your approach to leading each will be completely different.   For managers to make better decisions about whether, when, or how to encourage and use teams, it is important to be more precise about what a team is and what it isn’t” (The Discipline of Teams, Harvard Business Review) .   In other words, knowing whether you are leading a “group” or a “team” is critical to your success.  (Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (I))

Leading a team is much more complex than leading a group.  Team work is rooted in a shared mission, focuses on collaboration, and progresses through developing interactive relationships.  Therefore both communication and conflict take on different qualities when you are leading a team—and require a different set of skills if you are to effectively facilitate the web of relationships between team members and between the team and its collective outputs.

Communication

Managing communication within a workgroup is difficult enough—but compared to managing communication in a team managing a workgroup’s communications is a walk in the park.  Communication in workgroups tends to be about information flow—getting information to the people who need it.  But teamwork occurs through complex, collaborative relationships and progresses through discussion, dialogue and even conflict.

  • To be a successful team leader you need to develop your facilitation skills.  First of all, you must to be able to effectively facilitate a dialogue among the team members that leads them to a shared commitment to their common mission–or else they will never become a genuine team.
  • The collaborative nature of teamwork requires ongoing consensus building among team members; as a team leader you need consensus-building skills.
  • Good active listening skills are the key to promoting dialogue and to building consensus.  Active listening skills enable you to help team members to express themselves.  These skills also make it possible for you to uncover unspoken assumptions among team members and clarify nuances in meaning.  Perhaps most challenging, the nature of teams as collaborative relationships means that you need to listen for and respond to underlying feelings as team members develop relationships, discuss their work and work towards decisions.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict in workgroups tends to be more personal rather than professional.  One employee’s behavior or attitude is annoying to other employees or is interfering with other employees’ ability to get their jobs done.  When group leaders become aware of the conflict (and decide to do more than hope that it will eventually blow over), resolving the conflict is a matter of dealing with a difficult employee’s behavior:  you consult with HR, follow procedures, and struggle to manage the behavior of the employees involved.

Conflict in teams is a very different kettle of fish.  Of course it may have a personal element at times, but conflict in teams is more often professional.  Conflict is inevitable in collaborative relationships among a group of diverse professionals with varied strengths, experiences and perspectives.  Conflict over strategies, tactics, processes, etc. are bound to occur.  Conflict in teams, however, is not just an inevitable bump in the road; conflict and conflict resolution are important parts of the collaborative, consensus-building process.  Team leaders need effective conflict resolution skills to resolve conflicts while eliciting new insights, generating creativity and innovation, leaving all members of the team feeling satisfied, and keeping everyone working toward the same goal.

Leading a Team Requires Additional Skills

The mission focus and collaborative work process  of team makes them very different from workgroups with their focus on task and independent work processes.  As a result leading a team requires a different level of communication and conflict resolution skills.  What other skills do you think are needed in order to be a successful team leader?


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

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Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (Part I)

Kevin P. Dincher

Your team can’t describe its mission?  Then maybe you are actually leading a “group” masquerading as a “team.”   Calling a group a “team” doesn’t make it so – and if you are a leader, knowing the difference between a “group” and a “team” needs to be more than a case of semantics.   “As a leader, it’s important to make this ‘Groups v Teams’ distinction.  Your approach to leading each will be completely different.   For managers to make better decisions about whether, when, or how to encourage and use teams, it is important to be more precise about what a team is and what it isn’t” (” target=”_blank”>The Discipline of Teams by Katzenbach and Smith) .   In other words, knowing whether you are leading a “group” or a “team” is critical to your success.

Workgroups Cooperate

You are leading a “group” if members are focused on successfully completing their own tasks.

  • They probably recognize themselves as a distinct unit or department tasked with fulfilling a particular function.
  • Membership in the group is task-determined:  functions are broken down into tasks, positions are created to perform those tasks and people are hired to fill those positions.
  • Members of groups work together cooperatively but relatively independently to accomplish the tasks and goals assigned to their positions.   Those goals, of course, are likely related to one another, but they are distinct.
  • Performance is generally an assessment of how well individuals perform and complete their own tasks and achieve their goals.

Leading a workgroup, therefore, generally focuses on assigning tasks and managing individual performance.

Teams Collaborate

Your “group” only becomes a “team” when everyone on the team can describe a common mission—and is focused on and committed to achieving that common mission.  If they can’t describe their common mission, then they may be a group masquerading as a team.

  • Like workgroups, teams see themselves as an identifiable unit.  They may  not be  structured as a traditional department because rather than carrying out a specific function a team is chartered with achieving a mission.
  • Membership on a team is most often determined by the skills, talents and expertise needed to achieve the mission rather than by position.
  • Team members don’t just cooperate; they collaborate.  This is more than the just the intersection of goals seen in cooperative workgroup; it is a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective.  No one works independently; team members and team work are highly interdependent.
  • Teams are built on collective experience and competence—and no one succeeds simply by completing their own tasks.  Success and goals—both individual and collective—are met only when the common mission is achieved.

Leading a team is much more complex than leading a group.  Team work is rooted in a shared mission, focuses on collaboration and progresses through developing interactive relationships.  Communication, conflict resolution, employee development and culture building all require that team leaders possess a very different set of skills to facilitate the web of relationships between team members and between the team and its collective outputs.


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

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Calling a Group a Team Doesn’t Make it So

Kevin P. Dincher

Several of my clients in recent years have insisted on referring to their employees as a team and have pointed to how well their employees get along with one another as the metric of their effectiveness as a team.  This always reminds me of a story about Abraham Lincoln in That Brings to Mind, a collection of anecdotes (most of them probably apocryphal) complied by Ralph L. Marquard.

The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was asked by a congressman why he hadn’t freed the slaves earlier in his term of office.  Lincoln replied that the time had not been right; he wouldn’t have been able to enforce the proclamation. The congressman was puzzles and didn’t understand what the president meant.  Lincoln explained with a question, “How many legs will a sheep have, if you call the tail a leg?” “Five,” responded the congressman.  “Not so,” said Lincoln wisely. “Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.”

Calling a group of employees a team doesn’t make them a team, no matter how well they get along.  They may just be a group of workers who really like one another—or at least have learned to pretend to like one another.

When does a “Group” become a “Team”?

A group becomes a team when:

1.  The members share a commitment to common purpose or mission with shared goals and objectives.

Members of a group generally have a common interest in goals that are given them by management, but team members share a common commitment to purpose.  Groups and teams have differing relationships with their reason for existing; that difference is this:  while management establishes the mission of the team, the teams establish ownership of their purpose and usually spend a great deal of time establishing and clarifying their purpose.

2.  Team membership is determined by skill sets rather than by position. 

In order to function as a team, members must possess complimentary skill sets—and all the skills needed to accomplish the team’s purpose must be included on the team.

3.  The members’ performance is measure by both individual contributions and collective work outcomes.

In groups, performance is generally measured by the work of individual members.  The performance of teams, however, depends on both individual contributions and collective work products—the joint outcome of team members working in concert.

 4.  The members hold themselves and one another accountable. 

Groups and teams have different relationships with management.  Group members respond to and are held accountable by management.  Managers determine specific goals, timing and the approach that the group will take.  By contrast, once management establishes the mission of a team and sets the challenge for the team to accomplish, the team possesses the freedom to manage itself.  Although the team needs to be responsive to demands from higher up, the team is free to establish its own goals, time and approach.

Since the 1960s, leaders of organizations have increasingly embraced the potential of teams and teamwork.  They have increasing relied upon teams to increase performance.  The conventional wisdom is that teams enable organizations to do things better, faster and cheaper—and in an era when employees seek more control over their work lives, working on a team increases employee satisfaction and retention

Teams are getting a great deal of attention in the workplace today.  But are you really working on a team—or is it really a work group just called by another name?


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

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Not Value Teamwork? Who Doesn’t Value Teamwork?

Kevin P. Dincher

In my last post (Team Building? Oh, No! Wait a Minute!) I wrote about some common reasons that team building efforts fail—an unskilled facilitator, poor planning, bad or inappropriate exercises and unclear goals—and said that one of the most common reasons that team building efforts fail is that you shouldn’t be doing team building in the first place.  There are some problems that cannot be solved by team building, and trying to solve them with some team building workshop or exercise is counterproductive.  We should not be using team building to deal with individual performance issues, when the problem is a lack of resources or to compensate for team members not having the skills—and we should not be planning a team building effort when the team has already had a bad experience of team building.

Some readers responded with a few other situations when they thought team building was not an appropriate intervention.  One in particular caught my attention:  when the organization does not actually value teamwork.

Not value teamwork?  Who doesn’t value teamwork?  Every organization values teamwork, right?  Well, maybe.

Increasingly the workplace is being organized around projects that are managed by teams.  But simply launching teams, holding an annual offsite retreat or organizing an occasional staff picnic or bocce tournament does not mean that your organization actually values teamwork.  How can you tell if an organization really values teamwork?

  1. Top leaders “talk the talk”.  Executive leaders clearly communicate their expectation that teamwork and collaboration are the norm.  (By the way, you can tell a lot about what leaders and managers really think nu checking out what books they have in their on their bookshelves.)
  2. Executives “walk the walk.”  They model teamwork in their own interactions with one another and with the rest of the organization.  And they maintain teamwork even when things are not going well rather than fall back into non-collaborative behavior.
  3. Employees talk naturally about teamwork and collaboration.  They understand and can identify the value of a teamwork culture, and collaboration is part of their vocabulary.  In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions and actions are better when done cooperatively.  Is there a formal statement of company values?  Is teamwork is one of the top five values?
  4. Teamwork is recognized and rewarded.  Team successes are celebrated publicly—but the performance management system also acknowledges individual contributions to teamworkCompensation, bonuses, and rewards are tied as much to collaborative practices as to individual contribution and achievement.

So, does your organization actually value teamwork?


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

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Team Building? Oh, No! Wait a Minute!

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

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