Team building is a very complex business tool and if employed properly, combines the best of science with the art of persuasion and intuition. Science I define as psychology, finance and marketing. The science part comes with such training as organizational psychology. Adapted from author Robert Burns, it might generally be accept that the aphorism in team building could be: The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Of course there are other expressions that substantiate the fact that these type events can have unexpected consequences. Remember, you can lead a horse to water and getting the horse to drink adds a whole different dimension. Open for discussion here is a focus on executive level efforts to build team work.
In research conducted by the University of Central Florida, they found that “team building does indeed make measurable improvements on team performance,” noted Alex Palmer-Successful Meetings. “Team building should be viewed as a means to an end, not the end,” says Bryan Mattimore of Growth Engine. Talking about results, Mattimore noted, a team he worked with put a dollar amount on what they thought would be the results from a team enhancement effort. At the end of one year they had achieved 60% of the target. Yeah, team building does work, but there are caveats.
Mr. Palmer, in his “Successful Meeting” article summarized the thoughts of several people in the team building consulting industry; yes it is an industry and yes, the industry is alive and well in corporate America. And, it is certainly changing due to the make-up of executive workforces, cultural integrations, economics, and education. Nonetheless, effective efforts at team building are still contingent on good statement of objectives (as opposed to strategies), knowing your audience/market, and employing the right tools/activities to achieve stated objectives through good strategies and should be creative.
A few years ago I wrote an article entitled “Building a Team Building Plan-A Business Plan Approach”. The premise is that specificity in team improvement plans is important when it comes time to roll-out the event. Depending on the scope of the future event, maybe a small meeting would work well when planning for an executive team building meeting?
Let’s consider all the changes taking place in organizations and there are some subliminal benefits in calling “team building” by another moniker that positions such events in a new light. I am suggesting that the very words-team building-has taken on connotations that are arcane or in the least, outdated. For example, no one today refers to the internet at the “information superhighway” as was popular in the 90’s. These events or functions of the past and somewhat still in place today, are about competitions, trust building (the old Trust Fall), and forced kum ba yah experiences. Alex Palmer reports that 31 percent of participants in team building dislike such activities. A more malleable term in today’s business environment (especially in the technology sector) might be Focus Reset Meeting, Team Review Meeting, Team Retreat, or something like: Let’s Just Do It (sorry Nike). Ultimately, given a new name to a team building will not mitigate poor planning, poor communications and poor execution.
By the time a person gets to a senior management level, they know what their calling is: finance, marketing, sales, operations, manufacturing, etc. They also recognize there are certain organizations with a culture/personality that fits the executives’ personal style: hard charging, analytical, measured, go along to get along, be reserved in broadly attended meetings, don’t comment about other executive’s areas, etc. Point being, there are a lot of cultural issues that dictate the operating modus operandi of an organization; this may be with a relative new organization or one well established. The landscape is replete with executives trying to change organizational culture. Remember Mr. Scully at Apple who wanted to change the culture established by Steve Jobs. Bottom-line, understand the culture of a company and of the myriad teams and do not use a team building event to change culture; make the culture work for the immediate future. Best thing to do here is innovate; don’t rely on a set menu of old team building activities and execution tricks.
Organizational issues take years to change, depending on how entrenched the issues. But they may be subtlety addressed even with team building.
Ms. Alison Green, an author on management issues, focuses a lot about knowing “The Audience”. By knowing an audience she is talking about parameter’s within which to enhance team building experience. Activities are just one tool in the bag of tricks to utilize, but the trick is to pull out the right tools-“Many people hate them (athletic activities),” she says. “They hate them because the company chooses activities that violate people’s dignity or privacy, or the activity is simply not fun to one and all.”
Further, today’s executives (remember, the focus is on executive team enhancement) are not motivated or directed in the same way as an entry-level employee group/teams, obviously. So, do not try to play manipulative games or try manipulation techniques with executive team audiences. It seems to achieve better results when being straight forward and simply explain to the audience the end game.
With any audience, follow-up with the group relative to progress, goal achievement or need for course corrections is critical; it reinforces the learning experience and sense of accomplishment. Even a simple act of including executives significant others can impact an overall effort.
The following are some comments to consider when planning executive Focus Meetings. (Executive levels I would define at Director Level and above.)
- The person in charge of planning the executive team event should define the objective of the gathering and why it is import.
- Ask for every member of the team to present data or some metrics to the team.
- Include significant others where possible and appropriate.
- Talk about competitive pressures and opportunities. There are always external factors requiring attention, even when looking within the organization.
- Give all members the opportunity to impress others on the team.
- When explaining the objective’s, give details to substantiate the reason for the team building event.
- In a wrap up to an event, the leader must be prepared to present a summary of the event to include goals and criteria that defines reaching goals.
- Show schedule of follow-up of the team meeting to review the goals and results, and any needed corrections.
- Activities should not be competition based but rather oriented toward relationship building.
Some axioms for a little levity:
- Not everyone will like you but they should respect you.
- Everyone is different.
- Rules are subject to change.
- Leaders are always on stage and being evaluated. Therefore, stay away from politics, religion and too much drink.
- Know the art of the direct and indirect approach to interpersonal contacts.
- Admitting error only works occasionally.
- Talent wins games; but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.- Michael Jordan
- Always be prepared.
- Change is constant.
Every organization will always be faced with challenges that are best addressed by teams; no man is an island is the operative concept o that may be applied to team building; no team member is an island.
Organizational research is a fascinating field that study how best to make organizations and their teams work better together. Team building attempts to add structure to a response to change (internal and external) and the constant need for organizational improvement. Need, timing, content, resources and place will dictate how such events are carried out and good planning will minimize risk of anything less than total success.