Come together

Successful team-building programs
exhibit four key characteristics
Question: What’s your take on team-building programs? We’ve been doing some different team-building activities over the last couple of months and about the only thing it’s done is given us something to talk about at lunch. I haven’t noticed much of a change in productivity. Some of us have been concerned about how all of this sharing is going to help us do our jobs better.
Answer: You may be surprised to hear that I am an advocate of team-building programs, so long as they are structured and organized and supported by top management. I am, however, pragmatic about many of these initiatives. Too often, it seems, these programs leave participants (like you) disenchanted and frustrated. Yet, it also seems safe to say that most of us will agree that teamwork and cooperation are essential to organizational or work-unit performance.
How many companies really do a good job of developing and honing that cooperative spirit?
How many managers devote focused attention to developing a team orientation?
There are a number of reasons why managers do not succeed in their team-building activities. Those include the fact that they do not understand the benefits of a team-based approach to work. Sometimes they do not have the skill or knowledge to facilitate team building. And sometimes they lack the support of the next level of management.
In general, for team building to succeed, the following four characteristics must be present:
· The team must be committed to a common goal or purpose – In order to really work, all team members must be united around a theme or vision. The old adage “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is applicable here. Dissidents or naysayers can undermine even the most formidable team-building program.
· Members of the team must have clear roles and responsibilities – A team of individuals working together is able to do more than they could working on their own, provided that each member understands his/her role. A critical component of an effective team is the clarity around individual strengths and weaknesses. Not every member has to be good at every task. Every member does, however, need to know who is doing what and why he/she is doing it.
· A communication structure must exist that fosters the sharing of information – Information must be easily accessible and it must come from credible sources. Additionally, meeting management skills must be developed and nurtured. And a mechanism must be built for ensuring that what is agreed to is carried out.
· The team must have a sense of mutual accountability – Objective measures of performance must be established. Self-assessment must be encouraged, supported by peer assessment that is constructive and improvement-oriented.
An environment of honesty and sincerity must be fostered.
Normally, when a team building program is pursued, the following stages of development emerge:
· Forming – Developing methods of cooperation and clarifying roles/responsibilities.
· Storming – Resisting the new approaches and struggling with new ways of working.
· Norming – Coming to an understanding of how the work will be done, overcoming conflicts and in fighting, establishing trust and rapport.
· Performing – Moving to a higher level of performance and developing process improvements and systems of individual and team evaluation.
A number of team-building techniques are possible, ranging from off-site adventure-based learning programs to manager-led activities to informal team meetings during the day, over lunch, or after hours. Regardless of the approach used, the goal remains the same: to build feelings of trust and enthusiasm so as to transform individual and collective work performance.
There are some common barriers that must be overcome for team building to succeed. From the tone of your question, my sense is that you are confronting one or more of the following:
· Insufficient time – Perhaps you are using workshops to learn about team building. These might be held every couple of weeks. What is going on in between sessions? Perhaps different members are able to offer different amounts of time because of workload variations. There are no easy answers except to note that anything worth pursuing takes time. If team building is important it needs to occupy a prominent place on the schedule.
· Lack of knowledge about how to build a team – Who is facilitating the team-building process? Not everyone manager is a facilitator of group process. Not every team-building consultant is effective. Be sure that the person(s) charged with facilitating the process have the know-how to get the job done.
· Organizational culture – Not every company can support a team-based approach to work. Hierarchical, autocratic, top-down structures do not lend to participation and involvement. Management needs to be prepared to let go of some its power and decision-making authority for team building to truly work.
So, are team-building programs a waste of time? They can be, but I don’t think they have to be. Setting some realistic expectations and defining the process to be used will help to make the program a success. My advice to you is to challenge your team-building process by examining the four characteristics I shared earlier in this column.
Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D., of Organization Development Consultants (ODC) of Brookfield, provides HR CONNECTION. Small Business Times readers who would like to see an issue addressed in a future column may reach him at 262-827-1901, via fax at 262-827-8383, or via e-mail at
Aug. 17, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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