A long time ago, on a end of year event, I took part in a ‘team building’ event that even today makes me wince. A room full of peers, seniors and execs, wandering round blindfolded, making animal noises and impressions to try and find people of the same type of animal as them. I hated it. I worked out the people facilitating this weren’t watching everybody, removed my blindfold and spotted my group (they were elephants, so not too hard), and walked over and stood by them.
For me, that session was dead at that point. The thought that I might have to do something as equally cringy or worse, became my most prominent thought. Looking back, I realise now that not only is that exercise the thing that sticks out, I don’t even remember what the point of it was. Nor can I remember anything else about the 3 hour session (except being given red, yellow and green cards to show to people if they acted negatively/positively around me – that’s another story).
January is the usual annual Kick off event time, and LinkedIn is full of people posting photos from their SKOs around the world. There are some really strong messages coming out about ‘ starting right’, ‘2020 is the year for xxx’, ‘inspiring talk from xyz’, but surprisingly little about team building. Which got me thinking, is team building dead? Or is it due a revival?
Before we decide on that, there are three questions we need to think about;
- Why would we do it?
- What would the people get from it?
- Why might they not get involved or do it at all?
In the race for the best talent in business, its important to think about what drives people to want to come into work every day. And generally, most people will say it’s the people they work with, that’s the biggest pull. In the military, men and women who have been in that close knit bond with other people in their unit, struggle to adapt to the civilian world where those bonds aren’t as strong. And to go into situations as challenging as military or emergency services, you have to have a strong belief in both what you are doing, and who you are doing it with, if you are to survive or even thrive in those environments.
Team building should be about defining, refining and enhancing your culture, and reinforcing those strong common goals, bonds and relationships between your people. Too often we mistake shared tasks for common goals – building a raft and sailing down the river rapids doesn’t necessarily mean Frank in Accounts, and Anne in sales will suddenly start working together afterwards.
Here are my tips to successful team building;
- Know your people. Bit of a catch all answer this one, but its relevant every single time. What types of people do you have? What do they like/dislike? How many are extroverted/introverted? This gives you a good chance to think about how they work today, where are the gaps, what are the common themes in the teammate surveys/feedback sessions? Do you see any areas that aren’t firing the way they should? Do you know why?
- Make it a safe environment – set the expectations and rules clearly at the beginning about what this is for, and that everybody can speak freely and respectfully in the group. To avoid it becoming a moanfest, ask people to mention both things they want to see improved, and what ideas they have to improve them. Some people wont be comfortable in speaking out in front of a group, so think about ways you can interact with them before or during the session 1 on 1.
- Define your vision. Everybody needs to have an end goal in sight, to understand what they are aiming for, and to feel part of something that has importance. When you define your vision, it allows you to be aspirational, as well as set something realistic. “Achieve 15% growth” is not a vision – “become the trendsetter in our business for innovation and personal development” gives people something beyond their day to day tasks to think about.
- Agree the purpose. All businesses will have a purpose, or mission statement – but we rarely open it up truly to our teams to get their view on what that is. Or what it means to them. Having defined the vision for your team, getting a shared sense of purpose – what are they here to do – will not only help you to develop a unified team, its also a great way to get feedback and ideas on what it COULD and SHOULD mean to be in your team. This will also help when you recruit in the future – you know what the team culture is, and will find it easier to think about whether candidates will truly fit.
- Make it fun. Think of ways of embedding this team purpose in something light hearted – design a crest, or create a poster with the core principals on it. Build a diary plan of things you can do in the future, events, meals/nights out etc. Remember that there are introverts and extroverts in your group, so not everybody is going to like every activity or suggestion – so keep looking for neutral ideas and ways of keeping everybody involved wherever possible.
- Help your team to understand each other. There are a whole host of tools available to support this, DISC profile (https://www.discprofile.com/what-is-disc/overview/), Strengths finder (https://www.gallup.com/press/176429/strengthsfinder.aspx), are two good examples of profiling designed to think about peoples behaviours, what drives them, and how we can work with them. If you understand your people, the next step is helping them to understand themselves and the people around them.
- Follow it up. On lots of occasions, we see people think that one session, one KO, one day or weekend will be enough. It takes time for changes to embed, so find ways of going back to the points raised and agreed on, and reinforce the messages to your team. Its also a good way of thinking about what might have changed for them, or the business, and does your purpose and/or vision look slightly different now?
- Live it. If you aren’t living the values or culture of your business, how do you expect your team to? Lead by example, and make sure you are clear to everyone connected to your team about what the team expects from them.