Re: Team Building

Which Approach is Best?
As you might expect, no simple answer to this question exists. The right teambuilding approach depends upon the team and the type of problems the team is experiencing. However, below are five general guidelines or “rules of thumb” regarding the use of teambuilding interventions.
a. Not all teams need teambuilding. If a team is functioning well, an investment in teambuilding is not necessary. This fact may appear to be common sense, but many organizations put all their teams through the same teambuilding experiences, regardless of whether the individual teams had a need or not.
b. Not all team problems should be dealt with by a teambuilding intervention. For example, problems caused by a poor team leader should be dealt with through private one-on-one coaching or by a management decision to replace the leader. Likewise, many teams have one person who was responsible for much of the dysfunction on the team. In these instances, this person should be handled by management through the usual performance management process, rather than by taking an entire team through a teambuilding experience.
c. Skills-based teambuilding is the first choice. The preferred teambuilding method is the skills-based approach. Many dramatic improvements in team functioning have occurred by conducting training sessions with an intact team and then guiding the team to use these skills with each other during the training session itself.
d. The teambuilding approach depends on the type of team. “Temporary” teams (teams that are formed to work on a problem and then disband when the problem is solved) and “permanent” teams (teams that stay intact over a long period of time) require different teambuilding approaches. For temporary teams that are having difficulty working together, the “problem-solving” teambuilding intervention is the first choice, which is the most practical and simplest intervention for this type of team. Most temporary teams have members that are not dedicated to the team full-time. They have their regular jobs in the organization and they work on the team as an additional duty that may require working together for one or two days a month until the team goal is achieved. This type of team does not work together on a daily basis and, therefore, doesn’t have to get along well with each other frequently. For this reason, interventions such as outdoor ropes courses, skill-based workshops, or personality testing are not worth the investment of time and resources. If the team is having trouble, a problem-solving retreat usually works well.
When it comes to “permanent” teams (e.g., leadership teams, self-directed teams, etc.) that are having problems, one or more teambuilding approaches will work. As a rule of thumb, the “skills-based” approach to teambuilding works best since these team members must learn the skills to get along with each other on a daily basis over a long period of time. However, during the life cycle of a permanent team, the team members experience ups and downs in their ability to work effectively together. Therefore starting with the skills-based approach and then later (e.g., a year or more later) taking the team through an outdoor experience, a personality-based team building experience or even a problem solving retreat works well. In particular, with mission-critical teams such as a leadership team, a problem-solving retreat every year or two, or an occasional outdoor adventure can serve to “recharge” or “reenergize” even the best functioning teams.
e. The teambuilding approach depends on the type of teamwork problem the team is facing. If the team problem is inertia (the team is “bogged down” and not getting anything accomplished), a problem-solving retreat is preferred. If the problem is lack of trust, various outdoor activities have been highly effective in helping people understand and deal with trust. If the problem is the team cannot reach consensus and cannot resolve conflicts, the skills-based approach provides the skills needed to resolve these problems. If members are talking behind each other’s back and not being open with each other, the skills-based approach or an outdoor exercise can help focus and help deal with these issues. If members are not getting along well with each other, the skills-based, personality-based, and outdoor activities, in that order of preference, provide the team with the support needed.
There is one final success ingredient that cuts across all four types of team interventions: a strong and committed leader. It is vital to team advancement to have a leader who clearly stands behind the intervention and who communicates the expectation that teambuilding lessons must be applied and sustained over time. A weak leader more often than not leads to poor long-term intervention results; a strong leader increases the chance that the intervention will succeed.
Teams of people working together to improve the business have proven to be one of the best ways to run a business. The more successful the teams are at working together, the better the business outcomes and the higher the satisfaction of the team members. When team members do not work together well, organizations can, unfortunately, experience the opposite effect: lack of consensus, wasted meetings and meeting time, mediocre or poor execution of work tasks, and low morale. The four types of teambuilding interventions presented here, when employed in the right way for the right type of team problem, can considerably improve team performance.