Team Building Sucks!


Authentic "team building" requires a bit of pain, but the pain is less severe when the process is well-managed.

We’ve all seen those cheesy stock images of “a team”, you know the nice looking folks playing the archetypal and harmonious corporate team (like the one used here).

When you really stop and think about it though, these stock images look too “cookie cutter” and superficial. About as fake and superficial in fact as some team building programmes seem to be these days.

Nice clean and contrived shots like that often show aspirational diversity, high-fives and smiles all round. PowerPoints, brochures and websites are filled with these wonders of modern corporate propaganda.

The shame is that many corporate teams will to try to play the contrived illusion of harmony without necessarily facing the grittier, but far more rewarding realities of what it takes to build a really decent team.

Real high performance teams are unlikely to be as clean, pretty or “cookie cutter” as the stock images and stereotypes suggest, but they’ll have the depth where it matters (warts and all).

No matter how brilliant a team may seem to be, people’s hot buttons will still be pushed at times, and those “amygdala” moments of fight or flight will still occur with the potential to damage relationships. It’s all down to how maturely and skillfully those moments are understood and handled.

Realistic expectations need to be built based upon the actual behaviours that are projected by each person into the team. This alone will help a great deal. It requires some depth of understanding to be sought about what actually makes the team tick.

Real “team building” takes some courage to dig deeper, to go through the right stages together and to be honest about what we are actually good at, and what we are not so good at.

We don’t need to LOVE one another, in fact we don’t even need to LIKE one another, but we simply must UNDERSTAND one another.

And it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, as there’s usually heaps of “good stuff” to build upon, it’s just that the flipside of the coin also requires some attention. Teams will always have positives to work with, you just need to make sure that you are also addressing the allowable weaknesses.

The realization that it’s actually OK to drive each other nuts at times can be helpful. We just need to better understand why it happens, and then appreciate how it’s likely a natural, and indeed welcome aspect of our team’s dynamics.

All teams will develop along a trajectory of predictable stages whether you look at Tuckman’s model of Form – Storm – Norm – Perform, or the very latest insights from neuroscience that address how the social systems of the brain function.

All teams will need to understand and then work through their variances of operating styles and personalities to move forward along an upward trajectory.

Those who aspire to that “image” of the perfect team, may be wary or even frightened of doing the hard work needed to progress through some stages. It does require a level of openness and authenticity that can be confronting initially, but then tremendously empowering when it’s properly worked through. It might not be “pretty” in some stages, but it’s what you need to deal with to progress.

Reticence to “dig too deep” can be driven by a fear of having to deal with the tough stuff or perhaps of bruising some important egos as people openly discuss strengths and weaknesses within the team. All too often this results in the “easy wrong” course of action being taken when it should have been the “harder right” in terms of the styles of programme being selected.

Teams may end up being engaged in an expensive and haphazard series of one off events, retreats and interventions that may be “safe”, and leave a nice short term buzz but very little else in their wake.

This may keep the venues and consultants busy and cashed up, but where does it leave the team if they are always stopped short of doing the actual work to move forward?

How they will deal with the inevitable speed bumps and growing pains that will hit all teams regardless of how many retreats they have attended together?

The one-offs and the retreats are of course fine in the right context, but they can be misleading if actual long-term developmental outcomes have expected but the hard work of linking it all together has been avoided.

Genuine team development is built upon facts about what behaviours really exist within the team. These insights then need to be worked though intelligently and professionally. This ensures that teams will actually progress forward together and are not just sweeping the tough stuff under the mat.

Maybe some feathers will get ruffled during serious team development, but better some ruffled feathers than a whole bird plummeting into the ground because it didn’t learn to fly properly.

Having strategies for dealing with “necessary conflict” maturely, and averting the “unnecessary conflict”, is but one important factor. Another is identifying what cognitive biases will arise under pressure and how they will influence team operation and decision-making.

Delving into not just how we work at our best, but also how we will operate and behave at our worst can be a bit tough to discuss, but remains an effective way of moving forward as a team.

A genuine team development programme will be built upon solid diagnostics that will clearly indicate the actual dynamics, strengths and weaknesses that are at play within a team (we use The Belbin Model to do this). It brings some objectivity and a common language to the process.

Some clients might initially baulk at asking people to fill out another profile / assessment tool, or be a little afraid of what it might reveal, but when it’s anchored in an effective model like Belbin, it is a Launchpad for real and positive outcomes.

And it need not be too confrontational or painful, as the language used in a model like Belbin is actually very constructive. It meaningfully assists individuals and teams to come to some very important realisations at their own pace.

This is of course assuming a person properly versed in the use of the model for actual team development is involved in the process.

By all means have the one-off games, drinks and dinners (they still have their place of course) but if it’s genuine team development that you are after then make sure that it’s underpinned with some depth and insight first.

To see how Sabre tackles the team development process using Belbin visit our Learning section or our Belbin site at www.TeamRolesAustralia.com.au .

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