Team Building Won’t Fix the Team

By Pam Paquet

Managers commonly seek out “team building” sessions for their staff. They want a fix for low morale, falling productivity, strained working relationships and tension; but team building is not the key to better productivity and team interaction. What is needed is team alignment.

Team building – a waste of money?
Team building is misunderstood. It conjures up images of fun activities and games that magically create trust, camaraderie and positive relationships – all the things wanted in a workplace. These activities alone, however, seldom lead to the epiphany that transforms a group of workers into a smoothly running unit. The benefits generally stop when “the game is over”.

Team building is only effective when there is already a solid foundation. Workers need to have a basis of consideration, communication and collaboration. If they don’t, time and money is wasted on the activity.

What is alignment?
Staff members need basic respect for each other and some essential teamwork skills to be in alignment. Team members in alignment practice these five commitments:

1. I take 100% responsibility for my results
2. I communicate effectively
3. I am clear about my individual tasks (versus team results)
4. I acknowledge other team members’ accomplishments
5. I agree to ground rules that generate and show respect

When all members are aligned, their team routinely meets targets and provides great customer service. They exchange information and ideas, ask for clarification when needed and perform at a high level. In an aligned team, members are eager to come to work because they strive for a sense of accomplishment and are working in an atmosphere of trust. They also have fun, leading to a positive, productive environment.

The need for team alignment – mini-case study
Recently, we were contacted to create a team building session. When we talked to staff members and heard their issues, we found they were disrespectful, error-prone, frequently absent from work and had little regard for policies or each other. The need wasn’t for team building – it was for team alignment.

We focused on establishing alignment for this team through a strategic education program where training and skills were introduced in short sessions, spaced apart, to allow for implementation between sessions. In just three weeks, the formerly dysfunctional group developed a sense of responsibility, accountability and collaboration. As a result, they increased production by 17 per cent.

The customized training made the team aware of how their actions impacted each other and how their previous behaviours affected overall work-flow. They stopped blaming each other and justifying their own poor performance. The client was thrilled that we identified the real source of low performance and helped reverse it.

Team alignment or team building – what is needed?

1. “Our team is not performing well. A weekend retreat will take care of this, won’t it?”
No, this isn’t the solution. Sure, everyone will enjoy a couple days in a great resort with good food and a fabulous facilitator who will direct adventure activities and trust games. However, on Monday morning the same problems are likely to crop up because you’re not starting with an aligned team.

Until you identify the source of poor performance, you can’t correct the problems. You must address the underlying issues and develop a team foundation before you can “enhance” the team. Help your team learn the basics first through team alignment: how to communicate, collaborate and take responsibility.

2. “The problems are getting worse, now is the time to bring in a professional trainer for a quick fix.”
This response is common when early indicators have gone unaddressed. In companies where management is aware of problems and has let them get worse, a facilitator is often employed to do team building with the hope of “fixing things” in a day or two. Unfortunately, team building is unlikely to fix anything – it will only provide a forum for venting.

If you have staff members on stress-related medical leave and turnover is increasing, you need to get to the underlying issues. A delay in identifying the problems will make them grow larger and last longer. If retention rate, attendance and productivity are declining, you need the immediate help team alignment can provide.

3. “Our team has done well, how shall we reward them?”
A team at company XYZ has the enviable accomplishment of three consecutive quarters of good attendance and meeting department goals. The organization doesn’t have an incentive program so management is planning to show appreciation with a get-away. They hire a corporate trainer to help them have fun, build on strengths and emphasize what they already do well.

Team building is the right fit in this case. As long as there are no major dysfunctions to address and no individuals holding back the team, it’s a good time to build on the team’s momentum.

4. “Profits give us the means to have some fun.”
Another fortunate company wants to reward their staff for their dedication and hard work in achieving profitability, revenue and margin goals. Management plans to hold an overnight getaway with team building activities. They want to focus on what the team did well, learn from the challenges and set goals for the future. They also hope to enhance working relationships by spending time together outside of the workplace.

Team building is definitely the right fit. When companies show appreciation for hard work and results, they reap at least a twofold return in loyalty and performance. Be sure to let employees know how their contributions result in the success of the company. Team players want to stay on a winning team and continue to get a pat on the back.

There is a time for team building and a time for alignment
There is an identifiable difference between aligning a team and building a team. If a team already works well and stays on time, show appreciation with team building. If an organization is struggling to meet targets and deadlines without errors and delays, then get the team aligned using basic skills.

Get the results you want by providing the right transformational processes to your staff. Whether it’s alignment, or a situation where you can lighten up with team building, we can help you select the tools you need to create a highly productive and enthusiastic workplace.

Pam Paquet specializes in retirement transitions. She works with people and companies who believe that retirement planning is an investment that reduces stress, minimizes surprises and promotes predictability. Contact her at www.retirementchanges.com or 604-468-9094.

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  1. Jenny Desjardins November 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm · · Reply

    Loved this article,,I agree whole heartedly that a team w/o trust has a poor foundation…

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