Motivational and Media Skills Articles

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September 2003 Issue


Why is "teambuilding" often getting a ' ho-hum' reaction by organisations and their staff? Two words: Ineffective results.

The reasons for an ineffective teambuilding exercise can be caused by several reasons. For starters, sometimes, teambuilding is the WRONG intervention. This can be if there is significant hostility in the group towards management or key individuals. Perhaps a group is currently re-negotiating a collective pay increase. In such cases, a different sort of intervention is needed. Many so-called teambuilding exercises or programmes stumble along, and are crippled with " gripe sessions" about issues not related to teambuilding. A failure by a consultant or HR manager to customise a programme will lead to any one of the above undesirable outcomes arising.

Another reason could be poor group assessment. Many so called " teams" put through an exercise of teambuilding are merely " work groups". These are semi-independent individuals who consult each other only when they need to, and move to a common goal at different intensities and effectiveness. One up from this are " emerging teams" where the basis of a shared vision, decisive and trusted leadership are just beginning to be felt. At the top end of the scale are "performing teams".

The last and very common reason is that, on occasion, an organisation does not want " teambuilding". What they want is " fun and games" that look like teambuilding. You can recognise these events easily. Often packed with a strong " rah-rah" factor and thumping background music, groups compete with each other in group ' challenges' with a final outcome of smiling, sweaty staff. In some cases, this is what an organisation needs. But if deep changes are needed this kind of " teambuilding" has no real lasting organisation-change values.

So, how do you plan a great teambuilding programme with measurable results at the end? Here are FOUR steps.

1) Assess a group's " team " profile. At Everest Business Consulting, we use a Team Building Inventory ( TBI ) questionnaire that addresses many dimensions of a team. This questionnaire is to be completed by the whole team. A sufficient number of questions on each dimension are asked. The length of the questionnaire allows less than honest responses to be evened out ( it is hard to lie all the time! ). In addition to the TBI, a qualitative briefing should be sought between the programme designer and the group's manager to see which areas need addressing. Not all groups/teams are equal. The briefing should be the additional subjective information to the scoring analysis of the TBI.

2) After the TBI has been scored and the qualitative input gathered, a degree of re-contracting may occur. This is because the organisation's management's view may be at odds with what the scoring has revealed. This stage can be very relevant in unearthing deep-rooted , but unspoken issues in the organisation. A teambuilding programme may have to be change or re-contracted because of these results. Specific outcomes should be discussed be they in areas of cross-functional communication, motivational issues, morale or trust.

3) Execution of the programme has to take place shortly after the TBI results are assessed. The content of the programme has to suit the specific group. For example, certain high-energy programmes may not be right for older or less-active staff. The facilitator has to devise similar learning outcomes with different devices. It should be fun. having fun encourages openness and sharing. A certain degree of house-rules should include the suspension of using mobile telephones and 'solo' smoking/tea breaks. Make clear the team is there to learn about themselves and what they need to do. Multi-day programme should allow participants to contact their bosses at least once a day to let them know how the programme is progressing and what they have been learning.

At Everest Business, we use a combination of indoor and outdoor team management systems . A major chunk of our programmes focus on " learning by doing' - where people are made to realise, through their own actions that certain attitudes are present and whether the team should need more of them or less of them. Indoor components strive to have teams contracting with their team members a set of acceptable or desirable behaviour and communication levels. This combination of 'self-realisation' and external facilitation leads to better trust and performance levels.

4)At the conclusion of the programme, a Team Effectiveness Inventory ( TEI ) should be given to all. It should be administered about 30 days after the programme. In there, elements of true teams are projected and participants invited to give their views if there have been no changes, insignificant or significant changes. From the scoring of the TEI, an organisation will be able to know which areas have succeeded from the team building exercise and which have been less successful. The TEI, combined with anecdotal feedback should give an organiser a good idea of the efficacy of the programme and future interventions needed to address the other areas lacking in progress.

Remember, teambuilding is not a cure-all. There may be other, more effective interventions nor is it a one-off programme. It should have a definite beginning and a long-term process of programmes and assessments to determine its effects.

David Lim

Corporate Motivator, Trainer

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