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Thursday, February 15, 2007

That's Not Teambuilding!!!

That's not teambuilding!!!

Ok, you might think that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I didn't. The things I'm going to share with you today is pretty much premeditated to open your eyes or agree with you on the fact that not all so called "teambuilding activities" build teams. We should be able to distinguish a good teambuilding design from a bad one. A facilitator who understands teambuilding from a clown acting as a parlor games master (I hope that last one did not hurt too much...hehehe).

I've said this countless times and I will say it again. Going to a teambuilding event without a clear reason and understanding of what is required to bring the team's performance to a higher level is dangerous, counter-productive and a waste of time, money and effort.

Please don't get me wrong, I love teambuilding activities especially offsite and outdoorsy types because they are a lot more fun. They are also very useful in emphasizing points and providing that "aha!" Realization which proves that experience is indeed the best teacher. Learning games however are limited at best. They won't make your team better if they are not used in the proper context of teambuilding.

You may now say, "Alright, that's fairly common sense, everybody knows that." I'll say you are right. Everyone probably knows that a teambuilding effort should help team members build trust in each other, be committed to the team's goal, establish an open channel of communication, establish norms, manage conflicts and be accountable for results. You may also say that it is fairly simple and that any experienced facilitator can do it. I'll say again that you are correct but only if the facilitator truly understands how those things work in the context of a team. Truth is I've seen some twisted ideas of what these team values mean. Let's take trust for example. Some facilitators think that asking people to fall on the arms of their teammates or blindfolding them will build trust. This is so much further from the truth what with people's natural tendency to cover their asses. A trust building activity should help people to have enough trust in their team mates enough to freely say they don't agree with them, or say they have a problem, or say they have a better idea and most importantly commit to the agreed action even if it is less than what they think is a better idea. When I say agreed action, I mean the decision that the leader takes after hearing everyone else's ideas. There is hardly any democracy in teams. Democracy is a form of government and consensus is slow and difficult to achieve.

When I was a younger and more na├»ve teambuilding facilitator, I thought it’s enough for teams to rally together towards a common goal and that people are able to manifest trust if they do not complain when management says this is the way to go. I think there are still a lot of facilitators out there who mistake group think for teamwork. Sure unity is needed but only after a compelling discussion is made towards a strategy or a way to work. This is something that a good teambuilding workshop should be able to help people do. Here are some of the other things I suggest that you look for when you are planning to engage a facilitator to lead your teambuilding activity:

  • A good facilitator should give you a framework or concept not just a hodgepodge of fun activities like rope swinging or traversing and have you shooting at each other. Don’t rely on the person’s background or experience, ask him/her how s/he pictures a good team and how he intends to help them team suit that picture.

  • Since teambuilding is a process, the teambuilding facilitator’s role should not end in the one, two or three-day event that he prepared for you and your team. Ask the facilitator for feedback and recommendations and ask him to help you follow through. There must be a follow through!

  • Focus should not be on what is the most fun or death defying activity to do to meet people’s adrenalin thirst, but on what to do with the knowledge acquired in the program

  • A good workshop leaves people with something concrete to do in order to better the team not just a bunch of emotions caused by some touchy-feely activities.

Alright, you might say “Ed do you have an ulterior motive here? Are you trying to sell your programs again” I’ll sheepishly say… Well, yes… But you don’t have to buy my program to succeed as a team. All you have to do is know the components of a good team and do something to get your team from here to there… and yes, a good teambuilding facilitator can help.

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