What is the purpose of team building? This is a big question with varied answers and some debate about purpose and value.
I’m going to outline the purpose of team building here. But remember, you’ll only get value from a team building experience if it’s well executed. So after you establish the purpose for your program, make sure to take time to find a great program that matches your goals.
THE STAGES OF A TEAM
It’s important to understand who your team is and where you are in the stages of team development before you focus on the purpose of team building. There’s a classic outline of the basic stages of team development that I really like.
- Forming – The initial stage is when your team forms. A work team is brought together to achieve a goal. Two important aspects of forming are getting to know the co-workers on your team and getting familiar with your team’s purpose as you discuss and plan mission, goals and workflow.
- Storming – As you can guess, the storming stage can be turbulent as team members assess each other’s personalities, strengths and weaknesses. During the storming period, it may be a good idea to engage in a team building program. It’s vital to come out of this stage successfully; with a good appreciation of your team members.
- Norming – How will your team function on an ongoing basis? Do you acknowledge there may be competition and differences within your team. Can everyone accept colleague’s strengths and weaknesses? It’s vital to find a path forward in which you all work in a complementary fashion.
- Performing – Every team’s goal is to perform as a high functioning team with energy and purpose. This comes when there’s mutual respect among team members with boundaries that respect each other’s roles. It’s important that everyone trusts in each other’s competence and expertise.
PURPOSEFUL TEAM BUILDING
The purpose of team building is to increase trust, improve communication, increase collaboration and increase or maintain motivation.
- Let’s talk about trust – This is so important. Trust is not only calming, it’s a time saver. Trust is foundational. When a team has a foundation of trust there’s less second guessing, less duplication of tasks, a high level of confidence and more sharing. Wow…that’s a lot of stuff associated with one word. But think of how much easier it is to let other people do what they’re supposed to be doing when you trust them as being highly competent. Think of how much more secure you feel in your own role when you trust others not to encroach on your turf.
- Let’s talk communication – Your work team exists in the real world. So even if there’s a foundation of trust, things can and will go awry at some point. A team that has protocol for communicating will be able to solve problems before those problems become fixed within your team culture. There should be positive procedures in place for teammates to voice concern or annoyance. Positive communication will go a long way toward resolving little issues before they grow. And protocol for communication provides a blueprint for navigating more complex issues that may be project driven, rather than just the result of a personality clash.
- The power of collaboration – Collaboration is much easier in an environment where there’s trust and good communication. When team members understand each other’s roles and responsibilities and respect them, it’s fun to collaborate. This makes everyone better. High performing teams collaborate well; easily sharing ideas, brainstorms, successes and failures. Part of the power of collaboration is that it feeds on itself. The more you successfully collaborate, the more you’ll want to.
- The power of motivation – Motivation is so powerful and sometimes so elusive. Quite often, the purpose of team building programs are primarily to increase motivation. But that’s not so easily accomplished. In order for a team to stay motivated, members have to believe in their mission. You won’t stay motivated if you don’t believe in the work you’re doing. Engagement plays a huge part in this. When you create a culture of engagement, people feel vested in their company and their work. So engagement and motivation go hand in hand. Team building can improve both.
MATCHING PURPOSE WITH PROGRAM
Programs that overtly try to present leadership lessons or specific takeaways are less powerful then team building that focuses on spending quality time together, sharing fun experience and working towards a common goal. In a fun, happy environment learning takes place easily.
So the first purpose of team building should always be to share genuine, meaningful experience. No amount of talking points can make that happen. However, there are programs out there that will allow that to happen. When you bond with your team members through activity outside of the office you create opportunity to address all the aspects of purpose I’ve mentioned above.
Here’s an example of a great program that doesn’t promise a set of specific takeaways, but is nonetheless very successful.
The BBQ Challenge: Teams work together to create their own signature BBQ sauce, design a label and develop a marketing pitch, all to be presented to judges at the end of the event. Not only is the activity fun, it helps people get focused on the task at hand and work together toward a common goal.
The BBQ challenge incorporates creative problem solving, goal setting, compromise, working on a deadline, marketing and presentation skills. In order to succeed you have to share ideas, trust each other and allow everyone to take responsibility for his or her role. The event does end up being a metaphor for your daily work life and team function. But it isn’t presented this way. It’s simply the offering of a fun group activity that everyone can relate and contribute to.
There’s also the gratification that comes with accomplishment. In this case the accomplishment is the creation of your signature sauce.
So what is the purpose of team building? Maybe it’s simply to allow you to have a great time together, to share a challenge and accomplish something.
After all, if you could do this with your team on an ongoing basis, that would be pretty fantastic!
by Billy Kirsch
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