"We are going to build a team". Replace the word “team" with the word “house" - or any other noun that can be built and will take more than just a few minutes - and most sensible people will want to adopt a structured approach.
Plans will be drawn up and approved. People will receive copies of the plan and efforts will be made to ensure everyone understands it. Progress will be monitored against the plan. Lessons will be learned along the way that will be used to improve the next phase. Anything less will lead at best to mediocrity and underachievement.
So why is team building so often treated in an ad hoc manner? You wouldn't take bricks and mortar out, show them a good time and expect them to rearrange themselves into something better just because they had a nice break. So why expect a group of people to do any better?
The only answer to that question with any merit is that bricks can't think and people can. Which sounds like management by abdication. Or perhaps management by trusting to luck. It certainly doesn't sound like a structured approach.
So if taking people off for some fun is not team building - what is it?
Traditional away day options are team bonding exercises - and that is different. Take a group quad-biking, paint-balling etc and it will help bond the participants through a shared experience. You can even justify its use of some of the training budget if you like by claiming it has helped them develop as a team. Just don't believe it - or you'll be disappointed to discover that while the group is closer it is no more effective.
No - if you want to build a team rather than just bond the individuals closer, you need a structured process. You need to decide before you start what improvements you want and can realistically expect the team to achieve. Next you can decide how long it will take to achieve those results.
Often, fun remains a key objective for such a session. If it is the only one - or is only combined with a desire to get the team to become closer - organising a team bonding session is an ideal solution. If, however, your expectations are set higher than that - then you need something more structured.
So what are the key characteristics of a genuine team building session? I suggest the following 7 steps will lead to success:
1) Have definite session and longer-term goals and know how the session goals lead to the longer term ones.
2) Use an engaging and varied base activity that involves each participant in something that he or she enjoys doing.
3) Use an activity that achieves that engagement while having genuine parallels to the workplace and has relevance with the session goals.
4) Select an activity that requires the same kind of skill sets and team approaches that are needed at work - albeit one that is removed from the work itself.
5) Consider using an independent (internal or external) facilitator - to allow all levels to join in as equals and to avoid it feeling like a “sermon from above".
6) Debrief using a predefined process that highlights the workplace parallels and allows the participants to extract their own learning rather than be preached to.
7) Use a proven mechanism to transfer the learning back to the workplace, ideally integrated within the debriefing process itself.
If none of these seem important, you are probably looking at a pure fun bonding session. Whether that is a trip to the nearest (or furthest!) bar or something that offers the group an experience that all of its members will enjoy doesn't matter too much.
But if any of them do seem important, then I'd suggest that they all are. If one or more are missing then your team building session will be compromised. And that's a word that sits well alongside mediocrity and underachievement.
Copyright 2005 Sandstone Limited
Alan is Managing Director of Sandstone, a leading UK team building company. He enjoys creating innovative activities that combine fun with genuine team development. In his spare time, he does voluntary work for the RNIB. http://www.sandstone.co.uk