Let’s step back and look at team building for what it is; not some esoteric labels assigned to exercises that are meant to mold differing individuals into a group speak. Even the mere name “team building” is becoming off-putting to me because it seems to be a moniker for a business approach (employees, customers and competitors) that has roots in the 60’s and 70’s, and yes words do matter/mean something. Hypothetically, yesterday’s teams are today’s employee units, albeit maybe from different department, those work on tasks, whose aim is a successful result as defined by objectives. In some cases results may not even have an ending, but continue as a perpetual process.
I happen to like Unit Review Event/Meeting as a nomenclature to define the motivating and directing a group of people contributing to a defined business effort; resembling a peer review gathering. There is nothing like one’s peers judging their work product and contributions toward an accepted group goal. Let’s call our proverbial Team a Unit; it just sounds a little more official and in keeping with official corporate structures. Team in today’s environment gives me the vision of a group planning a corporate picnic and not with a business structure. I like the feeling that a Unit allows for individuality/non-conformity, which I think offers value in some organizations.
Units/Teams that have elements of peer review are important and are desired in military Special Forces Units; anyone not carrying their own work assignments in the Unit is ostracized and soon find themselves on the outside looking in; not a good place to be if one has any self-respect.
Being liked and respected is a critical element in a Unit/Team because when it is crunch time on projects or execution of plans, a respected and/or liked member of a company Unit will easily find others willing to pick up slack. And there will always be ‘slack’ in any project. Peers and leaders do take pride in stepping into the breach to show personal pride in achievement.
Not in every situation are the members of a Unit/Team equally driven to succeed based upon performance. In some instances Units are pre-ordained and a leader is faced with trying to motivate a group of people with disparate views. In such cases that is what separates a good leader from mediocre leadership. Back to the military example for a moment, peers will keep a lot of pressure on under performers when the rewards are designed to be equally divided amongst the Unit/Team. Portion’s are always a great equalizer.
Unit or Team dynamics are always challenging; changing objectives, people coming into and leaving Units, and competitive constraints. But there are still things leaders need to recognize in managing a Unit. For example:
· Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of unconscionably favoring a few members of a Unit simply because they are more reliable, motivated, or easier to manage. This will destroy the cohesiveness of a Unit very quickly and it is hard to correct.
· Define the character/persona of a Unit. In essence, how do you want your Unit viewed by other employees, customers or vendors?
· Do not let members of Unit select titular leaders to lead the unit.
· Train together and work together should be a mantra. Units/Teams are most effective when participation in activities and events are uniform. Members of a Unit that wins recognition relative to performance and achievements should all receive equal recognition. “If the Unit achieves then all members achieve.” Like a sports team, with a wine the whole team wins and shows up to get the championship rings not just the team leader.
· People can tell when they are being patronized and I believe very few people appreciate such shenanigans from their leaders. If the Unit isn’t on target then recognize it, have a Unit Review Meeting and correct it.
· Train and keep training. Everyone will grow within a Unit at different paces, but growth nonetheless is important. Training provides new skills that will improve creativity. For example, teams that are project oriented seem to thrive on learning project and program management skills. The software that aids in keeping projects on track is complicated and is skills that are always in demand. But, there are many other unit building training options that can keep teams motivated and productive.
The concept of team building is timeless but the delivery needs to be updated. The old trust fall exercise is not that relevant anymore, for a number of reasons that have been discussed. So there are ways to keep established teams/units interested, creative, contributing, adding value to the company, and responsive in a positive way to changes; all changes. The term “team” just seems to be overused and tired. So come up with something more vibrant and integral to an organization. I happen to like “Unit”.
I offer some summary thoughts about Unit/Team leaders. Using a band analogy-The conductor of the Unit keeps the ensemble on schedule and playing the right notes. So I have tried to give Unit Leaders some food for thought to raise the level of currency, pride, and sophistication of the Unit/Team. Today’s educated employee is not willfully manipulated by team building games, events or pep rallies. Honest respect is highly effective in most organizations with highly intelligent employees.