7 Tips for Building Better Teams

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Team Building is one of those activities which can become addictive both for the facilitator and the client. Sometimes it’s important to stand back a little and plan/review what’s really needed. These tips summarise some of the important lessons learnt through (sometimes painful) experience, and are thought starters rather than trying to be the definitive answer on teambuilding. Your comments and observations are welcome.

1) Do you need a Team?
Sometimes team building endeavours go astray! The first question to ask is whether there is an authentic and value-added reason for having a team i.e. is authentic synergy a realistic objective? Sometimes a manager will look at team building as a way of improving working relationships with individual team members, when in reality what’s needed are better 1:1 relationships with each team member. Check out whether the fundamental need is for the manager to increase personal competence in delegation, coaching and performance management before embarking on the team building solution.

2) Decide if it’s Team Building or Team Development
The processes of accelerating the effectiveness and productivity of a new team are different to the ones needed to refresh and re-motivate an existing team. New teams have to go through the process of learning about 'How we do things ‘round here' and this can be speeded up by the team working with an experienced facilitator. An external voice can help clarify and agree mutual expectations, as well as provide structure for the process of role-negotiation that the team leader and the team members need to work through. Without help this is, unfortunately, often a process of trial and error within the team, and sometimes the errors can be painful!

Members of mature teams quite naturally have experience of each other, and have a history working together. Team development isn’t just about 'fixing a broken team' as is often thought. One of the reality checks is that you can only have a team if team members want to belong to the team. A well-planned, facilitated development event provides the opportunity for a team with membership/performance issues to take stock and hopefully find a positive way forward. It also helpful for high performing teams to clarify what is working well, and how to maintain and even improve their level of success. Think of it as routine maintenance! If you don’t do it everything grinds to a halt…

3) Clarify “Where are we now?”
As with any problem solving (or change management or navigational) process, the starting point is to define 'Where we are now?' There are lots of tools, techniques and methodologies available to help you with this activity. However the most important element of the starting point is that it’s ‘owned’ by the participants and has a transparency which clearly links their input with whatever output is provided for them. Sometimes the ‘black box’ technical solution (where the computer algorithms structure the team member output) results in a lack of ownership by the supposed clients or users of the information.

Listen out for the 'Oh, that’s not really me' or 'I don’t usually behave like that' responses, and you know you’re in trouble! So whatever process you use to create your initial position statement, make sure you ‘sell’ it very clearly to the clients and have their buy-in to its use.

4) Define and agree what Success will look like
Everyone has a mental picture of a successful team. Everyone has a mental picture of a successful team. It may be based on sporting experience, life in organisations or from our early life, and provides the foundation for an individual’s behaviour in a team setting. So far so good! However, it seems that everyone’s picture is slightly different, and is openly communicated very rarely. The expectation is, perhaps, that others can intuit it through telepathy (or less flippantly) through interpretation of other team members’ behaviour. Providing a facilitated structure to communicate these many different expectations and jointly ‘build’ and agree a picture of “What Success will look like” can be a major catalyst in the growth of the team. It’s a great opportunity to be creative, both for yourself and your clients through the use of different communication channels e.g. pictures, mini-plays, games, etc. It’s also important to remember that pictures of success are not a still portrait, but a frame in a moving picture. So there is the need for the team to have a regular review about ‘This is what success looks like now.’

5) Whose team is it?
Inevitably, team membership changes as either team members or the team leader moves on. 

6) Leadership
Much has been written, and is being written, about Effective Team Leadership.

7) Building on success
One of the mantras of management and leadership is that “Most people do most things right most of the time!”

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