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Team Building:
the dos and don'ts

Tuesday, December 15 2020
Written By: Mel Crate
A strong team motivates, moderates and inspires its members. Find out what you can (and can't) do to build effective teams in your workplace. 
 

Team building activities may come in some silly and light-hearted forms (zorbing anyone?) but the benefits of such activities to employee wellbeing and productivity is serious business.

Role playing, problem solving exercises and creative tasks nurture collaboration, emotional intelligence and enable co-workers to recognise specific skills in themselves and in their teammates. In fact 96% of employees blame a lack of collaboration, communication or skills for workplace failure [1].

The concept of corporate team building was established in the 1920's by behavioural psychologist William McDougall. It is defined simply as the process by which a business encourages and trains colleagues to work collaboratively in the pursuit of shared goals. 

But sharing doesn't come naturally to everyone... Building strong teams relies on many variables - personalities, job roles and workloads - and it is developing a focused team-building strategy that gives your workforce the tools and the time required to develop their soft skills is the best way to make this a reality. 

Here, we take a look at the dos and don'ts when approaching team building in the workplace:


DO: Listen to your team's feedback


It’s hard to overestimate the significance that a strong team culture plays in delivering corporate success. The feedback here [1] makes a compelling case:

team building strategy
- When asked, three quarters of all businesses surveyed claim teamwork is vital for success – yet only 18% formally recognise it through training and development plans

- 97% of businesses agree that lack of team alignment with business objectives fundamentally undermines outcomes

- 54% of workers say strong a team culture and work ethic kept them at a company longer than they might (and in some case should) have stayed otherwise

- A third of employees say the ability to collaborate effectively made them feel more loyal to their employer

Before establishing your team-building strategy, it’s important to gather feedback within your workplace too.

This may be through wellbeing surveys or monitoring formally logged comments, as well as taking into account interactions you’ve witnessed and anecdotal information. This data can be used to tailor your plan; to identify where and what support would be most beneficial and help you maximise impact.


DON'T: Assume it happens organically 


Despite all the evidence in support of investing in effective team-building strategies, it is often approached informally. 

Many businesses still expect this to happen organically through ‘soft’ processes, like after-work drinks or ‘dress down Friday’ initiatives. And, whilst they contribute towards a warmer work culture, they do not necessarily teach employees the tools they need to build better teams. 

Although teamwork comes organically to us human beings as social, tribal creatures, the modern working world can make this a little difficult. Hierarchies, personalities, poor communication and blinkered ways of working are just a few road bumps we might encounter.

Only by taking the time to identify, address and continue work on the challenges specific to your workforce can you build strong, effective teams and positive working relationships. 


DO: Lay these foundations


McDougall identified several conditions required for high functioning, successful teams. Conditions that can be fostered, if they are not already pre-existing, in all working environments:

UNITY

A team can only exist when it shares a vision or goal: your first priority should be to identify a common purpose behind which your team can unify.

This can be tricky when individuals are concerned with the responsibilities and objectives of their own specific roles. There may be frustration or tension when the group is tasked with agreeing upon ‘what is the collective goal and what is our best way to it?’

Leaders need to use this stage to communicate clearly, encourage exploration of areas of disagreement and be prepared to manage potential conflict.

COLLABORATION

Working together to find where the inherent strengths and skills lie within individuals will allow team members to articulate and define their own roles within the group. This, in turn, allows each individual to see how their role positively contributes to achieving the stated goals.

More than that, this process also allows each team member to see and – crucially – appreciate the contribution of their fellow members, creating a mutually supportive culture.

CLARITY

Finding clarity over roles and responsibilities and fostering a culture of continuous review within the team can eliminate doubling up on tasks and streamline efficiency.

Teams that become mired in the sludge of duplication are inevitably less effective, less productive and less likely to be successful.

LEARNING CULTURE

Strong teams exhibit a unique enthusiasm for iterative learning – the process of trying something new, failing and learning how to adapt to avoid future failure.

However, to see failure as an opportunity, rather than something to be feared, requires a culture of resilience and trust. Nothing new ever came of playing safe. But to create a culture in which people feel supported in innovating also requires leaders to share that fearlessness, always remembering, of course, that fearlessness and recklessness are two very different things! 


DON'T: Always involve alcohol


Staff socials are a component of many team-building strategies. Defined here as time outside the workspace in which relaxation, conversation and bonding are encouraged. In these situations – be it team drinks or a group dinner – alcohol is often involved. 

For those that don’t drink, these occurrences might feel a tad exclusionary. It is worth bearing in mind that these situations might be challenge to someone’s sobriety or potentially culturally affronting. By arranging a group activity in which alcohol is not involved – such as a sports match, board games, yoga sessions or still life drawing – no one is left out.


DO: Collaborate digitally 

team building virtually
Building and maintaining effective, successful teams during a pandemic is challenging but possible. Organisations need to be mindful of how remote working may erode team spirit.

Leaders can do a lot to mitigate the negative impact of remote team working by ensuring that there are opportunities for teams to collaborate on tasks or projects together. We recommend that teams make use of video chat (by seeing our colleagues' micro-expressions over camera we feel closer and more empathetic towards them) and create reasons to celebrate and come together online.

Good teams are mutually supportive (and will continue to be so throughout the pandemic) - they endorse, motivate and inspire in equal measure. But regular interaction is needed in order to bring the true magic of those functions to life. Team catch ups are a must. 

 

A final word on team building

At Luminate we work with organisations looking to improve their staff’s wellbeing, improve productivity and foster a positive, supportive work culture. Offer workshops and webinars on Emotional Intelligence, Building Healthy Relationships, Motivation and Happiness, Building Resilience and Building Stronger Teams. 

If you want to find out more about how we can help you to build internal cultures that, in turn, help to build successful teams, why not get in touch and see where Luminate can bring value to your team-building strategy.


[1] Sources: Queens University London, McKinsey, Gusto, Salesforce

 

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