The process of teambuilding

Drikus Kriek

The increased use of teams can indeed be regarded as one of the most critical trends in modern organisational life and teamwork is one of the buzzwords for organisations. However, often team leaders are confronted with the reality that leading teams is a challenging affair. Many a team leader can attest that to lead a team is sometimes demanding and that the burden on them to lead effectively can be huge. Often, teams give “clues” that something is amiss through verbal or behavioural messages like:

  • Producing products that are sub-standard,
  • Continuously missing deadlines,
  • Missing meetings with suspicious excuses,
  • Gossip and discussion of team activities outside the team,
  • Particular members focus attention to individual performance and reward and divert recognition from the team level to the individual level, or
  • Members withdraw and/or sulk

The list of potential challenges, complaints and demands is endless and perceived uniquely by each team. All too often it is also the leader who has to deal with these issues and challenges and provide ways and means to improve the outputs of the team. Many team leaders turn to team development interventions to assist when faced with these challenges. Again a long list of potential remedies that can be termed team development interventions can be mentioned, including team assessment, coaching, chartering, team learning and teambuilding. It is the latter that is the focus here.

Teambuilding

Many activities, adventures and experiences are offered to help teams in their teambuilding efforts and a list of those is beyond the scope of our interest. However, it is important for team leaders to focus on how to structure a teambuilding intervention to maximise the benefits of a day of rowing, hiking, problem solving activities or general fun. Here a set of ten questions that need to be asked before embarking on a teambuilding intervention is presented to guide team leaders. The questions relate to the intervention "on-the-day" and does not include critical pre- and post-work that should include assessment, design and follow-up. It focuses on what needs to happen during the intervention and provides a "checklist" of minimum conditions that must be attained to ensure effective teambuilding.

1. Who are our members?

This question refers to the human capital of the team and the unique contribution that each member offers. Thus, the structure or physical make-up of the team (i.e. its components or building blocks) is considered during this stage. Examples of elements that inform the structure of a team include demographic characteristics (e.g. race, gender, age, religion and nationality); geographical location; size; personality; position in the organisation and profession. The question requires of the team to focus on interpersonal issues and allows opportunity for the team to evaluate its own composition. Proverbially, the intervention must help the team to increase understanding of ˝who is with me on the bus?˝

2. Who are we? 

The team-as-a-whole and its identity need to be considered at the intervention. The very fact that the team exists means that there should be a shared commitment towards a common goal. The team creates boundaries through the use of the different elements in its structure and by defining the level/intensity at which it will allow non-members to enter its boundaries. The team ensures that it establishes or confirms an identity to distinguish it from the rest of the environment. This identity is unique to the specific team and constitutes the "way things are done here".

3. Where are we going?

The vision of the team is the reason for its existence- its purpose. It sets the course for its operation and presents the "to-be-state" that defines why the team exists in the first place. This is a future state and could be different from the way the team is functioning now. It is crucial that a team should identify with the vision and refine, adapt and shape it so that it invigorates the team and serves as a "pull" towards its destination. A teambuilding intervention should be structured to align members with this vision and to energise members to reach the aims of the team.

4. What binds us together?

Values are the cornerstone of behaviour and this part of the teambuilding process is designed to establish and enhance the values of the team. Values consist of our beliefs about what is good and bad or important and not important to the team. Values influence the performance of a team and refer to the attitudes, assumptions, interactions and methods that the team employs. 

5. What do we do? 

During a teambuilding intervention the specific content of the team's operation should be scrutinised. Answering this question should assist the team to have clarity on its operations and should culminate in a accepting or revising of a team charter and/or operational plans. If goal-setting approaches or problem-solving approaches (like high ropes, rowing, orienteering or similar activities) are used as simulations of work experiences care should be taken to ensure that they relate back to work experiences.

6. How are we doing it?

The norms and roles operative in the team should be discussed. Norms regulate and direct behaviour in a team and they are behavioural manifestations of the values underlying the team's functioning. They represent expectations that the team members have on what constitutes appropriate behaviour. Thus, norms provide unwritten "rules" to the team on what members should do under various conditions. Various roles are enacted in a team and they include the set of expected behaviour patterns related to the position that the member enacts in the team. Formal roles, informal roles and resource roles (e.g. experts, support people, financial, technical, facility) should be clarified. Again, the activities of the teambuilding intervention can be used with the transfer to the workplace.

7. How do we know we are achieving it?

The measurement of success (or failure) in a team ensures that the momentum of the team is maintained and that members stay motivated beyond the intervention.  These "gains" are (and should be) measurable and criteria of measuring its progress must be established. A team that has completed this developmental task successfully is able to answer: "How do we know we are achieving it?"

8. How do we maintain our momentum?

During a successful teambuilding intervention a team should embed certain procedures as part of its culture. This refers to the manner in which the different members interact and communicate with each other and represents a complex network of interactions. These networks tend to get fixed in specific procedures that could influence the dynamics of the team. These procedures refer to the ways in which the team works together to achieve its outputs and determine how the team communicates, solves problems, makes decisions and addresses conflict

9. How did we measure up?

Through answering this question the specific teambuilding intervention is evaluated. Particular attention is paid to how the team performed to reach its aims and goals; how members enjoyed working together; how the organisation has benefited from the intervention and from the alignment with organisational goals? Thus, this stage allows opportunity for feedback to the team and how the members measure its success.

10.   What did it mean to the team?

Time is allowed for reflection on the meaning of the intervention and the effects thereof on the team are contemplated. Members are given opportunity to share what the teambuilding meant to them on individual, interpersonal and collective levels. Through this process a sense of "we-ness" is affirmed and commitment is obtained from each member to cooperate in seeking team goals. Thus, a sense of togetherness is supported by a sense that they could not achieve the team results individually. Another task that has to be completed during this final stage of teambuilding is to re-direct the attention of the team to the workplace and to stress the differences in context and content between the intervention and the "real" world back at the office. It is helpful to allow members to reflect on how they view "re-entering" the demands of the workplace, to share their expectations with each other and to disengage emotionally from being together in a specific context.

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