Myers-Briggs, ropes courses, building with Legos, maybe even volunteering together—team-building exercises, methodologies, and philosophies seem infinite. And admittedly, some of these sound interesting or even fun, right? Yet for some, the mere mention of any of these creates an urge to run in the other direction. Come on! What about fun? Shouldn’t teams who have fun together be able to work together better? Not necessarily.
I’m not opposed to fun, and I’m not even going to tell you that any of these are bad ideas in general, but they won’t get you a great team. What they can do, if done well, is enhance a team’s interactions, create memories, and perhaps encourage camaraderie. What does create long-term bonds and strong interpersonal relationships is when the team has real work, real projects where they must be work interdependently. In other words, they must win together. They cannot win separately and look over at their teammates thinking, "Well, at least I did my part..."
If you want your group of people to behave like a team, and you’d like to influence them as a team, then you need to make sure they’ve got the infrastructure to do just that. Here are some steps helpful in setting up strong teams:
- Clarify the goal: It is essential to your leadership and your influencing effectiveness to have a clearly articulated vision. Any team different from the executive team of an organization has a sort of “subvision" that contributes to the overall mission/vision of the organization. Individual members no doubt have specific responsibilities and tasks, but the sum total of the responsibilities, tasks, tactics, etc., must lead to something clear. Before you can influence them to go there, to work together to do so, you need to paint a clear picture of exactly what that is.
- The importance of alignment: How do you get people of different generations, with varying values and relationships to their work, to work together effectively on teams? By creating alignment among the goals of the organization, goals of the team itself, and the goals of the individuals. If the individual can clearly see that to work toward meeting the team goals is to help himself, and the team can see that to work toward the organizational goals is to help the team—you have alignment.
- Creating a team agreement: For my clients, creating a team agreement is one of the most effective, most powerful processes. It sounds so simple, so obvious, that it’s almost easily dismissed as unimportant, but let me assure you, it is not. A good team agreement can have a dramatic effect on the outcomes of a project or workplace in general. This is a big deal.
- “Clearing the swamp”: "Clearing the swamp” is another process for helping identify, assess, and deal with issues or obstacles in the way of high performance. It’s another really simple tool that can move your team forward toward the results and goals you’ve set for them.
Be prepared to respond and nondefensively offer feedback. Discuss problems, prioritize them, and then vote on the top two or three most important things. Make action steps and follow through on them; find ways to hold people accountable. Plan to come back in six months or a year and mean it!
Even without a team-building exercise, you still need to set aside the time to make sure your organization is running smoothly. But I’ve seen from experience, these tips make the process efficient and effective. The real work of building teams comes in creating real work projects where they have to interact, collaborate, get real results, be accountable for outcomes, and become interdependent.