We are regularly asked to conduct team building sessions, usually for senior leadership teams, many of which are global. My first response to these requests is generally “what are you trying to accomplish?” Once we get this answer, we are able to develop the right approach for the specific team. Team building can range from bringing virtual teams together for improving communication skills to several types of more intensive programs. Here is a good list of possible objectives and approaches:
- Virtual team needs to improve communications. In this case, just bringing the team together for a couple of days can have a big impact. If an outside facilitator guides the process it can add structure, self-awareness, commitments and fun, allowing the team leaders to participate rather than run the session. Here, the facilitator needs to be careful not to try to do too much, making sure to support the natural process of face-to-face affiliation without actually getting in the way.
- Team lacks the skills to exhibit important team behaviors. In this situation, the focus should be on training team members in the missing skills in a two-day workshop and should follow a three-level approach. First, the skills should be taught. Next, the skills should be demonstrated. Finally the skills should be role-played by participants in breakout sessions facilitated by experienced team coaches.
- Team is struggling to achieve an important business goal. Here, the workshop should be a focused, facilitated session to attack the critical business issue, making breakthrough progress toward the elusive goal. The workshop should conclude with future commitments and milestones as well as a debrief of key things learned that will enable future team successes.
- Team is impaired by team members’ personalities. In this case, individual and team assessments and feedback should play a critical role. Observing the team in advance of the workshop is also especially critical. A very experienced team coach needs to facilitate this program, supported by sufficient additional coaches to facilitate breakout sessions.
- Team members do not trust each other. In this situation, an activity-based program is the best approach. The classic example is bringing the team to an outdoor challenge activity where basic safety requires teamwork and trust. Simulated team business challenges are also a good approach
In many cases, depending on the team need, aspects of these different approaches should be combined. The key in all cases is to make sure that proper preparation is included before the program starts. This may include, time with the team leader, assessments, interviews and pre-reading, depending on the team’s challenges. And upon completion of the program, it is important to ensure proper accountability and follow-through. Some limited coaching of team members is often very helpful. One final point: team building is not team coaching. You can’t accomplish in two days what you can achieve in six months of active team coaching. But you can make a real difference!