Recently, I’ve been blogging about improving team performance. The focus has been internal teams, beginning with the senior leadership team. In fact, the principles of team performance improvement apply just as effectively to extended teams. Here are a couple of examples to consider:
Consulting teams — When consulting firms do work for their clients, it is often done by teams comprised of both the firm’s staff and the client’s employees. Those familiar with consulting projects are all too familiar with the inevitable breakdown and rescue that is bound to happen at some point during a project. The cost of this syndrome can be considerable. But, can it be avoided? In many cases it can if the extended team operates like a real team. Yet, this is unlikely to happen without some solid upfront team building work focused on core team competencies, particularly trust. It would be very worthwhile for these firms to build one or two-day team building workshops into their project plans. In the long run, this investment will be modest compared to the cost of the breakdown and rescue activities that prevail today.
Sales teams — For companies that are regular suppliers for their customers, particularly in industries engaged in heavy manufacturing or production, such as aerospace, automotive or oil & gas, sales teams are comprised of individuals form both the supplier and the customer. Unlike in other industries, the job of the team is primarily to make sure that products meet requirements and are delivered on time, in contrast with “making the sale.” Because these de facto teams are not recognized as joint teams, virtually no team building activities take place. Instead, team members from each side spend substantial time negotiating over problems instead of collaborating over solutions. For these industries, a big paradigm shift is in order. They need to treat these extended groups as critical teams and invest in the right team-building activities with particular emphasis on on collaboration and trust. The result will be substantial savings in time and expense from reduced product defects and delivery delays.
There are many other situations where this same principle applies, such as augmented staff joining existing teams and suppliers & customers in the healthcare arena. The benefits of recognizing these extended teams as teams and in designing tailored team-building programs for them would be well worth the investment.
A recent Wall Street Journal article, For Team-Building Events, a New Ingredient: Fun, described how team building has come under criticism for including activities that are too touchy-feely, rather then being grounded in sound business principles. This is a very valid point. It is precisely why we stress five targeted types of team building, depending on business needs. See Making Team-Building Effective.