For decades, corporate team building has consisted of style inventories, communication skill building and teamwork games like ropes courses, trust falls and escape rooms. While these activities might bring a team closer together as friends and are certainly fun activities, they have little if anything to do with actually building job-related teamwork.
Building effective teams requires practice at being a team. Just like sports teams and music groups, who practice what they’re going to perform, business teams must practice their performance as a team as well, not just as a group of individuals trying to get along.
Real, effective team building that transforms teamwork, business results and culture must include the following four missing pieces.
A Sense Of The Bigger Organizational Picture
Most teams operate in silos as if they’re the only team in the organization that matters. This creates breakdown within other parts of the organization as each team makes decisions that inevitably affect other functional and business unit teams, causing a ripple effect of unintended consequences that must be dealt with as well as causing wasted resources of both time and money and breeding mistrust and poor relationships between teams.
When functional teams successfully work together under the guidance of a cross-functional leadership team that is aligned around the organization’s strategy, goals and realistic priorities that are effectively resourced, there are fewer miscommunications and breakdowns, quicker decision making and better business results, not to mention a culture of positivity, trust, good communication and quick problem solving.
Getting on the same page about priorities is paramount for team success. Whether it’s a cross-functional team or a functional team, a leadership team or a project team, focusing on agreed-upon top priorities is absolutely necessary.
Many teams have far too many priorities or try to disguise too many priorities into columns or boxes. This results in scattered energy and fragmented efforts that waste resources, create confusion and lead to unnecessary burnout. As a team, you can only work on so many things at once, and being aligned around which things to focus on is the only way to start getting through them at a quick pace without getting bogged down in overwhelm and competition for attention and resources. The goal is “closure” — completing a priority initiative to give room for focusing on a new priority.
Ideally, the senior leadership team will decide on and set priorities for business units and functional teams. This way, the priorities will serve the entire organization, not just a specific area of the organization. After all, customers and shareholders don’t care about specific teams. They care about the company as a whole.
A Team Picture Of Success
A picture of success is not a vision statement. It’s not what the team wants to achieve or a lofty vision of where they’ll be in five years. A picture of success is a concrete document created by the whole team about how they want to function and work together differently to achieve breakthrough results in what they achieve, their teamwork and their reputation with all stakeholders. It must include actual do-differently attitudes and behaviors that the team wants to exhibit within the next six to 12 months.
Agreed-Upon Team Habits
The biggest missing piece I’ve seen in team building for the last 35 years is agreed-upon team habits of collective execution. Team habits are the core foundation of teamwork, which as we all know, makes the dream work. Team habits must be agreed upon by the entire team, be based on the picture of success and be actionable and descriptive for how the team is going to act and behave. For example, a team could have team habits for optimizing their effective and efficient communication within and outside of the team, making decisions in an inclusive and timely manner preventing rehash, or cross-functional problem solving when breakdowns occur.
Having agreed-upon team habits of execution is the only way to be accountable as a team — not just to your manager, but to the other team members you impact, similar to a sports team or music group. If you don’t know what is expected of you for effective teamwork, then it’s hard to be held accountable in a meaningful way. These habits are not formed based on style, politics or personal preferences. They are based solely on what will accomplish desired outcomes in the most effective and efficient manner that can be sustained over time. Having agreed to the habit, each team member is committing to that habit and committing to being held accountable if they fall back into old behavior. This allows each team member to share a unified vision of the team and to support each other in achieving that vision.
Without the above four pieces to a team-building effort, and especially the team habits, a team simply will not learn to work together more effectively. Fun activities and interpersonal bonding may help team members feel more comfortable around each other interpersonally, but they won’t build team trust as it relates to the work the team is doing together, and they won’t give the team any direction as to how to work better together. To improve effectiveness, the team must be on the same page about organizational priorities, a picture of success and team habits.