Misusing Team Building: Words of Caution for Executives

Team building is not a cure-all but it is an effective tool to help executives harness the expertise of team members.

David Dye recently posted a blog post on Lead Change called A Critical Team Building Mistake To Avoid At All Costs. His core message was:

“You can’t team-build your way out of fundamental problems. Fix the problem.”

He was right. Sometimes companies throw team building at problems it was not intended to resolve. For example, if Joe has an “attitude problem” send him for training. If morale is low, it’s important to find out why and take steps to deal with the problem. It’s also the approach to use with toxic team leaders.

Team Building: Is it Icing on the Cake?

I perceive things  David’s analogy comparing team building to “icing on the cake”.  It’s important to stress the fact that corporate play days can’t resolve organizational problems. However, framing team building as icing on the cake may contribute to the perception that team building is discretionary with little bottom line impact.

One mistake some companies make is throwing team recreation at problems. Sure it’s called “team building” so that no one questions it on the income statement but this approach is as effective as Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Companies can’t ‘play” their way out of business problems.

 

 

 

Team recreation and social events are more accurately described as “icing on the cake”. They do, however, play an important role in corporate health. It’s important for teams to celebrate important milestones and holidays like Christmas. When there are budget constants, it’s important not to overspend in these areas.

How Team Building can Help?

Companies often miss the opportunity to leverage team building. This is unfortunate as it can help resolve certain types of issues and challenges. For example, if the organization needs to become more innovative, tapping into the collective genius of the team is important. Companies like 3M find infinite uses for products like Post-it Notes by harnessing the creativity of their employees.

If a company needs to save money, identify new target markets, come up with ideas for improving processes, or break down silos, again team building can help. If executed properly, the opportunities for saving that team members come with and their revenue generating ideas can more than off-set spending on team building. Team building can also help organizations:

  • design & execute innovative strategies to stay ahead of the competition
  • strengthen team cohesion
  • break down silos and improve cross-functional teamwork
  • give teams the tools to thrive in a fast-paced environment
  • inspire teams to “stay the course” in the midst of turbulence

When Team Building Can’t Help

Team building can’t rehabilitate toxic bosses.

 

 

 

If a team leader is aggressive, demeaning and a poor listener who shows little respect for team input, don’t subject the team to team building. Instead, provide the team leader with coaching to get to the root of the problem and resolve it.

Ask:

  • Is the problem temporary?For example, if the individual under pressure at home or facing pressure at home, their outbursts and negative behaviour may be temporary. They may need counselling and additional support at work to get through this time of crisis.
  • Does the team leader have a drug or alcohol problem?It’s time to link them up with the internal or external EAP programme.
  • Is there a psychiatric issue or does team leader have a personality disorder? It happens. Work with HR to ensure the individual gets help.

If it’s none of the above and the team leader is a bully or someone who has promoted above the level of their own competence, they shouldn’t be managing staff. It’s important to pinpoint strengths and arrange a lateral move to an area where they will be more effective, happier and less destructive.

Let’s face it, some people are just jerks. They may be good at posturing with peers or senior management but show a totally different face around direct reports. In an example of The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome, often no one wants to admit this and deal with the problem.

The consequences can be severe for team members and the organization. Losing some of your best people who move on to other organizations or footing the bill for stress leaves due to the problems obnoxious team leaders cause is not worth it.

Tools like 360° feedback and programmes like NTL Institute’s Human Interaction Lab can help but only if the individual is open to feedback and willing to change. Otherwise, it’s like the old saying.

Never try to teach a pig go sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Photo Credit: Michael Thels, Alexander Kosolov

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