Adsum Insights Blog


How to Close a Team Building Session: "Go Home and Tell Your People"

leadership: developing others/building teams

I have written a number of team building how-tos: how to avoid rookie mistakes, how to walk the talk on teamwork, and the danger of treating “psychological safety” as some kind of team building sine qua non.

In this article, I want to talk about how to close out a team building session, and the story about Jack Welch that follows suggests a direction.

Several recent, less than flattering books are attempting to rewrite the legacy of Jack Welch, the late-CEO of General Electric. You can debate the legacy of what he did, but there is no denying he was a powerful agent of change, both inside GE and across Corporate America.

Every January, he would gather his top 50 or so leaders in Boca Raton, Florida and talk about the initiatives the entire organization was going to focus on for the next year. This is where system-wide, change catalysts like “#1 or #2 in every industry,” Workout, Six Sigma, “a TAM so big the current business only has 10% share,” etc were discussed, best practices identified, and breakthroughs celebrated.

After all the presentations from all the businesses that illustrated the focus for the year, when Jack closed the session he would say, “That’s the word from Boca. Go home and tell your people.”

This was an acknowledgement that changing the whole system meant “converting” more than just the top 50 people. It also was his way of forcing each of his leaders to publicly commit. In other words, it raised the stakes. And raising the stakes is sometimes exactly what is also necessary for effective team building.

I don’t mind saying I like to win. It’s not self-serving because I win when my clients identify ways they want to show up and lead differently and successfully make the changes they targeted.

It is fairly typical for team building offsites to end with a round of individual commitments for what each person is going to do differently to support/advance the team.

I have always liked ending sessions this way as it is a tangible way to live into the core tenant that I always discuss with the group at the start my sessions: Facilitators don’t fix teams. Teams fix teams.

Wherever the team is as a team, which is to say wherever they are on the dimensions of team effectiveness (context and mission clarity, right talent, winning norms, buy-in, right resources, open communication, and getting results…see the Rocket Model) is almost a mathematical function of the things each person on the team, especially but not only the leader, did or didn’t do.

The only way how the team works and the results the team gets both improve is if each person starts to act differently. That’s why ending with personal commitments (along with agreements around accountability mechanisms!) can be such a solid approach.

But consider the case of a team with some real dysfunction. By definition, the team dysfunction is affecting how the team works together and that affects the team’s ability to get results.

However, team dysfunction affects more than the team itself. It affects the direct reports to the team and maybe even levels below them. For example:

·     If a team is not aligned on Mission, what one leader’s direct reports work on and how they prioritize could be quite different from another resulting in the broader org not pulling in the same direction

·     If one kind of work is valued by some but not all the team, that work will be seen by those below the team as “lesser,” a waste of time, or “career-limiting.” This especially happens when a team is trying to “change its stripes,” or uplevel itself, or there is a move away from legacy work to the new, more value-add, strategic work.

·     Friction on a Functional team or a COE (Center of Excellence) team might cause parts of the team to “rotate” towards the business they support to avoid said friction and lack of alignment discussions on the Functional/COE team. This can result in siloed work and a watering down of “the brand” and what the org can count on them for.

That dysfunction “trickles down” is not news. When the parents are fighting, even if behind closed doors, the kids know, and it creates real stress.

Should a team decide to come together to address the dysfunction and set plans to work more effectively, their direct reports are going to be dying for news. They want to know 1) what was discussed, 2) how the senior team has agreed to change, and 3) how those changes will affect what they work on and how they work with other parts of the organization.

For the senior team to think that their offsite was a private matter, that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” is a huge mistake.

For these reasons, the team building exercise I have begun closing my sessions with is to have the team collectively summarize the offsite discussion, commitments, and next steps in a communication for their directs.

There are many ways to do this. I like four-blockers to keep the output succinct and minimize group wordsmithing. Here are the four quadrants I currently use:

·     Key Team Issues Identified: Name some of the top issues were that were limiting the the team’s effectiveness.

·     Key Behavioral Changes We Agreed to: If the team worked on norms, and absolutely essential dimension of high performing teams, this will be a cut and paste.

·     How I Will Show Up Differently as a Leader for You: Each leader will tailor this. Still, some themes are likely to emerge across the leadership group.

·     How the Changing Senior Team Dynamic Might Affect You Personally: The directs back home are glad you had an epiphany at your offsite, but what they really want to know is WIIFM: what’s in it for me?

The team can also discuss how this message gets delivered…email from the senior person, delivered by each team leader in face-to-face sessions after the offsite, etc.

Closing a team building session with an exercise to develop a unified communication acknowledges the broader system implications of the dysfunction that existed.

And, as Welch knew, it raises the stakes and publicly commits the members of the team to leading differently.

I don’t mind saying I like to win. It’s not self-serving because I win when my clients identify ways they want to show up and lead differently and successfully make the changes they targeted.

Those of us out here on the front lines of behavior change, whether individual or team behavior, welcome anything that nudges the ball in the direction of the cup. “Go home and tell your people" is, in my view, an underutilized nudge.


Dennis Adsit, Ph.D. is President of Adsum Insights, an organizational consulting and executive coaching firm and the creator of The First 100 Days and Beyond, a practical, laser-focused coaching service to help leaders in transition rapidly build trust and momentum in a new job.