December 1, 2020

Looking for Team Building Success? Avoid Rookie Mistakes

One of the best ways to increase your chances of success with team building is to just avoid making rookie mistakes.

Here are three and some ways to avoid them.

Have a model. You can't build a high performing team without knowing what the elements of a high performing team are. Where do you start? How will you course correct? How will you know when you have arrived?

And please don't just read a book, like the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and think that you now have a model that will get you there. You can remove every ounce of dysfunction from a Ford Pinto and you won't be left with a high-performance automobile. That's a rookie mistake.

Use something backed by research (remember way back, when science and research carried more weight than opinion?) across academic, organizational, military and sports contexts on what drives team effectiveness and success. I use the Rocket Model. I don't think there is a better, more academically sound and well-researched assessment/intervention approach on the market.

Get the"Hardware/Software" Mix Right. There are some blocking and tackling dimensions (hardware) of high performing teams. If they aren't there, the team will be ineffective no matter how well they communicate, like, and trust each other: Are the Mission and priorities clear? Does the team believe it has the Talent it needs? Does the team have the Resources it needs to be successful? Does the team have operating Norms that increase the chances of success? This has to be in the mix of what you assess and discuss or you will have zero credibility and you will not put the team in a position to win.

But smart money says that if it is an intact team there are some elephant-in-the-room like tensions, politics, and bad blood below the surface or (better actually) in plain sight. When you get there, you have arrived at the affect level, the team "software," and it also is going to have to be addressed.

Over rotating on either polarity and duping yourself into believing you are building a high performing team is a rookie mistake.

On the one hand, you need those fundamental hardware elements of effective teams, but don't be too antiseptic in your approach and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty in the team's drama. And on the other hand, while you need to be willing and able to wade into the swamp of interpersonal dynamics, don't set up camp there.

How to get the balance right takes experience, but just being mindful of trying to create a blend should help keep you from doing a face plant on this one.

Thinking that people like that are participating with an open mind and not consciously or unconsciously signaling to the group that the whole endeavor is a waste of time is beyond a rookie mistake, it is leading with your chin.

Don't assume a green field. Many trainers and OD people naively approach the team as if it were a team building "green field," meaning all are going through team building for the first time.

There is a good chance all or part of the group has some history with team assessments and interventions. Some of those past experiences might have been positive and those people might therefore be looking forward to doing team building work again.

But odds are there are several who have done something that fell under the rubric of team building, who watched those efforts have zero effect on team performance and/or worse, were emotionally hurt in the process. Thinking that people like that are participating with an open mind and not consciously or unconsciously signaling to the group that the whole endeavor is a waste of time is beyond a rookie mistake, it is leading with your chin.

Speaking of boxing, Muhammad Ali used to say he would never get knocked out by a punch he saw coming because he could turn his head and "take enough off it" to weather the blow.

You too can "take enough off" those bad past experiences by testing the waters first. In pre-meetings or in the session itself, ask, "Who has done team building work in the past? How did it go? What was helpful and what was not?" Ask them if they are willing to check their doubts/cynicism at the door and participate fully and what would enable them to do that.

Cynicism, doubt, distrust, and a "let's cut the touchy-feely crap and just do our jobs" mentality caused by past team building experiences are a few of the attitudes that can derail your efforts. You can stay on track by assuming those attitudes are there and making space for them.

Dennis Adsit, Ph.D. is the President of Adsum Insights and designer of The “Me” in Meetings a no-nonsense training course for leaders or organizations who are sick and tired of living with the lost productivity and complaints about ineffective meetings.

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