Can Team Building Increase Productivity in a Recession?

When the economy is slow, company managers and leaders have to be very cautious with every expense. As a result, we will often put off hiring new employees until more certainty in the marketplace develops. Although natural efficiencies will develop in a downward economy, can team building activities help increase productivity so that we can avoid the expense of adding on new personnel? The answer to that question is… “Well… It depends…”

Don’t Confuse “Morale” with “Productivity”

Team Building is almost a generic term that is used for both “morale building” activities and “productivity building” activities interchangeable, but if you confuse the two activities, you can make some costly mistakes. Morale building activities can include anything from going out to a movie together to an office holiday party to entertainment style activities at annual meetings ans conventions. These activities provide a shared-experience that builds temporary camaraderie and provides a fun relief to the normal day-to-day rat-race.

Productivity building activities are training events or innovations that help teams do more with less. Although people will often call both of these types of activities “Team Building”, the activities themselves get totally different results. Both are needed to create a team culture, but quite often, managers and leaders will schedule one type of activity hoping to get the needed result from the other type of activity and be sorely disappointed.

Although productivity will often improve (sometimes dramatically) when morale improves, an increase in morale doesn’t always cause a team to be more productive. For instance, if a manager came into the office and announced that the entire team would get the whole week off and still get paid, morale would skyrocket, but productivity would drop to zero for the week. Morale building activities like team outings and company parties are extremely important, but they can’t entirely replace productivity building events and activities.

Since the team atmosphere created by morale building activities can be temporary, you’ll want to schedule activities like this regularly so that the individual team members get to interact with each other in a more fun way to build camaraderie. Charity team building events at annual meetings or conventions can be a great way to insert a morale building activity. These team building functions are very economical, because the company can generate great public relations without increasing the cost of conducting a convention or annual meeting. For instance, most conventions are going to have some type of entertainment or at least a company outing of some kind. Many companies are replacing these activities with a charity bike build or a team scavenger hunt where team members build gift baskets for soldiers. The investment in each activity is fairly similar, but the results of the charity activities often provide impactful, lasting memories that build great camaraderie between team members.

Build Teams by Training Team Members Together

In addition to morale building activities, a team also needs to develop new skills in order to keep them productive. Many years ago, a mentor of mine told me that “You can’t build a team by training individuals, but you can build a team by training individuals together.” I didn’t really understand the power of this advice until I started my own business, but I understand it more and more as my company grows and grows. For instance, many big companies offer tuition assistance for higher level degrees for their employees, but what often happens is that a company will invest a ton of money into the development of an employee only to have the person leave the company and start working for a competitor. This happens because the individual employees is growing, but the team as a whole is stagnant.

Oddly enough, any skill development activities will work to build the team culture in an organization if the skills developed gives the team a competitive advantage in the marketplace. For instance, Apple decided to eliminate cash registers inside their Apple Stores and replace them with the ability for any employee in the store to be able to use their smartphones to ring-up items for purchases on their smartphones. Because Apple is doing something that no one else is doing, the employees who have been trained in this new technology feel like they are a part of an elite group that is different from other retail stores. Whether they are or not doesn’t really matter, because the team believe that they are ahead of the curve. Customers can find an Apple employee and within seconds create a purchase and have the receipt sent to the customer via email and be on their way. A dramatic increase in productivity and decrease in cost while creating more of a team atmosphere among employees.

“Soft-Skills” Team Building Training is Most Productive

The most effective team training to increase productivity comes from “soft-skills” training, though. While Hard-Skills are ones essential to doing individual jobs within a company – for example hard-skills for an engineer might be calculus and physics – soft-Skills are skills that improve productivity no matter what specific role that a person has within an organization. Soft-skills would include communication skills, presentation skills, the ability to persuade people, the ability to coach and mentor others, etc. If the engineer improves in any or all of these soft-skills, then he or she will likely improve their individual success as well as the overall success of the team.

When teams train together in these soft-skill areas, they automatically develop that same type of team culture that Apple developed with the technology change. Team members know that they are a part of a unique, elite group that is different from most organizations (because most organizations don’t train this way).

For example, a few years ago, I was hired by a commercial construction company to help them deliver high-level sales presentations better. Companies that build skyscrapers or have groups of construction projects often bid out these huge projects in one big contract, so they will often ask for huge proposals and have each qualified contractor come in and do a presentation to narrow down the field. The company that hired me was closing about one out of six of these presentations, but wanted to increase their numbers. So we conducted a series of presentation skills classes with the teams of presenters. Because they trained together, they developed a team culture that showed up when they conducted their presentations. Quite often, at the end of their presentations, the board members who were in the audience would say, “We chose this group because they just seemed to work very well together.” The team culture showed, because the individuals within the group had been trained in soft-skills together, so they saw themselves as having an advantage over other presenters (and they had one.)

Presentation skills, people skills, coaching, mentoring, and other soft-skills training can really help teams become more productive as long as the teams are going through the training as a team. I remember my college football coach telling us, “You don’t fight for records or awards, you fight for the guy who is next to you in the trenches.” When teams train together, they build a rapport that lasts.

Doug Staneart is the founder of The Leader’s Institute Team Building and the inventor of many world-famo

Team Building Maneuvers and the Team’s Leadership

Conquering the Challenge of “Change” through Team Building Maneuvers

Nothing is as upsetting to your people as change. Nothing has greater potential to cause failures, loss of production or failing quality. Yet nothing is as important to the survival of your organization as your people and their response to change.

Research tells us that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail (Source: Author Peter Senge, “The Dance of Change,” Doubleday Press, Toronto, Ont. 1999, p. 3-4). Beyond a doubt, the likelihood of your change initiative failing is overwhelming. Since 2004, I’ve studied, facilitated and taught change processes and experience tells me that change efforts fail for one, two, or all of the following three reasons:

1. Failure to properly define the Future Picture and the impact of the change.
All too often, the “change” initiative addresses the symptoms of current challenges and problems rather than the future the organization wants or needs to create. Change is about creating a desired future, not just correcting current problem/symptoms.

2. Failure to properly assess the current situation, in order to determine the scope within the requirements for change.
Organizations perpetually assess the current situation against current measures of performance. However, change is not the same as problem-solving or project management. Rather, managing change is about moving an organization strategically forward to achieve its vision of the future.

3. Failure to effectively manage the transition of moving from the present to the future.
Experience demonstrates that failure to effectively manage the transition/transformation need is the leading cause of failure for strategic change initiatives. The change itself is not the problem. Change is an event; it is situational: deciding to implement a new system, target a new market, acquire or merge two organizational cultures (Source: Author William Bridges, “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change,” Addison Wesley, Don Mills Ont., p.3). The problem occurs with what happens within the gap between the present and future, after the “change” and before you get to “there.” The reality of change is that change is about people not structures – people are the reasons for stop gaps in change initiatives!

Failure to successfully execute often comes from seeing the change as solely structural, so once the new system is designed and ready for implementation, the new organization is agreed upon and the doctrine papers are signed to legalize the “deal,” everyone, including the CEO, walks away from what is considered (prematurely) a “done deal.” This is a mistake that goes on all too often like a broken record. History is full of examples of organizations and teams that failed when experiencing changing environments (most of them are now extinct). The secret to successfully managing change, from the perspective of the people within the organization and their teams, is “definition” and “understanding.” To make it clear, I’ll explain them in subsets.

Definition and Understanding for the “WHAT” in Teams

It is important to understand that not everyone who works together or in close proximity is a member of a team. This concept is a misnomer for a lot of people. A clear explanation of a team is a group of individuals who are interdependent with respect to intelligence, information, transferable skill sets, resources, and tools and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a shared-vision towards a common goal. A team, for instance, is either building or falling apart. An essential aptitude for true team building and the maneuvers they require is leading the team into building on a continuous basis. Team building maneuvers lead a group into higher levels of team spirit, cooperation and interpersonal communication. Building teams is the process of developing on the team-dynamics and interpersonal relationship of the people that come together to make-up the unit. Team spirit either grows or it dies based on the dynamics of the unit.

Teams have specific characteristics that should be addressed:

- Teams must be constructed to achieve a shared-vision for a shared goal.
- Team associates are interdependent regarding some common interests; teams are the instrument of sustained and enduring success in leadership and management.
- Teams use strategic thinking, acting, and influence – associates each possess the authority to manage their own stimulus for change.
- A team is a type of group, but not all groups are teams – team leaders know this to be true.
- Teams are formed to best facilitate learning and peak performance while operating in a socialist environment.
- Team associates are not responsible to “self,” but to their team and its mission; their obligation is to guide the unit to find its voice, while strategically and flawlessly executing.
- Teams learn to navigate positive transition to disseminate authority and power for change – and, they understand when it is a “must” to move into greater levels of performance (the difference between ordinary and extraordinary high performance teams).

The difference between ordinary teams and high performance teams are its people and their abilities to overcome the fear of change. High performance teams place a focus on the people who drive the overall performance within the system: “how do you define a high-performance team?” A high performance team is a group of people who are led by an exception leader, ALL having complementary skills, who understand roles and goals, and who are committed to achieving those goals through a shared-voice, as one unit or body, to demonstrate strategic and flawless execution measures for overcoming changing environments.

This team format learns quickly how-to work together toward mutual goals using their individual skills to support one another regardless of the situation they are engaging or any amount of resistance to change from a fear of the unknown or an expectation of loss or failure.

The “alpha” of the high performance team’s resistance to change is how they perceive the change. The “omega” is how well they are equipped to deal with the change they expect. The team member’s degree of resistance is determined by whether they perceive the change as good or bad, and how they expect the impact of the change to be on the entire unit. Their ultimate acceptance of the change is a function of how much resistance the team member has and the quality of their coping skills and their support system. The job role of the team leader is to address their resistance from both perspectives by helping each member reduce it to a minimal, manageable process level. The success of the response depends on the leader’s ability to lead by example, their level of trust from the members on the team and their ability to persuade the members to overcome their resistance so the unit can move ahead. When the leader is able to communicate a low threat level and/or limited risk, the member’s perception will be one of trust for engaging the objective. Simply, it will all come down to the leader’s relationship with the team; hence, the success of the team not only depends on its members, but also on the leadership they follow.

Definition and Understanding for Accepting “CHANGE” on Teams and Organizations

The Relevance of Facilitated Team-Building in the 21st Century Business

A corporation’s staff of employees, i.e., corporate team, can sometimes literally make or break its business. The “right” corporate team for an entity cannot be purchased in a store, or at auction via eBay, as an effective corporate team doesn’t simply just happen–its creation is typically both purposeful and highly strategic to the particular entity. Designing the “right”, i.e., effective, corporate team generally requires the assembly of a group of people who are willing to, a) work together, sans individual agendas; and, b) be creative and non-judgmental. After the “right” corporate team has been selected, one of the quickest and most effective ways to foster the quality, seamless, superlative development often required of said team is through tailored, team-building sessions conducted by a trained, experienced, and truly neutral, third-party Facilitator.

Facilitated Team-Building

A team-building Facilitator is essentially skilled in the art and science of group dynamics. Such a Facilitator, in actual team-building exercises, is essentially the process expert in the particular session(s), whilst the corporate team members of the entity client are the content experts in said sessions. E.g., a trained, team-building Facilitator can typically create, employ, and manage exercises designed to foster the effective, cooperative development of new ideas. For instance, if the corporate client’s goal is to develop a new snack food for kids, the typical Facilitator can construct, implement, and manage sessions designed to inspire cooperative, efficient creativity amongst the subject-knowledgeable corporate team members–often through the lens of particularized effective communication and problem-solving techniques–that would ideally produce the new food product for their employer.

A team-building Facilitator essentially, like the combination of a sports organization and a referee, creates the rules, and oversees and corrects the team interactions-inclusive of ensuring that team members are:

a) not harming one another, or, the objective;
b) are playing on the correct field; and,
c) adhering to the requisite time-frames, until the overall objective of the exercise is achieved.

Additionally, a team-building Facilitator assists that “right” corporate team in learning how to creatively use any interpersonal friction toward the common entity goal–essentially merging the varied experiential levels, knowledge, and energies for a common purpose. A few important duties typically conducted by a neutral, facilitative, team-building Professional include the following:

o Gathering Appropriate Background Data:
E.g., Determining,
o What the current opportunity or problem is;
o Who is involved;
o How long the opportunity or problem has been occurring;
o What has been tried before;
o When a solution is needed; and,
o How success will be measured;

o Designing Well:
E.g. Understanding that,
o Good process doesn’t just happen, it is designed; and,
o A dynamic design takes into account desired outcomes, people involved, culture and climate of the organization, and the strengths and weaknesses of available problem-solving processes;

o Setting and Communicating the Agenda and the Big Picture:
E.g., For each meeting,
o Reviewing the situation background both in general and specific, current terms;
o Expressing what is expected to be accomplished at a particular session; and,
o Providing a big picture view of the context, purpose and desired outcome of the entire project;

o Setting and/or Assisting The Generation of Team Rules:

E.g., Employing and managing meeting ground rules, such as,
o The turning off of cell phones and other meeting-intrusive devices;
o Attendance and timeliness;
o A Two-Minute Rule for verbal participation (i.e., if any one person speaks for more than two consecutive minutes, it is likely that s/he is getting off-track and may therefore need to yield the floor);
o Holding one conversation at a time;
o Deferring judgment when generating ideas; and,
o Judging affirmatively when evaluating ideas;

o Supporting The Team in the Management of Group Dynamics:
E.g.,
o Managing conflict;
o Supporting team member honesty and openness;
o Valuing everyone’s opinion; and,
o Being transparent in discussions.

Climate Changes for Optimal Team-Building Collaboration

Facilitated team-building can occur, e.g., at the client’s corporate site. However, often, a climate, i.e., setting/staging change can quickly establish a fresher, more novel tone for team collaboration. In newly formed, as well as established, teams it is often necessary to shake things up a bit in order to avoid habitual, ritualistic performance. Namely, a climate change can provide new perspective amongst team members, toward existing, reoccurring, or currently unimagined, opportunities. Such can be obtained by something as simple as, e.g., sitting in a different chair during the next meeting, or as seemingly complex, as, e.g., meeting in a different location. Atmospheric variation can particularly be achieved by meeting at the offices of a strategic partner. For example, an air ambulance service could consider holding a series of team-building sessions at a local hospital for which it provides services, in order to achieve the desired novel, brain-storming effect of its corporate team.

Typical off-site choices for climate variation have included, e.g., hotel conference rooms, specialized retreat venues, resort areas. More contemporary off-site options for climate variation have included, e.g., rock climbing, adventure treks, sailing, erecting dwellings for the economically challenged, and even meal preparation. When rock climbing/trekking, building a house for the poor, or engineering a new pasta dish, the unknown, e.g., the possibility of encountering a wild animal, experiencing a hammer-smashed thumb, or discovering a strange spice forces the team members to use all of their senses, to be more mentally and physically prepared, and to, a) rely on the strengths, and, b) understand the weaknesses, of themselves and their teammates. Essentially, climate-changed, facilitated team members often quickly learn to merge their own individual points of light–into a blinding bolt of energy that can streak past any competitor.

Virtual Facilitated Team-Building

Optimally, facilitated team-building occurs in face-to-face settings. However, increasingly, employees are finding themselves physically distanced from their counterparts. Electronic team-building facilitation, as conducted via the Internet, can restore higher levels of communication, responsibility, and productivity among, especially, distance-challenged teammates.

Virtual team-building facilitation can be, similar to face-to-face facilitated team-building, targeted toward discreet meetings, continuous projects, and/or strategic planning. Numerous Internet-based tools are available for any need or budget. Some popular search engines, in fact, offer free virtual meeting space. Providers of more complex virtual tools typically charge a fee for their offerings. However, when compared to e.g., the costs of airfare, hotel rooms and incidental expenses required to produce some face-to-face facilitated team-building sessions, virtual facilitation fees are in hindsight, relatively nominal.

The advantages of facilitated, virtual team-building include the practical facilitation of large groups/teams, automatic documentation and updates, uniform use of various tools, file-sharing, and the ability to generate, evaluate, and develop action plans. Input to virtual team projects can be parallel or asynchronous depending upon the collaboration product selected. In addition, anonymity is available if needed. The potential drawbacks to facilitated, virtual team-building are: the requirement of computer literacy, the elimination/reduction of sometimes critical face-to-face social interaction, data overload, and any requisite user fees. Overall, however, facilitated team-building success, whether virtual or face-to-face, is dependent upon quality input and the strategic follow-up of the session participants.

Investment

Facilitated team-building sessions can be designed for almost any budget. One beauty of using a skilled, team-building Facilitator is time efficiency. An experienced team-building Facilitator may be able to reduce