Keep Team Development Momentum Going

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You’ve just wrapped up an energizing and motivational day of team development.  Now what?  How do you keep the momentum going?

Team developmentFortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to be purposeful about ongoing team development!  Looking for ways to make the most of those opportunities on a regular basis is the key to turning your team into a cohesive, engaged, and collaborative unit. And when you do that, your team members become more competent communicators, problem solvers, decision makers, and innovators. By making team development a priority, you demonstrate that you believe the team is worth investing in.  Sustained focus on the team builds on the foundation of trust, communication, and collaboration necessary to achieve peak performance in achieving your organization’s goals.

Here are a couple of ideas to continuously build your group into an effective team:

  • Include a brief icebreaker activity at the beginning of routine meetings.  Even something simple like having everyone share what they were listening to on the way to work that morning can help people feel more connected.  Try this activity – it’s easy to do and always energizing!  Tailor the questions to make the activity even more relevant to your team and organization.
  • Plan for more extensive team development interactions at quarterly or six-month intervals to reinforce team values and goals.  If your team already meets regularly, set aside time to focus on purposeful team development. You will be amazed at the impact an hour or two of sustained reinforcement will have on the cohesiveness and performance of your team!  Here’s an example of a trust-building activity that you might use.

Every step you take is valuable in developing your highly-effective, top-performing team. Team development is a process – it takes ongoing work and commitment.  But the outcome is well worth the effort!

What are some of the things you’ve done to develop a peak-performing team?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Five steps to meaningful teambuilding

posted in: All, Team Development | 2
Teambuilding.

What do you think of when you see or hear that word? In my experience, the idea of teambuilding generates mixed responses: some people dread it, some are elated, and others fall everywhere in-between these extremes. Why such varied responses? When I ask people about their experiences with teambuilding I find that while most have extremely positive experiences, some unfortunately do not. What makes the difference?

Here are five ways to make your next teambuilding event both memorable and meaningful:

Teambuilding goals

  1. Set goals. Be clear about what you are intending to achieve through teambuilding activities. Is this event just about getting to know each other and build camaraderie? Or do you want something more? Goals such as improved communication or decision-making can be effectively addressed with teambuilding activities using experiential learning methods.
  2. Sequence teambuilding activities appropriately for the group. A new team that is just beginning to work together will need a different sequence, and perhaps different activities altogether, than a cohesive team that has been working together for awhile.
  3. Challenge by choice. Growth and learning happen when we are outside of our comfort zones – up to a point! If participants are pushed too far out of their comfort zones they are likely to withdraw completely. Be clear that participants always have a choice in how they participate. Ensure that activities are designed to accommodate a wide range of comfort levels among participants.
  4. Don’t skip the debrief! Effective debriefing following an activity allows participants to make meaning from their experience. This is when they are most likely to make connections between the lessons learned during the activity and their real-world situations. Without this step, a teambuilding activity may be enjoyable and memorable, but lack meaning.Teambuilding reflection
  5. Incorporate individual reflection. Set aside time for quiet reflection and journaling. Add focus to reflection by posing a thoughtful question that encourages participants to think about their experiences at a deeper level.

 

In your own experience with teambuilding events, what has made them meaningful for you?

Expand Your Comfort Zone

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“Comfort zones are often expanded through discomfort.” – Mimi Solaire

Why would you want to expand your comfort zone? The comfort zone. It’s a safe place, probably one in which you feel confident. You know what to expect, how to behave. One might conclude that this is a good place, one to hang out in all the time.

I would argue “yes” and “no.” Yes, it can be a good place, one where you can restore your intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical energy. But no! Not a place to be all the time. Why not? Well, it would get boring for one thing. But more than that, learning isn’t happening in the comfort zone. It’s comfortable there because you’ve already learned what you need to know to get along there. Something else happens after too long in the comfort zone. You may have seen or experienced this yourself. Complacency, gradually affecting work, relationships, or health.Outside the comfort zone

What happens when you expand your comfort zone? Your capacity to learn and develop grows. And, each step you take along the path from beginner to expert expands your comfort zone that much more. As you think about all the things that come naturally to you now – perhaps things like walking, writing, driving, or typing – try to remember the awkwardness you felt when you were first learning, when these things took you out of your comfort zone. It took time, but the discomfort was worth it, right?

When you are developing a team, you are likely to push team members outside their comfort zones at times. This is good, because just as individuals experience growth outside their comfort zones, so do teams. The path to high performance is challenging and involves taking risks. It is anything but complacent. Purposeful team-building activities accelerate a team’s development and ability to perform at high levels by intentionally and persistently expanding comfort zones.

When I’m faced with something that takes me outside of my comfort zone, I find it helpful to focus on the things I’m going to learn from the experience, and how it will help me grow. What about you? What helps you get outside your comfort zone?

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Schultz

High-performing team transformation

posted in: All, Change, Team Development | 0

transformationTeams change. It will happen many times in your career. Team members come and go. It’s part of the team development process identified by Bruce Tuckman in the 1960s and 70s. Forming – storming – norming – performing, and at last, transforming.  After working so hard to reach and maintain the performing level, at some point things will inevitably change, and the team will transform to something else.

Perhaps you’ve been developing someone on your team to take on roles of greater responsibility, and that person has been an integral part of your high-performing team. And because of that individual’s efforts, your efforts, and the outstanding results of your team, the individual is offered a new position – one with even greater opportunities for development and impact. So the team transformation stage begins. The team loses a top contributor and you need to search for a quality replacement. The team is soon to find itself back in the forming stage as someone new joins the group, roles are re-evaluated, and the members of the new team get to know each other.

transformationIf this is your team, be glad! Yes, it’s going to be a lot of work. And there may be elements of sadness in losing a close working relationship. But teams need to continually evolve to maintain high-performance levels. New team members bring fresh perspectives and new skills to the team. Add these to an already strong team foundation, and performance can reach even higher levels than before.

It may feel discouraging to now feel like you are starting over at developing your team, after the high levels of performance you’ve achieved and become accustomed to. With focus and intentionality, you can help your new team develop through Tuckman’s stages more quickly. Over time, teams will naturally progress through the stages, but why not involve your team in purposeful activities to accelerate the process and improve their interactions? You might start with activities that build connection and trust among team members, and then progress to activities to improve communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. You’ll be back to working with a high-performing team that exceeds your expectations in no time!

Some great resources for team development activities are:

http://www.teamworkandteamplay.com/

http://www.training-wheels.com/

What kinds of things have you done to develop your team? I’d love to hear about your successes and challenges!

 

 

 

 

Why do team challenges work?

posted in: All, Goals, Learning, Team Development | 1

Recently I was hiking on a granite dome, and after exploring a bit at the top, found myself challenged with finding a navigable route back down. In essence, I was “lost” on the dome, climbing up and down steep slopes for a couple of hours, occasionally getting stuck and frequently wondering whether I’d ever make it down in one piece. At times I thought it was either going to take a rescue or a fall to get me off that mountain. But I kept at it, and after much scrambling, climbing, sliding, and scooting along the rocks, I successfully made it to a trail, and then back to camp (just in time for dinner).

The experience got me thinteam challengesking about team challenges and what makes them so effective. A typical workplace team is rarely tested in the normal work environment. Team members perform their duties, handle responsibilities, and complete tasks routinely, but usually without ever knowing what they are truly capable of. And because of this, they don’t necessarily stretch themselves to try to do more, and team potential remains untapped.

A well-designed challenge activity will take team members outside of their comfort zones (but not too far!). It allows them to step out of their normal work environment and into one that propels them to learn more about themselves individually and as a team. Those lessons can then be applied back in the workplace. For example, team members may recognize something about the way they communicate (or don’t) that influenced their ability to be successful in a challenge. Or, they may have found that it was necessary to rely on the diverse strengths of all team members in order to achieve a goal.

Often self-confidence increases through participation in challenge activities. Participants may recognize that: “If I could do that, then I can most certainly do this!”  In my own dome-climbing adventure, I had to rely on strengths that I didn’t even know I had, until they were tested on the mountain.

I also came to understand things at a deeper level that I had already known. For example, the importance of planning, and thinking ahead further than the next step or two. And how failure to look at the goal from a big-picture perspective can lead to dead-ends or jams that are really hard to get out of. Additionally, I had to recognize when something was beyond my skill.  Just because I wanted and was willing to climb up a certain slope didn’t mean that I necessarily had the size or physical strength to do so. These are similar to the types of things that team members may learn during challenge activities.

Every team and every challenge activity experience is unique. What insights will your team have that will drive them to peak performance?

Fitting in on a new team

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We’ve all had the experience of being the “new kid” at one time or another. Whether it was the first day in a new school, moving to a new neighborhood, joining a new sport team, starting a new job, or countless other things – it can be intimidating. As humans, we have an instinctive need to belong, and the chance that we might not fit in to a new situation can be a little frightening.Fitting in

When a group forms, everyone takes part in the process of “fitting in.” This happens whether it is a newly formed group, or just one or two members have changed. The group dynamic is altered, and so is the performance level of the group, even if only temporarily.

When a new member joins your team, do you have a process to welcome the new member and make him or her part of the team? What do you do to ensure that both new and existing team members belong? Does your group rely on the mere passage of time to bring the group together into a cohesive unit, or are you more purposeful about it?

We tend to teach the way we were taught, and lead the way we’ve been led, whether consciously or not. If we don’t think about it, it’s easy to fall into the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” trap without even realizing it. Recently, when I asked a group about what they do to make new members feel part of their team, I was greeted with puzzlement. Being intentional about building cohesion was just not something they’d experienced before and the idea was foreign.

So how can you be more purposeful in developing your team, creating a sense of belonging where every member fits in?  Here are a few ideas. Consider how you might apply them – whether your team sees each other in an office every day, or members work remotely:

  • be clear about the purpose and goals of your team
  • talk about group norms and expectations
  • create opportunities for interaction among team members
  • show each member that you value him or her as an individual and as an important part of the team
  • make the environment psychologically safe so that team members are comfortable sharing ideas and voicing concerns
  • remember to make this an ongoing process, not a one-time effort

What would you add? What have your experiences been? Have you experienced, as I have, a well-planned first-day welcome, followed by … nothing? I’d love to hear your stories!

 

What makes a team a team?

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What makes a team a team? You’ve probably been a part of many teams throughout your life – through school activities, sports teams, work groups, project teams, or volunteer organizations, to name a few. It’s just a group of people, right? Well, no, it’s really not.

So what is the difference between a group and a team? Sometimes work groups reporting to the same supervisor are labeled “teams.” Is that all it takes – a label? Sometimes we act that way. As if giving something the name that represents what we want it to be will make it so. And while that can be a good first step, developing a team requires far more than just calling it a team.

A team is a group of people working together toward a common purpose. Sounds simple enough. On paper. But when it comes to the actual level of effectiveness of a team, differences can be extreme. You’ve probably encountered a wide range in your own experience. Because their performance is highly visible and outcomes are well-defined, sports teams offer great examples of teamwork and team effectiveness. Last year, as I watched the LA Kings become the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Champions, I was struck repeatedly by the teamwork that propelled them to the top. Along the way, I also observed teams made up of highly-talented individuals who seemed to lack cohesion or were distracted by conflict, and failed as a result.

Team effectiveness
Teams can achieve great heights when members work in areas of strength and support each other.

Effective teams consistently exhibit certain characteristics:

  • clear understanding of mission and purpose
  • trust in the intentions and capabilities of members
  • open communication – all voices are heard
  • willingness to question ideas or actions – of self and each other
  • inclusive atmosphere
  • seek diverse perspectives
  • leverage strengths to support each other

 

 

It’s true that over time many groups will naturally gravitate toward team behaviors and characteristics. But why wait and just hope for that process to occur? The process of transforming a group into a team can be greatly accelerated through purposeful activity and discussion. Next time your group gets together, try including an activity to reinforce a certain aspect of teamwork. Here is an example of an activity that requires no props, can be done in any setting, and offers an opportunity for a rich discussion about how team members communicate with each other.

 

 

For more detailed instructions about how to use and debrief this activity, check out Teamwork & Teamplay by Jim Cain and Barry Joliff. Or contact me – I’d love to talk with you about this or other activities for your team!

 

How does your team make decisions?

posted in: All, Goals, Learning, Team Development | 0

Think about the last time you made a decision as part of a group. How did it go? Do you think the decision was a good one, one that will result in the desired outcome? Are you satisfied with the way the decision was made?  Do you feel that all viable options were given appropriate consideration?

Whether it’s your family trying to decide which ride to go on first at Disneyland, or your organization deciding on a launch strategy for a new product, you’re likely to encounter similar challenges. When you’re part of a group and you need to make decision, how do you do it? Do you follow a set process, or is it different every time? Do a few people (or maybe just one specific person) always take the lead in making the decision? Or does everyone get a voice?

When team decision-making works, it can propel a team to remarkable levels of achievement. The team will act quickly, confidently, and effectively to accomplish tasks, find solutions, and generate new ideas. Unfortunately, when decision-making doesn’t work effectively, it can create enormous obstacles.  Team members who have no voice in a decision may lack commitment to achieving the goal. Delays become the norm, concerns are not brought to light, and small issues may turn into big problems.

It’s not just the big decisions that trip people up. Every day, team members make dozens of decisions, whether individually or collectively. When the decision-making process is dysfunctional, so is the performance of the group. So what can you do to ensure that your team is working together effectively as it makes those large and small decisions each day?

Team decision-makingExperiential learning activities can be a great way to help a team discover and improve its group process for decision-making. In their book Teamwork & Teamplay, Jim Cain and Barry Joliff offer an activity called 2B or Knot 2B. In this activity, participants need to decide, as a group, which one of several ropes is holding all the others together. Through the activity and debriefing discussion, participants gain awareness of how they interact with each other when making decisions, and learn how their actions either moved the group forward or hindered its success in solving the problem. This type of discussion becomes a springboard for change as the team works to develop new and more effective ways to interact.

Back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post – how did it go the last time you made a decision as part of a group? Would you like to improve on that experience? If so, perhaps experiential learning techniques can help!

Developing Strong Virtual Teams

How do you develop a sense of team when members are spread out geographically?  For many groups the opportunities to get  together in the same physical location are rare. But do you have to

Developing virtual teamsaccept having a disconnected team, just because everyone doesn’t come to work in the same location every day?  People often tell me how difficult it is to build relationships in that kind of situation.  I’ve experienced it myself, and I agree – it can be difficult.  But fortunately it’s not impossible.  I’ve also experienced what it’s like to be part of a strong virtual team, where no goal seemed out of reach. What made the difference?  Just like any relationship, intentional effort needs to be made to create and maintain bonds among team members.

If your virtual team is not performing as well as you’d like or you think that the interpersonal bonds between members could be stronger, consider these questions:  Do you find that when your group does get together for a meeting, much of the time is spent on activities like reviewing reports and scheduling future meetings?  Are these things that really need to be done in a face-to-face setting?  Would a conference call work for some things like these instead?  Are all team members valued for the unique qualities and strengths they bring to the team?

Here are four ways you can build a stronger team.  These apply regardless of your work setting, and are especially applicable in a virtual environment:

1. Make the most of the times you are physically together in the same location to foster trusting relationships among team members.

2.  Incorporate focused and purposeful team development activities into your event to accelerate the group-formation process.

3.  Carefully consider the content of your face-to-face meetings.  What can team members do independently ahead of time? Are there reports that can be read, scheduling that can be planned, or questions that can be shared with the group ahead of time?  If so, then the face-to-face meeting time can be devoted to those areas that address more sensitive topics, or require more in-depth discussion or brainstorming.

4. Create an inclusive environment.  Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and be heard.  Allowing everyone to be involved not only helps the team achieve its goals by leveraging each person’s strengths, it also demonstrates that each member is a valued part of the team.

What would you add to this list?  What has worked for you?

Team-building’s bad reputation?

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Have you seen it?  People rolling their eyes when you bring up team-building?  Well, maybe not eye-rolling exactly, but perhaps a slight cringe or something else in their body language that says they’re not too keen on the idea.  Why is that?

Having had many experiences myself in the team-building arena, I have some theories.  I’d have to say first that for me, every one of the actual “team-building” events I’ve participated in was a positive experience at the time.  But only a few had any lasting impact.  What made the difference?  What takes a team-building event from a fun outing or activity to a different level, where it actually results in a team of people moving toward higher functionality and performance?  That phrase itself is part of it – “moving toward … functionality and performance.”  Because true team development is not a one-shot deal.  And while a fun day at the park, beach, golf course – you get the idea – can be an integral part of developing a team, it takes more than that to have a real impact on team dynamics for the long-term.Marble Tubes

Think about the team-building events that you may have been part of.  Were there clear goals?  Did all of the participants understand the goals from the beginning?  What kind of follow-up was there to any activities you participated in?  Did team members ever talk about their experiences or what they learned?

It takes a skilled facilitator to effectively interact with activity participants so they create meaning from their experiences.  Without effective facilitator planning and guidance, a lot of time and money may be spent with no meaningful outcome for the participants or the organization.

A scavenger hunt is a classic example of a team-building activity that is fairly easy to initiate and often incorporated in a conference setting.  Have you participated in something like that before?  It was probably great fun to work with your team to find and photograph different items.  But was your activity designed in a way that maximized engagement and participation; that tied to team and organizational goals from beginning to end; that gave participants an opportunity to gain insights about the way they communicate and interact as a group; that encouraged them to share and make meaning from those insights?  These are the kinds of things that can elevate “team-building” to lasting and powerful team development.

What kind of team-building activities have been most effective for you?  What made them so?