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|Building the Organisation Team|
In times of increasing change organisations have to find ways of responding creatively. Creative responses require the organisation's members to co-operate with each other. It is rare that one person can produce the ideas required or carry them out. 'Team Building' activities increase the amount of effective co-operation in the organisation. Managers must build co-operation within and between teams to get the best results.
What is 'Team Building' within a team?
In a typical 'Team Building' event a group of staff, with their manager, clarify and review their purpose and objectives. They identify any obstacles in the way of achieving these objectives and plan future progress. This is rarely a straightforward process. Any lack of trust and openness in the team will create communication difficulties. Many team members anticipate the process being stressful and are somewhat anxious about the prospect. Most team building activities employ an independent process manager or "facilitator" who is outside the team. He or she creates a safe atmosphere, encourages limited risk taking and generates effective procedures to help the team do its work.
What methods are available?
All approaches require that participants look at what happens in the team and decide how to make improvements. They work best in an atmosphere where people can listen to each other and say what they think and feel. Most facilitators will help the group think about its internal processes during the work so members learn from their experiences. Some methods, techniques and theories that facilitators use follow.
Emphasis on Data
The theory behind this is that most practising managers are uncomfortable about feelings and subjective phenomena. They like to work as far as possible within the existing organisational culture and to reduce risk. They see team building as a problem to be solved using objective data.
Here is one way to do this.
A critique of 'Emphasis on Data'.
Its strength is also its weakness. The fit into existing culture makes it acceptable, almost like a normal meeting. The fit may make it somewhat less likely that people will raise issues about relationships, values or purposes. These issues are often not legitimate subjects for discussion in organisations. They may remain so under these 'Team Building' conditions.
However, these processes can be very good where the group has little experience of working together developmentally.
Emphasis on Relationships
The theory behind this is that a team is a network of relationships. If the relationships do not work then neither will the team. If relationships are really bad then the whole may be less than the sum of the parts.
A typical processfollows.
A critique of 'Emphasis on Relationships'
Poor relationships at work cause enormous amounts of unhappiness and wasted effort. Relatively simple processes would put this right. Successful work can generate happy and very supportive teams. The processes develop much significant personal learning.
Most organisations are still heavily male dominated and men often find relationship work difficult so it can be difficult to gain acceptance. A more serious criticism is that the 'built' groups may develop cosy norms and can lose sight of their purpose. It may become reluctant to engage with the outside world where the relationship work has not been done. The group can avoid this by improving its working relationships with other parts of the organisation.
Emphasis on Purpose
The theory behind this approach is that teams have purposes. The team has to interact effectively with other teams and systems to achieve these purposes. To do this well requires that the team have a shared and attractive vision of what it is trying to achieve and a spirit of co-operation and commitment. If people are to be wholeheartedly committed to something the whole of them has to be engaged in the process. This approach to team building does this.
A critique of 'Emphasis on Purpose'
This approach generates powerful insights because of its use of thought and feeling, words and pictures, reality and vision. It taps deeply held values about the desire for excellence that most people share. Sometimes people find the process a bit slow at the beginning. Most are unused to taking lots of time and care to think.
It does not conform to the established cultures with the benefits and costs already discussed. It raises energy and enthusiasm for change in a positive and outgoing way. The process expands awareness and builds teams that act powerfully.
A practical example
You can combine the approaches to gain their individual benefits and reduce the snags. The recipe should respond to the needs of the team and organisation. A brief example follows.
The team members were well qualified and did important but relatively routine work. There was no experience of team building or other developmental activities. The team had a history of uncomfortable personal relationships. They did not deal with these problems directly. People would grumble to others instead. Workloads were increasing too.
I interviewed the team members and the manager individually to establish my credentials, to find out what the issues were and to encourage them to tackle them. These interviews produced a wealth of data and some positive attitude change. The workshop helped the participants decide which of their issues were the priority ones for action. I also asked people to say how they felt about working in the team. Most felt very frustrated.
The team chose to work on their internal communications. This was difficult because team members were not direct with each other. I asked each person to say to everyone in the group what they wanted from that person. This proved to be a positive and helpful experience to all. The group also worked, in sub groups, on practical issues such as the allocation of work and priority setting. They set up working groups to meet later and follow up mechanisms. Their weekly meeting is now much more democratic and less a top down briefing meeting. They are starting to tackle their relationships with other groups.
The participants are now feeling far more positive, enthusiastic and committed. They have learned the value of listening and talking to each other directly. There is less grumbling too.
The example used elements from "Data" and "Relationships". This was a response to their situation. They were at an early stage of their development and therefore "Purpose" work was not likely to be so helpful. In order to get the best value; organisations should consider the inter-team dimension. It is no good having an excellent team that produces a service no one wants or that is too expensive. A lot of effort and expense can fall down the cracks between departments. The next section shows some ways to work on this.
Team building between teams
Although very many organisations have invested in team building within teams rather less have taken seriously team building between teams. There is scope for much more effective working. Most organisations, for example, could improve communication and co-operation between line and staff departments and vice versa. Line groups often experience staff ones as making demands rather than being helpful. Staff groups often say people from the line dismiss their work and are uninterested in the organisation as a whole.
Difficulties between marketing and production and production and research are very common. They are not inevitable. Very simple methods can help a lot.
The drive to improve team working usually comes in response to an outside pressure. This is often competition that demands increased flexibility and business orientation. A business-oriented organisation requires excellent co-operation within and between groups. This co-operation is necessary to get the business done.
Business oriented managers have to think about the processes operating between people and groups. There must be clear communication of what people need from each other (and do not need). In this way they can eliminate unnecessary work. This way of thinking is difficult for managers who may have operated for a long time in a culture where these activities were absent. They may want to create co-operation between groups but find this difficult. There are four reasons for this:
Intervening in issues between groups
A Manager who is skilled and confident in Influencing can do much informally to create understanding and co-operation between his/her Department and others. For example, he/she can:
More formal methods are also available and can work surprisingly quickly.
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