Team building has its purpose

Team building. Just the thought of a team-building course can send shivers down the spines of right-thinking people everywhere. Who likes being blindfolded, leaping off tall structures into the arms of their workmates (would you trust your workmates to catch you?).

You’re falling through the air, trusting that the group of people on the other side of the void will catch you.

Are you:

A. Describing your News Year’s Eve antics (the bits you can remember)?

B. Crowd surfing at a concert?

C. Taking part in a corporate team-building exercise?

Team building. Just the thought of a team-building course can send shivers down the spines of right-thinking people everywhere. Who likes being blindfolded, leaping off tall structures into the arms of their workmates (would you trust your workmates to catch you?).

Well, not all team building is like that. It doesn’t have to mean venturing into the big outdoors but it does have to be more structured than just drinking a few beers with your workmates on a Friday night.

For example, systems integrator Simpl Group managing director Bennett Medary says in his company’s work with clients, they try to improve human dynamics — and that doesn’t involve taking people on an adventure course.

Medary says sending a team on an obstacle course is an external, artificial way to give a team a joint challenge. “When they overcome it, they feel good about themselves.”

Medary says you can use that as a tool, but it may not make any difference. “I’ve been told by managing directors who have done that kind of thing that it’s a one-week wonder. They go on the great team building course and everyone falls in love with each other and a week later they’re all the way they were before. It’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to practise that in their real life, only in an artificial one.”

Medary points out that we have intellectual challenges every day in our work.

“We don’t need to create an obstacle course — life gives us that. The whole reason we’re in a team is because we’re facing obstacles.”

But outdoor pursuits can sometimes be useful tools — but the consensus seems to be that it has to go hand in hand with some classroom work. Human resources company Wyn and Associates managing director Margaret Wyn says outdoor courses can break down barriers and teach people something about themselves and their peers. But those lessons need to be brought indoors and translated into an action plan.

So what should go into an action plan? Well, you may discover your team isn’t communicating well. You might decide to have more, fewer or different sorts of meetings. Or, says Wyn, you might discover there are people in the team who you’ve underestimated and realise you’re not using them as well as you could.

“They may make a commitment to coaching or encouraging or men-toring others in the team.”

Having an effective team is important in IT, where project teams are common. Wyn points out, for example, that IT moves so fast that if you work well as a team, your ability to be versatile and responsive is likely to be enhanced.

Medary, whose company focuses on human factors in team building, says it’s important to focus on people’s natural style because IT is about people and intellect rather than machines.

Simpl uses workshops and a variety of tools to ensure people’s personalities, attributes and cognitive skills are recognised.

“It’s more about understanding the person than using challenges to create bonds. A good team wanting to gain team strength needs to understand the individual very well — both their skills that they might demonstrate at work but also their nature, the kind of person they are.”

Interestingly, it seems team-building training hasn’t traditionally been big in IT.

Says Wyn: “IT people tend to be very much more analytical, less out-going and focused on the task in front of them and find a personal adventure rather than a mental adventure quite challenging.”

She says she’s found IT people might initially be a bit reserved because they’re out of their comfort zone, but it doesn’t take them long to relax.

Kirstin Mills is Computerworld’s careers editor. Phone her at: 0-3-467 2869; fax:0-3-467 2875.

kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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