An Introduction to Team Building

Team is at the core of corporate existence and an essential cooperative mechanism in all walks of life. Teams are central to many sports and organisations and also exist for much simpler reasons – such as a pub quiz team. Built on the principle of synergy – that the sum is greater than its parts – teams are essential to the collective success of any endeavour. A simple demonstration is, the fact that behind every great racing driver is a dedicated team whose sole focus is to make the driver the best they can possibly be and able to compete with others around them.

Teams, as well as being made up of different parts, must also fit together, just like a jigsaw, where no one element is complete, but together they create something full and balanced.  So with team being such a vital part of the workings of an organisation it is important to give serious consideration on how to build teams and get the most out of them.

The following principles are essential to good team building and function.

Purpose

Teams come together for a purpose. In other words teams exist for a reason and that reason should be the central focus of everything, including the selection of individuals, delegation of tasks and sharing in victories. The answer to any why question concerning these issues should be to achieve the purpose.

Why is this individual on the team? – To support the purpose of the team

Why does this person do this task? – To support the purpose of the team

Why celebrate victories? – To support the purpose of the team

Why? Why? Why?  – To support the purpose of the team

Anything done in addition to this, however nice it might be is at best superfluous and at worst wasteful. In terms of the efficiency of the team the ability to avoid such distractions is a quintessential quality that is vital in keeping the team focused.

Goal Setting

It is a natural progression from the reasoning that teams exist for a purpose to  then divide this into goals, which are spread over a period of time, hence the tendency to view goals through the lens of three time frames; namely short term (easily achievable in a short time), mid-term (which often serve as performative indicators of progress against goals so thus become a kind of monitoring mechanism to see if the organisation is still on target / heading in the right direction) and long term goals (which include or are close to the original purpose(s) of the team in the first place, as they represent what the team came together for).

Goals should also be specific. Non-specific goals can create a woolly lack of focus and can adversely affect the ability of the team to fulfil its purpose. Specific goals bring clarity and communicate clearly to team members what is expected.

Of course goals are further broken down into tasks which then are delegated to team members who are selected based on the skills they bring to the table because they are best suited to complete each one.

Leadership

Before moving on to people and delegation it is important to make a note on leadership. Teams need leaders and while some argue that a team is a collective ultimately it needs to be structured in such a way that provides clarity and direction but also accountability and responsibility. Leaders vary in their approaches and usually act within the confines of their personality as ultimately leadership is expressed on an individual level with the majority of leadership skills being about interpersonal (ie communicative and motivational) skills. Leaders pick the team, break down goals into tasks and delegate to team members. This does not by any means necessarily mean that it has to be done autocratically, and different leaders can adopt differing methodologies with their teams depending also on purpose and personnel. Leaders are also key individuals in terms of tracking progress against goals and effectively steering the ship to ensure the team remain on course.

The leader defines the culture of the team and its environment so it is important to have a clear idea of how the team is to function. This culture includes how communication works, which should not only be top down but bottom up with trust and candour at its heart. Conflicts when they arise should be managed quickly and effectively, nip them in the bud before they become a festering sore.

Getting the right people – the right blend

It is essential to have the right people on the team. First and foremost people are on a team to complete tasks and they stand or fall on their ability to do so.  As a gene pool contains every possible genetic combination a team pool must do the same with all the required skills covered by at least one person in the team.  What use is a football team without a goalkeeper?

The team should also have an element of contingency in it.  People leave, get promoted or take time off and a team cannot fall apart on these grounds.  Deputising is good (temporary cover for others in case of absence) but duplicating is wasteful; why have more people than necessary on the team?  This does not necessarily mean only having one specialist and when required the team dynamic should be scalable.   If an organisation needs to complete 50 cases a month and one analyst can complete 10 then hire 5 analysts even if their skills are identical.  Football teams usually feature more than one central defender each of which broadly does the same thing.

Among the right people can often be a go to person, often called a facilitator who is an effective deputy, a doer, a person who gets things done and a trusted right hand person. These people can often be the difference between success and failure.

Without the right skills the team will never achieve what it was created to do.

Getting the right people – the right character.

The second element of getting the right people – and some might argue it is more important than the skills – is ensuring that its members have the right character.

It is often said that people are hired for their competences and fired for the behaviours.  While this adage may not always be the case, it is true often enough to be a relevant consideration.  People in a team need to be united and of one character all pulling in the same direction.  They need to have the right type of personality and be able to function well within a team environment.  They need to be able to  work effectively and demonstrate not only the ability to get on with their job, but get on with others around them.   Maturity and cooperation should be the defining characteristic, rather than bickering infighting and personal agendas.

This raises a question of which is more important, character or competence?  In an ideal world team members would have both.  I would suggest that it is harder to change a person’s personality or character than it is for them to learn a new skill and unfortunately sometimes that obnoxious person is important enough to be in the team because of what they bring.

Delegation

So you have got the right leader and the right people so what comes next?

Tasks must be shared and allocated to people whose skill sets match up.   Good delegation isn’t simply telling somebody what to do, but it is matching task to person while maintaining clear command structures that encompass both personal responsibility and accountability.  In fact it could be argued this is the true nature of synergy, when each of the component parts of the team are fully playing their roles to create something greater than the members can create individually.

However some people have problems with delegation and there are a number of reasons why leaders do not delegate.  Some common reasons are listed below

I can do better myself = I do not trust my team

I might get into trouble if it goes wrong = I do not trust my team

I need to keep control = I do not trust my team

Good delegation fundamentally comes down to trust.  So in most cases where delegation fails it is because of leader insecurity; let this go and delegate wisely and fairly, remember the team’s purpose, goals and task completion are at the core of everything you are looking to achieve.

Engagement

All team members must have clearly defined roles and be fully engaged. A person is selected for a team for a reason and must therefore take up an active role. A football coach does not pick 11 players and know that he does not intend to give a role to all of them. Each has a role to play and should be fully engaged. Sometimes the argument is used that simple observation is a good way to bring a junior or less experienced member of staff on board, with no active role. as a learning exercise. This is of limited value and by all means bring such people on board, but they learn by doing so this is not an excuse not to give them an active role and specific tasks to complete.

For a number of years I worked initially under and later alongside a guy who led teams in a variety of fields to fulfill a number of purposes and one of his clear mottos was that he always aspired to full employment of his people – in other words full engagement and involvement, without exception.

Flexibility and adaptability 

It is said that the only constant in life is change and this applies to teams just as much as every walk in life.  Goals change as requirements evolve and the team needs to do so too.  This may mean changing personnel and bringing new people in while letting others go so that the goals can be more effectively achieved.

I once heard team leadership being compared to being a bus driver who is responsible for making sure that everybody on board reaches the destination, but people get on and off as the bus pulls in at each bus stop.  While the analogy may not be perfect it does provide an ample illustration of the point.  For people the journey may be more important than the destination, but for the team it is the other way round.

 While the author impresses at this point that change for change sake is not a good thing it does inevitably happen and if personnel and goals change, the team members need to be open and adaptable to this and the challenges it brings.

Performance Management

Performance Management is often perceived as a role for the manager or team leaders and whilst such people do have a key role to play in this it is for each individual on the team to ensure they remain on track in terms of their own performance, as taking responsibility for one’s own actions is a core value which although often unstated should be an obvious attitude for each individual to have.

From the outset a purpose for the team was defined, which was then broken down into goals which are then furthermore defined as tasks. Performance Management demands that actual performance is measured against goals to provide realistic feedback on the team’s progress. Such things are often called KPIs or Key Performance Indicators.

However, performance management should be much more than this (and a later article will look at this in greater depth), in that comparison to KPIs is at best performance tracking and nothing more as they tend to show the relationship between goals and achievements and by definition often end up creating a pass / fail environment which can be demoralising or create an over competitive atmosphere which can be counterproductive. A more progressive framework (than the typical bad – average – good one) is required to not only maintain morale but also create a positive framework in which the individuals on the team can have a true sense of their own development alongside a sense of achievement against goals.

In his book, How to Lead, Jo Owen argues that a more positive framework would rather than having traditional labels work better with labels such as beginner, developing, experienced, mature and senior and coaching has to be inherent to performance management, which should never be just tracking but actually should encompass a culture of best practice and continuous improvement for the betterment of the individual and consequently the team too.

Share Successes

Finally a team ‘s success belongs to the whole team and should not just serve the leader’s ego. Build a culture where celebration and positivity thrive, in which team members can express themselves and enjoy success. Have fun and celebrate success in a meaningful way which all will enjoy. People will engage more if they feel the benefits directly rather than if they feel as if they are adding to the CV of some self-serving executive.

In Winning, Jack Welch, business guru and former CEO of General Electric goes further and argues that celebrating means relevantly to the team and what they like. Take the team for pizza or bowling – or whatever they are into – rather than to a formal event which is a bind for team members. Sharing success should be enjoyable for all concerned as it is a collective success that is being celebrated.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2016