Team-Building Training, or Disaster? Confessions from an Industry Veteran

Karen Marino | May 31, 2017

Picture this: One day, you’re put in charge of team-building training for your company. Maybe you’ve stepped into a new role at a company and need to build your department to grow the business. Or maybe your company just went through an acquisition, and your task is to build functional teams from all the separate existing ones.

On day one, what are your two biggest obstacles?

This question is important because there will be obstacles, believe me. By one estimate, a full 60% of workplace teams are doomed to failure from the start. That stat just screams the need for proper team building and team-building training. So what’s getting in the way, and how can we train leaders to remove those obstacles?

Harvard Studies Prove What We Already Know

I’ve been managing and growing teams for years, and I love it. There’s something about taking a group—which, really, is just a collection of individuals—and forming it into a team of mutually dependent people working together toward a common goal.

And along the way, I’ve seen a lot of examples of what not to do. They all boil down to two things: Poor motivation, or lack of collaborative coordination.

In fact, Harvard Professor J. Richard Hackman identified problems of “coordination and motivation” as the two things that chip away at the benefits of collaboration. (Funny how it took decades of research to verify what many business veterans already know from the field!)

You can’t motivate people with a few lofty speeches. And you can’t make a team collaborate and coordinate with a few pre-canned activities or a day at the ropes course. Great team building starts with a strong, effective leader that engages the team from day one.

In my experience, that kind of leadership is rare as a natural ability. More often than not, it has to be taught, through solid team-building courses and training.

Karen’s Crash Course in Team-Building Training

For a full course on team building, I recommend you sign up for a trial and check out ej4’s team-building content. That covers a lot of the basics a leader would need to build highly effective teams.

In the meantime, though, here are some of the basics that I’ve learned through the years as a trainer and a team leader myself on how to ace team-building training:

1. Set SMART goals. Teams work better if they have clear goals in mind. Not just any old goals will do; your team’s goals must be Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. In our own training content, we call these SMART goals, and they really do help to keep teams on track.

2. Empower. OK, so here in 2017, “empowerment” is beginning to sound a little cliché. Still, I’ve seen plenty of teams falter because team members were not given the ability or authority they needed to overcome obstacles and get things done. Don’t be stingy with either.

3. Communicate the latitude they have. Once you empower them, let them know what power they have—and what limits they have to work within. When you set a clear channel in which they can work, it cuts down on the power struggles and makes collaboration easier.

4. Help them get started. Don’t just tell them what needs to be done—show them. Set a first milestone. Clear away obstacles. Do anything you can so things don’t stall out at step 1.

One of the hardest lessons a leader needs to learn is to let employees make their projects their own. Team building is less about fulfilling your own vision, and more about coaching your employees to fulfill their own. (Worried about coaching? We’ve got content to help you be better at that too.)

6. Get them excited. If you are truly excited about what you’re doing, that enthusiasm will be contagious. Then sustain that enthusiasm by listening, being responsive, and publicly supporting your team. (These are all things we cover, by the way, in our course on motivational leadership.) This kind of leadership will motivate far better than a one-day ropes course!

7. Build the environment so they can succeed. Does your team have the tools it needs? Have you pointed out the qualities of team members that will bring success? Have you convinced them that they can, in fact, meet the ambitious goals you set out? Do you celebrate those successes when they happen? High-functioning teams need an environment of success to thrive.

And, just because I believe teams should always aim to over-deliver, here is a special bonus “8th tip”…

8. Realize: it’s all connected. Motivation alone won’t build an effective team without goals and mentoring. Setting goals won’t magically fix a dysfunctional team without motivation or empowerment. You get the picture: All the ingredients are needed.

That’s a tall order for any leader. That’s one reason why ej4 recommends not just individual courses, but full learning libraries, for most organizations.

For example, in putting together a training program on team building, you might include:

  • A course on motivational leadership to build enthusiasm
  • Team-building courses that cover the basics, such as types of teams, effective team members, team-building models, and so on
  • A course on SMART goals (mentioned above)
  • Some courses on accountability to encourage everyone to take responsibility
  • Preparation for upcoming change with courses on change management and transformational leadership
  • And finally, a course or two on coaching to round out those leadership skills

Again, I highly recommend ej4’s own content on the topic. It can vastly simplify your team-building training and set a foundation for success! But don’t just take my word for it, sign up to watch the first part of our Team Building series in the video below.

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