Using team-building activities to create successful teams has many benefits to both team members and their organizations. Being part of a team can empower individuals because of added knowledge – through learning from each other – and increased motivation and job satisfaction. And successful teams contribute to the organization by providing a higher quality of work and increased flexibility, since such teams have multitasking members. Successful team relationships result in an enhanced quality of information exchange, higher levels of trust, better focus on problem solving, and minimized need for direct supervision as teams develop self-correcting controls.
A lot of team building occurs naturally as the team performs its work, but there are specific team-building techniques that can facilitate the process. These techniques fall into two major areas: relationship maintenance and staying on task.
Maintenance-type processes help preserve the well-being of team relationships. These processes include establishing team norms that are respectful of all members – such as being on time for meetings and having no side conversations – and encouraging all members to participate. Participation can be enhanced by simply stating that all members are expected to play active roles, and also by specifying what particular roles members will take on.
Task-type processes keep a team focused and moving toward its goal. These processes include such things as having an agenda for each team meeting, following an appropriate technical process for the situation – for instance, by using a problem-solving process for troubleshooting – and defining action items, responsibilities, and scheduling.
Both maintenance-type and task-type processes can be covered using basic areas of team-building activities. The three commonly used activities are
- holding introductory meetings
- developing a common vision
- identifying and assigning specific roles
Introductory meetings set the tone for the team, and are critical to team building. Two of the ways meetings help build team relationships are by
- emphasizing the importance of the project - To ensure the team members have a full appreciation of their mission and its scope, they need to understand the importance of the project. To this end, the project sponsor should be sure to attend, and the project plan and schedule should be reviewed.
- setting ground rules - Ground rules describe how to use norms and rules to prevent problems with team dynamics. A list of behavioral expectations can be set out by the team during the introductory meeting, laying a framework of mutual respect and contribution. Ground rules range from working out how decisions will be made – for example, by consensus or not – to laying out how to deal with issues not on the agenda, to stating expectations for attendance – such as being on time and actively participating.
Introductory meetings are also the time for members to share information about themselves to enhance team membership. But sometimes people need a little help in getting started, and that's where the use of icebreakers can be important. Icebreakers allow interaction and conversation, and can be used whether or not team members already know each other. Icebreakers include
- team member introductions - In general team member introductions, people share information such as their name and job, how they got to be on the team, and what they like the best or find the most challenging about their job. If the members are comfortable enough, they may also talk about outside interests or family.
- paired introductions - When team members don't know each other well, paired introductions can build a bridge. The group is divided into pairs and each person asks the other all of the questions on a whiteboard or flip chart. In addition to basic name and job information, questions can be about education or hobbies.
- member mapping - Member mapping is used when team members already knows one another. A map of the building is posted, and each person puts their initials on the job station or area where they work. Then they study the map as a group to look for patterns and interactions, and to see if all areas of the company are represented.
- group conversation - Group conversation is helped along by using a list of open-ended statements, such as "Anyone will work hard if..." or "A job is rewarding when..." One person begins with one of the statements and uses actual experiences. The team discusses it before moving on to a statement chosen by a different person.
- common denominators - The common denominators technique pairs up members who don't know each other well and has them find traits in common. Statements should be in the positive, not the negative, and might range from playing the banjo to being CPR certified.
Developing a common vision is also a critical component of team building. Clear vision and agreement on team goals can be set out using a team charter and objectives. Team charters are documents that define the purpose of the team, how it will work, and the expected outcomes. They're the roadmaps created at the beginning of the journey to make sure that everyone is clear about where the team is headed. And charters can give direction when times get tough. The team charter helps set expectations – both within the team and externally – and avoid turf conflicts.
Charters are usually set by the time the team convenes, and define the goals of the team, its scope and boundaries, and its responsibilities. Charters specify general guidelines – such as the nature of the problem and its importance to the company, how the team is connected organizationally, the schedule dates and key milestones, the measures that define success, and the level of autonomy and authority. The team charter is used to inform others in the organization of the team and its role.
Team charters don't specify quantifiable terms, but team objectives do. The acronym SMARTWAY indicates the criteria needed for meaningful goals:
- S for Specific, meaning to focus on distinct issues
- M for Measurable, meaning able to be quantified
- A for Achievable, so the goals are challenging yet in reach
- R for Realistic, meaning needed resources are available
- T for Time frame, so the deadline for achievement is clear
- W for Worthwhile, ensuring the objectives are meaningful
- A for Assigned, meaning responsibility is specified
- Y for Yield results, to ensure the desired outcome
The third component of building a team is to identify and assign specific roles. Team members are selected based on the mission and objectives. Since team members bring experience and approaches from a range of backgrounds, once you know who is on the team you can look at what each person can do to further the team's mission. During this process, you can spot any gaps in skills and abilities.
Team structures can vary depending on the scope of the process and the dynamics of the team members, but several common key team roles are
- champion - A team champion is the person who first came up with the idea for the team, and who is its advocate.
- sponsor - The team sponsor supports the team and helps it get needed resources, acting as a communication and support link to other parts of management.
- team lead - Team leaders keep the group on task and bring out the best in people. They usually staff the team and participate in the team as a member.
- facilitator - Facilitators act as advisors, keeping the team focused and on track with the agenda. They remain neutral in discussions and make sure everyone participates.
- scribe - The scribe is the member of the team who is the recorder, noting the critical information and action items, and distributing them as needed.
- timekeeper - The timekeeper or gatekeeper is a member chosen by the team to monitor and keep track of time.
- team member - Team members are the team's participants who have been selected to work together.
As a team progresses through the various stages of development, team building is essential to deepen relationships and reliances between members. Three specific techniques that can facilitate the team-building process are the use of introductory meetings, developing a common vision, and identifying and assigning the specific roles a team needs to have filled in order to be successful.
Course: Team Dynamics , Management & Communication
Topic: Building the Team