How do you encourage a team to be a team?
Every business aspires to build their organisation around good team players and strong communicators; these ‘soft skills’ are often highlighted on job descriptions, noted in objectives and spoken about in management meetings. Yet, how often do businesses actually focus on developing these skills in their employees? And what is the impact if you don’t get it right?
The era of team building days are now somewhat behind us as many businesses, and employees, frown upon such things or find ways to ‘wriggle’ out of cringe worthy activities that force you to awkwardly ‘bond’ over a puzzle, obstacle course or other similar experiences.
So how do you encourage your teams to be a team? How can you develop communication when your team fears even sitting down over a meal and making small talk?
This was a question posed to us recently in a brief from a customer whose shared service function wanted to improve its teamwork and communication. Split across two offices, the 95 strong business unit sometimes worked in silo in their own areas of responsibility and often don’t know the face or name of their team members, which in a business whose values centre around togetherness, this way of working just couldn’t continue.
Working with our client over a number of weeks, we designed a day where each employee would be taken back to the basics of teamwork learned on the sports fields at schools and the immediate results were somewhat remarkable.
What a difference a day makes
Upon arrival in the morning, the room was filled with visibly defined cliques of colleagues only talking to and making eye contact with those they were familiar with. It was like walking into a school lunch hall or year 11 dance where no-one wanted to venture out from the safety of their pack and into the fear of the unknown. But this was all about to change.
Once everyone was put into their groups, designed to mix the team up and encourage communication, as an ice-breaker, we sent them on a scavenger hunt. Witnessing this was frustrating at the start as those who were less confident stood back, the groups hardly moved, or really worked as a team and it felt clumsy and awkward. Half way through the activity, more rules were divulged and clearer direction given, which resulted in a few light-bulbs begin to ignite and a faint whiff of teamwork filled the air.
With the scavenger hunt over, it was time to move onto the sports day where each team had to complete a course where they would encounter your typical junior school races with dressing up, space hoppers, eggs & spoons, multiple legs tied together and much more.
After each rotation, the energy levels increased, the conversation became louder, encouragement more frequent and strategies began to materialise. One ambitious group even achieved a 10 legged race which was only possible through strong team work and clear communication.
Fast forward a few hours and as the final events were taking place, there had been a complete transformation. Not only within the forced teams, but also across the entire function as during the breaks people who weren’t talking at the start of the day, were now bonding over shared experiences.
But this was just one day and what happens tomorrow when they go back to their desks and their day-to-day work lives?
Making it stick
A day after the event and we’ve been told it was the subject of conversation in the office as a whole, with everyone talking about what a fantastic time they had. But changing behaviours doesn’t happen overnight, let alone over a friendly egg and spoon race or with your leg strapped to an unknown colleague.
The most important element of any learning intervention is to take what you’ve learned back into the business and continue to develop, which is not an easy feat to accomplish, especially when we’re talking about changing habits.
Reinforcement and support at work is absolutely essential for learning to transfer and when you’re exploring new skills or insights developed ‘on the field’, it can be incredibly daunting to practice what you’ve learned back in role. In most cases, the line manager would be responsible for encouraging conversations and keeping track on changes in skills or behaviour, whereas in this particular example, each individual team member has a responsibility to reach out to their colleagues, engage in conversations and make a point of being more together.
Without this support, whether by manager or peer, the learning’s of the day will simply fade away and the status-quo will prevail.