Leaders, Stop Wasting Money on Team Building

Failure to collaborate was, ironically, a function of their excelling at the jobs they were hired to do and of management reinforcing that excellence. ~Carlos Valdes-Dapena

Stop Wasting Money on Team Building is an article title I’ve seen pop-up in social media over the past couple of weeks. I decided it was time to give it a read. I agree with the basic premise of the author. Spending lots of money on activities like rope courses, cooking classes, etc. provides a short-term bonding experience. Unfortunately, when back at the office and faced with tense situations and conflict, that “team building” will have disappeared.

I believe that some of the emphasis on team building over the past number of years has swung the pendulum too far in one direction. Leaders assume that nearly every effort in organizations should be completed in collaboration. And all that collaborating makes organizations more effective. We need collaboration. We need to be more strategic and thoughtful about when collaborating really is the best approach.

Basketball team?

Some authors suggest that real teams, the most collaborative teams, resemble the highly interdependent and constant interaction of a basketball team. This is contrasted with a golf team, made up of highly independent team members. I’m going to step-out and disagree with this perspective.

First of all, there is a great deal of research that indicates that we are most innovative and creative when working alone, independently. Second, sometimes too much collaboration results in group think. You’re not finding the best answer but instead the one you’ve collectively gravitated towards.

Or relay team?

Is there a happy medium? I think so. I’ll stick with the sporting analogy and suggest that team building needs to focus on becoming better relay teams. There is significant time spent working independently. Similar to a relay team, the handoffs become extremely critical. So critical that the handoff can mean the difference between winning and losing.

This also means a shift in prioritizing our “team building” efforts. The author of Stop Wasting Your Money on Team Building points out, the priority shifts to establishing accountability. For those individuals involved in this research, they said that “collaboration is an idealized and vague goal with no concrete terms or rules. Collaboration is messy. It dilutes accountability and offers few tangible rewards.” Consequently, here are three things this group of employees did differently that resulted in significant organizational performance improvements – a different way to look at team building.

  • Build collaborative commitments into individual performance objectives
  • Co-create a list of behaviors expected of each other in support of those commitments
  • Agree upon how to hold yourselves accountable

I think this is much more like a relay team. Recognize that some efforts are completed more effectively without a great deal of collaboration, but within the context of collaborative commitments (like a relay handoff). Then determine behaviors to support those commitments (decide which relay handoff technique you’ll use). Finally, how will you hold yourselves accountable (will you win or lose the race).

In a nutshell

Team Building = Building Accountability

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