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5 Steps to Make Sure Your Team Building Is Not Wasted Time

By Randy Hall

I get a lot of requests to do team building. Often, after initial conversations with the practice owner or manager, traditional “team building” is not what I end up delivering. At least it’s not the only thing I end up delivering to help the team become stronger. First, I learn more from the practice’s leadership about what they hope to improve following the team building event. Put simply, what is the goal for change? Many practice owners and managers want a behavior change on their team. However, they themselves are a big part of why the team operates the way it does. Leaders who fail to consider this start looking for a quick fix. That is, a one-day event that will improve the communication, the attitude, and ultimately the performance of their people. However, those don’t exist.

Here’s why. At first, the team may see an increase in morale. Or, a few people may even grab drinks after work or friend each other on Facebook. But, after the team building event, everyone will return to the same culture, leadership, stresses, and biases. Generally, there is no lasting change. Even if the team does have some new outlook on how to operate or communicate, unless the culture changes, people return to the status quo. I know this sounds pessimistic. However, I’ve seen this happen enough to know that without another catalyst, inspiration from the team building event are short-lived. For any changes to be sustained, there must also be a change in how the leader of the team operates.

If you want your team to engage in a team building event to improve performance, communication, or teamwork, there are 5 things you must do as a leader to ensure sustainable change following the event.

1. Crystalize the Learning

Pull the team together and talk about what was learned and discovered. This might include how they are thinking about things differently and other major takeaways from the event. Doing this together in an interactive format causes them to experience the event again and reinforces the learning. By doing this, they get to see the experience through the eyes of others. This helps them transition the event from a short-term event to a collective growth process for the team. Make a visual list of what the team learned together and how they look at things differently.

2. Create a New Destination

To begin any change, consider what the new destination looks like, feels like, and why the practice wants to go there. The team must decide what needs to be different because of what they learned and why it’s worth working towards. Change is not easy. It’s especially hard if we don’t care much about the outcome. First, the team has to articulate what should be different. Then, they need to consider why they care about getting to that new place in spite of the challenges ahead. We must clarify what will be better for each individual, the team, and the practice if these changes happen.

3. Remove the Roadblocks

The team has to identify and remove anything that will prevent them from moving towards the new destination. Sometimes the practice’s management is the biggest roadblock. This is where leaders need to take a hard look at how they can lead differently so change can happen.

For example, if the team wants to communicate more candidly, but the boss keeps “shooting the messenger,” change won’t happen. Or, if the team wants to be more customer-focused, but the manager keeps asking for more reports and administrative work, change won’t happen. If the team wants to be innovative, but the manager thinks ideas should come from the top, change won’t happen. And, if the team wants to be more solution-oriented, but the manager thinks their solutions are the best. . .well, you know the answer. In order for the team to perform more effectively, leaders must collaborate, empower, support, coach, and listen rather than tell, instruct, strategize, reprimand, micromanage, and over power.

4. Immediately Address Backward Steps

The team will mess up. There is a strong pull in human behavior to go back to familiar habits and patterns. New behaviors won’t shift overnight or feel easy. What’s important is that leaders don’t allow the team to slide back and pretend nothing happened. Leaders must encourage the team to call each other, and leadership, out when anyone does not adhere to the change. Without this collective accountability, the team has no shot at supporting each other through a change.

5. Celebrate and Support

The team needs to acknowledge when they slip backwards. But it is just as important to call it out when they move forward too. This is a big deal. Most teams aren’t successful at change. Research shows that about 80% of the attempts made at organizational change will fail. When the team makes progress, it should feel like progress. There should be a level of excitement and acknowledgement because the team successfully accomplished something very difficult.

It’s never just the team. It is always the team and the leader. If team building is a way to help the practice improve its success, then the team must have a game plan that helps them articulate and understand those changes. When leaders decide their team needs fixing, they are already starting in the wrong place and change has no shot. But, when leaders decide they need to lead more effectively and also support their team in achieving more of their potential, they start in a place that has real promise and may just set the entire practice up for incredible success.