To build or not to build - Is this the question for team leaders?
“We did a team build last year. It didn’t change anything”
Even if you’ve never said this yourself, there’s a fair chance you’ve heard someone else say it. A colleague, perhaps. Or, if you’re a practitioner or a facilitator, a participant in one of your workshops might have said it.The implication is that the event was (probably) a waste of time. Nothing changed. The event failed.
Maybe. Maybe not. If there were no behavior-changing elements in the program, how could it fail at something it wasn’t built to do?
The issue here is expectation. What was the event designed to do? What did participants expect to get from it?
If those points aren’t aligned, team events will fail on some level. So, to prevent that happening, let’s explore the difference between team building and team development. Then we know exactly what’s what.
When building isn’t working
Here’s a description of a team build, taken from LinkedIn. In their article, a team build is usually:
- A specific event or activity but with a general purpose.
- Short—probably up to a day.
- A one-off event.
- Light in content, not too challenging.
- Built on the idea of a shared experience.
Some events are even lighter than this. If social or recreational activities feature heavily then it probably qualifies more as team bonding than team building.
But let’s go back to the above list and expand on three core areas for our build v develop discussion. Team building and team development are different—here are the pieces that set team development apart:
Purpose. For any performance improvement to take place, we cannot be generic in purpose. We need a specific goal. A team needs to know where it is and where it wants to end up. Basically, something like, ‘We’re looking at X so we can do Y and be Z’. This is overly simple, but it at least sets a direction (Y) and a destination (Z).
Duration. A development program that ends on the same day it starts isn’t developing anything. The very essence of development and development is ongoing. It requires regular commitment from the team and the facilitator. It’s the difference between having coaching and having a lesson.
Content. This needs to be challenging in some way. Otherwise, what’s the point of the program? That’s not to say it has to create conflict or confrontation. But it does need to address a barrier to performance, which might be a little difficult. And to do this, it needs to go below the surface. Often, it’s the unseen thoughts and drivers of behavior that cause tension and block performance.
This brings us to two more points we believe are critical to any development program. Without them, behavioral change is impossible.
- Observation and analysis
This is what the session’s exercises and activities are for. They give the facilitator—the behavioral expert—the chance to watch people’s behaviors in action. The activities are selected to bring out the specific behaviors connected to the team’s objective. The facilitator can then analyze what they saw and thread it into the activities that follow.
- Reflection and learning
Dedicated reflection time helps participants, as individuals and as a team, consolidate what they’ve learned about themselves and each other. It builds awareness. And it’s followed by a chance to practice, and a plan for how to apply the learning at work outside the session.
Why the MBTI is often preferred for team development
The need for reflection is one reason why MBTI type theory lends itself to development programs. The MBTI assessment is rooted in self-awareness which, as we know, is the starting point for behavioral change.
MBTI type theory also automatically covers another of the key points above—the need to go deeper than surface behaviors. This is the essence of MBTI type. It helps everyone learn that different people’s preferences come out in different ways. And that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.
The inclusion of MBTI type in a team program sends a very clear message. It says, ‘This program is a development program. It’s not just a bonding exercise, it’s not just a team build.’
Continuity = development
In a 2009 Harvard Business Review article, psychologist and link management expert J Richard Hackman talks about why teams don’t work. It includes five points, taken from his Leading Teams book, that are key to effective teams. They are:
- Teams must be real.
- Teams need a compelling direction.
- Teams need enabling structures.
- Teams need a supportive organization.
- Teams need expert coaching.
The last of these points ties in with what we’re talking about today.
Hackman says, “Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes—especially at the beginning, midpoint, and end of a team project.”
So, we’re getting the idea that an improvement in team performance requires much more than showing up for a team day. Unfortunately, many ‘team builds’ are exactly that—one-off events with little or no depth, and zero chance of making a lasting impact.
To build or not to build? That was the question. Now, we have the answer.
To better your team, let’s develop instead.
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