What is Team Building Anyway?

The Chief Happiness Officer writes about The top 5 reasons why most team building events are a waste of time. He says they are overly competitive, often demeaning, and don’t so much build team as build aggression (my word).

No kidding.

Here’s a few related views based on my experience studying team development—so I could teach it to others—since 1990:

  1. Team building used to be the domain of consultants and managers. No more. Every professional today must know how to build any team any time or their own performance is at peril. Why? Today’s work world is a world of shared responsibility where your own credibility and paycheck ultimately depends on what you do with others over whom you have no control.
  2. It’s not about being competitive or cooperative. It’s about understanding simultaneity. Simultaneity is a fancy word referring to simultaneous forces. In the case of team it means that every relationship experiences simultaneously cooperative and competitive forces and whether someone cooperates with you or competes with you is based on their notion of winning in that situation.
  3. It’s also not about liking each other and getting along — although there is a huge place for goodwill, cooperation, and mutual respect. There is something much more important in producing the wonderful high performance team dynamics we so appreciate. And that’s the shared task (or mission, goal, objective, target, etc.). The primary predictor of a group of people coming together as a cohesive team is that their individual future wins are connected to a collective win. Science refers to this as “outcome interdependence.” You and I call it being in the same boat together. When we are in the same boat together we will learn to deal with people who are different, or who we don’t like.
  4. A “common enemy” is a cheap and easy way to get people to feel that they are in the same boat together. That’s why competitive games are so popular as team-building events, even if people don’t understand how to transfer the learning because they misunderstood the first principles being applied (because the designers misunderstood the first principles being applied). The dynamic of a common enemy produces all the harmful results mentioned in The Chief Happiness Officer’s post: It makes groups insular. Creating value isn’t important, only beating the other group. And so on.
  5. A shared task that draws people together meets this criteria: What must we do that is bigger than any of us, requires all of us, and none of us can claim individual victory until it is done?
  6. A built team is the result of five conversations, conversations that I collectively refer to as the Team Orientation Process. My view is that every professional needs to have a basic understanding of this process so they can build any team any time.

Related Posts

Collaborative Leadership Basics, Part 4: Keys to the Boat — Generating Positive Interdependence in Groups

If you share responsibility to get things done with others…

Team Rewards

Collaborative Leadership Basics, Part 8: Keys for Creating Designer Norms in Teams

Related Free Resources

Responsibility eTips (e-newsletter). Twice a month, generally one issue is focused on understanding and developing individual responsibility and the next looks at understanding and developing shared responsibility.

AskChristopherAvery.com (fee live 50-minute tele-class). Once a month I answer your burning questions about Responsibility Redefined and Teamwork Is An Individual Skill on a free live 50-minute tele-clinic.

Related Resources

Teamwork Is An Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility (Berrett-Koehler, $19.95). My book on how to be successful when you are in shared responsibility situations.

Knowledge Team Leadership: The Art and Science of Being Amazingly Effective in any Team (seminar).  My three-day intensive training designed to give you the mindset to confidently build any team any time, whether a partnership of 2 or a team of 100.

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