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Does Team Building Really Work?

Does Team Building Really Work?

By Derek Hendrikz 

 

Organizations, worldwide, often spend vast amounts on team building interventions, but are mostly unable to prove any significant return on investment. Although these interventions are usually great fun and participants find activities highly entertaining; the question remains whether such team building was really worth money spent? Questions such as, “Are we a more effective functioning team?” or “Are we now more results driven?” are mostly answered with positive excitement right after the intervention. But, test these questions three months post-hype, and the answers may seem far less optimistic.

Organizational development consultants are repeatedly confronted by EXCO teams to develop and initiate interventions that bring about real and actual change. This will stay a major challenge; one in my experience, that can be vanquished if team building is an outcomes-based intervention. The implication of outcomes-based team building is not about what delegates do during such team building, but rather about how we could utilize and process experiential activity to resolve dysfunctional workplace dynamics.

 

Where, for example, workplace culture needs remedy, we would provide employees with an experiential activity, and observe how they apply organizational values or a specifically selected value during the activity. Participants will have fun and experience camaraderie during the activity; and that is good. However, the consultant will see fun as a side effect of achieving something that has much greater effect, which is to solve a pre-defined problem. In the above example, dysfunctional workplace behaviour, resulting in unsanctioned organizational culture needs remedy. In this case, the consultant will carefully analyse team behaviour and give feedback accordingly. This process is facilitated and not instructed. The team needs to become conscious of their ‘blind spots’ as opposed to being told how to behave. This process of experience, reflection, learning and applied remedy will normally continue for about two to three-days.

Of course, it would be incredibly naive to think that any team could sort out their problems in two consecutive days. OD consultants might be group dynamic experts, but they are certainly not magicians. The best we can do is to make a team aware of that which causes their problems, and then guide them to practically resolve this back at the workplace. But, the real ‘fix’ will take place in absence of the consultant. It is for this reason that organizational values form a foundational basis of any team development intervention. Collective values is the only possible benchmark against which to measure ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour. Where team problems have escalated to a point where it significantly affects goals and process outcomes, I recommended to rather contract a team coach than to run a once-off intervention.

The following table highlights some of the major differences between traditional team building and outcomes-based team development interventions...

Traditional Team Building

Outcomes Based Team Development

Activity Based.

Outcomes Based.

Results are measured against the amount of fun that a group has.

Results are measured against changed behavior at the workplace.

Consultant has a short term relationship with the client.

Consultant has a long term relationship with the client.

Usually a once-off intervention.

Part of a continuous development process.

Little time spent with the client, before and after the intervention.

Consultant spends lots of time on behavioral analysis before and after the team building event.

Approach is superficial, with focus on having fun, entertainment, adrenaline and excitement.

Focus is on the development of a relationship; involving pre-analysis, follow-up and impact assessment.

"Immediate gratification' approach, focused on obtaining favorable evaluations right after the event.                                                

Functional approach, focused on attaining outcomes and moving the group towards optimal functioning through constant conditioning.

In outcomes-based programmes, the whole intervention is focused on attaining pre-negotiated outcomes. Activities are mere vehicles in getting the group to a pre-determined destination. Learning and growth takes place during the processing of an experience, which the facilitator presents to the team. Strategically, the facilitator will link such experience to the groups operational functioning. This learning is then practically applied during a next experience. This cycle continues to the point of renewed behaviour. It is for this reason that it is better to have less team development goals than having more. In my experience, more than three / four intervention goals is very hard to achieve.

Typical phases of an outcomes based team development intervention will include…

  • Pre-assessments (questionnaires, individual interviews & focus groups)

  • Setting up a team development plan

  • Team development interventions (structural reorganization, strategic planning and alignment, managerial development, team development, intra- and interpersonal relations)

  • Continuous follow-up and impact assessments sessions to determine the impact of the development as well as further development needs

  • Continuously working with appropriate group processes and dynamics (making meetings, planning sessions, etc. more effective)

In conclusion I advocate that team building can definitely work, provided that the sponsor has a clear idea of what he/she wants to achieve, and that a programme is devised to specifically address these pre-determined outcomes. Where you increase the developmental focus of a team building intervention, the long term impact will correspondingly increase.

This article is adjusted from my 2003 article “Outcomes-based Team Development”.

 

© 02 November 2015

Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist

www.derekhendrikz.com

  

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© (c) 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting

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