Teamwork – You Can’t Create It

March 8, 2012

Teamwork - You Can’t Create It I recently came across a letter in the “agony” column of Management Today, the Australian Institute of Management’s house magazine.  It read as follows:

“I recently went on a team building exercise with my work colleagues.  We went on endurance walks and played paintball combat.  Everyone else seemed to be having fun but I found it rather banal, especially the sermons about “all working together” given by the professional facilitators.  One of the aspects that I did enjoy was getting closer to my boss’s boss, and we developed a first name relationship.  This did not carry over once we returned to reality, however, and she left soon after, which seemed to make a mockery of everything that she endorsed on our week away.  Does my scepticism mean I am not a team player?”

For me, the key phrase in this letter is “once we returned to reality” because this type of exercise is totally irrelevant when it comes to building teamwork in a work environment.  It is also expensive and, in our opinion a complete waste of money.  If you want to reward your staff with a week away like this, that’s fine – but don’t expect them to behave any differently when they return.

Teamwork is a highly dependent variable.  It cannot be created – it can be developed and nurtured over time if you follow these steps:

  • Step 1. The organisation needs to have clear goals and strategies to achieve them.
  • Step 2. Not only does the organisation need to align its external and internal environments but its people need alignment too. Everyone needs to understand where the organisation is now; everyone needs to understand the destination and the journey and everyone needs to understand their role in getting there.
  • Step 3. Divide your staff into teams – or workgroups as we prefer to call them – so that each workgroup numbers less than 10 people.  There must be a rational reason for each workgroup’s formation.  Perhaps the workgroup collectively looks after some process such as order fulfilment or product development.  Perhaps it looks after a group of customers or a geographical region.  The key criterion is that each workgroup must have the same customers, whether they are internal or external to the organisation.
  • Step 4. The members of each workgroup must share a common purpose that is related to the purpose of the organisation as a whole.
  • Step 5. Each workgroup must have a common goal that is related to the organisation’s goal.
  • Step 6. Each workgroup must have a common structure and process.

In Towards Ten Thousand, we identify 25 characteristics of effective teamwork but Steps 4, 5 & 6 are the three basic requirements.  None of these bare the slightest relevance to endurance walks and paintball contests.  Indeed, one of the most important characteristics of teamwork in a corporate context is that teams collaborate with one another.  We are looking for “win win” situations not “I win, you lose”.

In short, the activities recounted in the above letter have no roll in building teamwork in a work environment.  Our answer to the reader’s question – “does my scepticism mean I am not a team player” is an emphatic no! Indeed, it seems to us that your reaction to the activities indicates that you are ahead of your colleagues in understanding what is really required to develop teams in the workplace.

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