Team Building...

Anyone who’s seen their fair share of team-building sessions just groaned. I hear this initial reaction a lot. That’s because most team-building sessions are the same.  They require a time commitment and sometimes they require us to jump way out of our comfort zone.  And yet, at the end it isn’t always apparent what we actually accomplished.
So what makes us crave a team-building session and keep repeating the same conversations over and over again?


Likely it’s that we think we need a quick fix

whenever something (or someone) happens.  We think that it’s one person that needs to be fixed, or one problem that will be fixed by training.  But what if it’s not about occasionally getting together to do some sort of wacky team building exercise or training, what if it’s actually about building the team intentionally and then maintaining it.  That takes courage from all of the team-mates and especially from leadership.  So many times I’ve heard complaints that leadership is not acting courageous.


“Be courageous enough to be unpopular”

One of my clients uses this phrase.  I love it.  It is not that our vision or our quest is to be unpopular.  It’s just that leadership (formal and informal) being committed to vision sometimes means we have to say and do things that might be unpopular.  The challenge is to stay true to this vision and, at the same time, be flexible enough to work with and build a team.


I want to give you an example

Two things you need to know first:

  1. If you’ve never curled, it’s basically a giant game of shuffle board on ice.
    a. If you don’t know anything about curling or about shuffle board, you can find a helpful explanation here. But, it’s not critical to the story.
  2. A “skip” is like the captain of the curling team.

There. Now you’re all caught up.

Full disclosure – I suck at curling. I used to play in just-for-fun tournaments with a bunch of friends. Two of my friends skip their curling teams. I’ve had the opportunity to play for both of them.

His leadership style involves developing a great strategy and then finding players that can deliver the shots he asks them to.  Her style is to watch a few shots from each of her players and then develop her strategy around the strengths and weaknesses on her team.

Both have a pretty even amount of winning games.  But each demonstrates a significant difference in their role as leader.


Here’s the lesson for a business environment,

each leadership style has the potential to be highly successful and yet they are very different.  Each has strengths and weaknesses and requires a certain type of team and a certain set of circumstances to be successful.


Start with who’s hiring

His style is highly successful if the leader has control over who is on his team.  If a leader can identify the skills and abilities needed for a specific goal/strategy and then hire accordingly, this is a very viable leadership style.  It means that the team can hit the ground running and already have the skills and abilities required to move very quickly toward the stated goal. However, if another group (perhaps corporate headquarters or a vice-president) is responsible for hiring and moving people about, this leadership style can result in frustration.  If the team-mates do not already have the skills and abilities the leader believes are necessary to drive the strategy he has identified, the leader will be consistently frustrated with his team-mates and the team-mates feel that they can’t do anything right.

Her style is highly successful if the leader does not have control of the hiring decisions.  If she can observe her team for awhile and develop a strategy based on their strengths and challenges, she can build an effective team.  However, if there is a specific strategy that must be used (e.g. a regulated environment) or a time sensitive delivery date, the watch and see strategy may not be quite as effective.  In this scenario, the leader is often reprimanded for lack of visible results early in the process and team-members may have trouble figuring out what the leader wants and what is expected of them in terms of performance excellence.

So, part of the issue is about what kind of strategic and hiring environment a leader is working in.  But the other part of the equation is about…


How the team is developed

A team that has a high-strategy leader must develop the language and relationship to articulate the strategy and then to ask for support or training if they can’t deliver the shot.  Alternately, they may need to make suggestions for changes when they notice that the current direction is going off the rails.  But this requires relationship and trust from and for the leadership.  As well, it requires consistency.  If the leader sometimes accepts input and requests for support but sometimes penalizes this behaviour, the team quickly devolves in to frightened automatons just trying not to get caught making a mistake.

A team that has a high-collaborate leader must develop a system for co-developing strategy and focussing on the actual results.  While there is often a high degree of trust in these teams, there is also often a lack of attention to results.  If we are OK with all team-mates doing what they are good at and building our strategy around that, we risk playing too small and not articulating strategies that stretch the team and consequently deliver extraordinary results.  If the leader accepts less than excellent work from the team-mates and does not clearly communicate expectations for results, this team can quickly devolve into lazy slackers content with “good enough”.


So do a bit of examining…

Who hires your team?  What kind of leadership style is your go-to?  What do you hear your team-mates saying?  Is there a need for more trust and consistent collaborative dialogue?  Is there a need for clear standards and attention to results?