The Foundation of Successful Team Building

by Michael T. Bauer

As a teenager, I spent a number of weekends and summer vacations helping my parents build a new home.  Not the way most teenagers want to spend their time.  And I was no different.  I remember when the basement walls were built and the floor was poured.  I remember helping my father put a protective layer of insulating board on the outside walls, developing a drainage system, and dumping in layers of stones.  I didn't really understand why we had to do all that work, but my father explained very carefully that he wanted to make sure that this new home had a solid, protected foundation.  He didn't want to find cracks or leaks in the foundation because that would impact our home.

Of all of the many challenges that organizations face, it seems that team development is one of the biggest and most critical.  One of the difficulties with teams is often times they do not have a solid foundation to build upon.  For many organizations, the solution is to provide team building workshops that includes experiential exercises and on building skills.  These workshops provide wonderful ideas, tools, and even inspiration but eventually the information is lost because the foundation had cracks (attitudes, assumptions, opinions, negativity.)

The foundation of any team needs to have at least the following components:

Clearly defined goals and expectations are extremely important.  It is critical that every member on the team understands what direction they are traveling.  It is safe to say that a great deal of motivation and morale is lost when everyone on a team is not aiming for the same outcomes.  It is not uncommon to find teams that achieve small, individual focused goals, but miss out on the opportunity to meet larger expectations.  Accountability is often an issue when it comes to achieving these larger goals.

I have been on many teams, and in most cases there weren't any specific goals and expectations, only generalizations.  Most people want to have some creative choice in how they approach work, but the also understand the importance of establishing some direction.  Often times, unclear goals and expectations start at the very top of the organization.  So, how well does your organization follow its mission, vision, and core values?  Does your organization hold people accountable for their work? 

Open and Clear Communication is another crucial team element.  Clear communication encourages team members to share their opinions and points of view with the understanding that it makes the team more effective.  In most of my experiences, teams that were struggling did so because of  poor communication or a complete lack of it.  Team members did not feel that they could speak to the team leader or upper management  so they gradually developed negative attitudes and created divisions within the team.  This is a very difficult skill for a team to master and maintain because our personalities always get in the way.  Do you practice clear and open communication with your team?

Effective and timely decision making is important to a team's overall health and development.  It is important that teams that make decisions also be able to implement them.  Motivation drops significantly when teams decide to implement one thing, but then are informed that they have no say in the final directions.  Timely decision making also includes deciding upon the best method of decision making, such as majority rule, consensus building, and authority rule with discussion.  The real challenge is deciding what type to use and when to use it.  Each decision making model has its positive outcomes, but also negative ones.  Take a look at the teams you are connected with.  How does your team make decisions and are they responsible for implementation of those decisions?

Finally, it is extremely important that there are clearly defined roles.  Some people are better at action related roles.  These roles focus on contributing to getting the work of the team done.  These people are task oriented and push the group to achieve more.  Then there are the motivators, or those roles that are focused on developing, encouraging, and building interpersonal relationships.  Ultimately, all team members are responsible for these roles.

So, take a good look at your team.   Is the foundation of your team solid or do you need some help building it back up?

Copyright 2005 Michael T. Bauer

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