The Foundation of Successful Team Building

by Michael T. Bauer

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

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

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

Clearly defined goals and expectations are extremelyimportant.  It is critical that every member on the team understands whatdirection they are traveling.  It is safe to say that a great deal ofmotivation and morale is lost when everyone on a team is not aiming for the sameoutcomes.  It is not uncommon to find teams that achieve small, individualfocused 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 anyspecific goals and expectations, only generalizations.  Most people want tohave some creative choice in how they approach work, but the also understand theimportance of establishing some direction.  Often times, unclear goals andexpectations start at the very top of the organization.  So, how well doesyour organization follow its mission, vision, and core values?  Does yourorganization hold people accountable for their work? 

Open and Clear Communication is another crucialteam element.  Clear communication encourages team members to sharetheir opinions and points of view with the understanding that it makes the teammore effective.  In most of my experiences, teams that were struggling didso because of  poor communication or a complete lack of it.  Teammembers did not feel that they could speak to the team leader or uppermanagement  so they gradually developed negative attitudes and createddivisions within the team.  This is a very difficult skill for a team tomaster and maintain because our personalities always get in the way.  Doyou practice clear and open communication with your team?

Effective and timely decision making is important to ateam's overall health and development.  It is important that teams thatmake decisions also be able to implement them.  Motivation dropssignificantly when teams decide to implement one thing, but then are informedthat they have no say in the final directions.  Timely decision making alsoincludes deciding upon the best method of decision making, such as majority rule, consensusbuilding, and authority rule with discussion.  The real challenge isdeciding what type to use and when to use it.  Each decision making modelhas its positive outcomes, but also negative ones.  Take a look at the teams you are connected with.  Howdoes your team make decisions and are they responsible for implementation ofthose decisions?

Finally, it is extremely important that there are clearlydefined 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.  Thenthere are the motivators, or those roles that are focused on developing,encouraging, and building interpersonal relationships.  Ultimately, allteam 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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