The concept of team building has been around since the 1960s and continues to multiply as CEOs increasingly embrace developing people and teams as an indicator of their own leadership success. But, to be successful, effective team development for a CEO requires knowing when to do team building—and when not to do team building. I’ve seen CEOs insist on referring to their employees as a team and have pointed to how well their employees get along with one another as the metric of their effectiveness as a team. Calling a group of employees a team doesn’t make them a team, no matter how well they get along. They may just be a group of workers who really like one another—or at least have learned to pretend to like one another.
When does a “Group” become a “Team”?
A group becomes a team primarily when:
1. The members share a commitment to common purpose or mission with shared goals and objectives. Members of a group generally have a common interest in goals that are given them by management, but team members share a common commitment to purpose. Groups and teams have differing relationships with their reason for existing; that difference is this: while management establishes the mission of the team, the teams establish ownership of their purpose and usually spend a great deal of time establishing and clarifying their purpose.
2. Team membership is determined by skill sets rather than by position. In order to function as a team, members must possess complementary skill sets—and all the skills needed to accomplish the team’s purpose must be included on the team.
3. The members’ performance is measured by both individual contributions and collective work outcomes. In groups, performance is generally measured by the work of individual members. The performance of teams, however, depends on both individual contributions and collective work products—the joint outcome of team members working in concert.
4. The members hold themselves and one another accountable. Groups and teams have different relationships with management. Group members respond to and are held accountable by management. Managers determine specific goals, timing and the approach that the group will take. By contrast, once management establishes the mission of a team and sets the challenge for the team to accomplish, the team possesses the freedom to manage itself. Although the team needs to be responsive to demands from higher up, the team is free to establish its own goals, time and approach.
Knowing When Not to Pursue Team Building
There are many reasons why a particular team building effort fails. An unskilled facilitator. Poor planning. Bad or inappropriate exercises. Unclear goals. But a common reason team building efforts fail is that you shouldn’t be doing team building in the first place. Team building is not a panacea; there are problems that cannot be solved with team building—and trying to solve them with team building is counterproductive. Here are some rules on when not to use team building.
1. Do not use team building to solve individual performance issues. When an individual’s performance is negatively impacting the effectiveness of the team, deal with these issues one-one-one. Team building is not a substitute for supervision. Using team building to address individual performance issues will backfire and damage morale.
2. Do not do team building when the problem is a lack of resources. If a team does not have the people, budget, materials or technology that it needs to succeed, team building will not make up for that. Doing team building when the real need is for additional resources will only increase frustration.
3. Do not do team building when the problem is that team members do not have the skills needed to do the job. Do training instead. It can be difficult to determine whether the problem is team related or skill related, particularly when it comes to issues such as poor decision-making, communication, priority setting, etc. But careful assessment is needed to determine whether to do team building or training. To do team building when the real problem is lack of skills will result in frustration and morale problems.
4. Do not do team building when the team has had a bad experience with team building. In these situations it is important to hold off on team building. Effective team building requires commitment—because it results in a change in the way people work individually and together. It is important that everyone on the team—both the leader and the team—understands this and commits to making these changes happen. When your team has had a bad experience with team building, they will not be able to commit either to the team building process or to the changes that team building might require.
Steps to Demonstrate Organizational Commitment to Teamwork
1. Top leaders “talk the talk”. As CEO, you and your executive leaders clearly communicate their expectation that teamwork and collaboration are the norm.
2. Executives “walk the walk.” You and your executives model teamwork in your own interactions with one another and with the rest of the organization. And you maintain teamwork even when things are not going well. rather than fall back into non-collaborative behavior.
3. Employees talk naturally about teamwork and collaboration. They understand and can identify the value of a teamwork culture, and collaboration is part of their vocabulary. In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions and actions are better when done cooperatively. Do you have a formal statement of company values? Is teamwork one of the top five values?
4. Teamwork is recognized and rewarded. Team successes are celebrated publicly—but the performance management system also acknowledges individual contributions to teamwork. Compensation, bonuses, and rewards are tied as much to collaborative practices as to individual contribution and achievement.
With good team-building skills in your organization, a CEO can unite employees around a common goal and generate greater productivity. Without them, your limiting yourself to the effort each individual can make alone. Successful team building is an ongoing process that helps a work group evolves into a cohesive unit. When it’s working correctly, the team members not only share expectations for accomplishing group tasks, but trust and support one another and respect one another's individual differences. As CEO. you are ultimately the Chief Team Builder and your role as a team builder is to lead your team toward cohesiveness and productivity. A team takes on a life of its own and you have to regularly nurture and maintain it, just as you put plans in place for individual employees.