Team building is important because putting high-performing individuals together does not make a team. A high-performance team is a product of actions you make to align individuals to team goals, create synergy, and deliver big results.
Managers who do not invest time and resources in team building are likely to fail. Building, managing, and leading teams is deliberate practice.
Managers who do not build teams are never successful.
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My First Team Building Facilitation
In 2007, I got my first client for team building. It was a travel agency. I forgot the name, but it was a company with about 15 employees. We held the team building session in Ortigas, Pasig City.
The owner did not expect anything spectacular. He said that he only wants to have three games and a short talk about teamwork.
I wasn’t keen on facilitating the session. I have not facilitated team-building exercises before. Before that, I had only participated in three team-building events, two of which were when I was a teacher.
Besides, I was working on myself to become the “best motivational speaker” in Asia. So, facilitating a team-building program was not in my career path.
But the agency owner said that he believed in me. He said that I was an excellent motivational speaker — and I only needed to incorporate three games. Besides, the event will only run for three hours. And I would get paid 15,000 pesos.
That was not small money. I started as a school teacher in 1996, and I was only earning 7,000 pesos a month. In 2007, most employees did not make more than 15k a month.
I felt like an impostor.
That’s because I did not know how to do team building right. I know that team building is important, but my previous experiences as a participant in team-building gave me a vague idea of its importance and process.
The first team building was a half-day event. We, teachers, listened to a famous motivational speaker in the Philippines who taught us the four phases of team building: forming, storming, norming, and performing. It was no different from all other talks I have joined before. When I was a seminarian, I delivered hundreds of talks about helping each other succeed.
The second team-building event I joined was at the Corregidor. It was a combination of lectures, ghost hunting, and beach games like tug-o-war and volleyball. The talks revolved around biblical teachings about teamwork. The ghost-hunting part made us imagine that the ghosts of Japanese soldiers were watching us.
The first two experiences, it is obvious to me now, have facilitators who are oblivious to the importance of holding result-oriented team building.
The third team building was pure games in Batulao. One of my teammates was Sitti, and because we were slower and smaller, we lost most games. It was fun. I can say that the games we played helped us become more comfortable with each other. There was no real team, but the games were enjoyable.
This team-building made me see the importance of people who consider themselves as a team. The participants are not just fans, they believed in what they do.
A business unit is not a team. What you have are employees whose goal is to individually meet expectations. If you want them to work together, you need interventions. Team building is one of these interventions.
But I felt that I had to help.
I picked three indoor games. I choose one that will encourage them to think out of the box, one to help them realize the importance of setting goals, and another one that makes them value the importance of collaboration.
In retrospect, I did not pick those games for the purposes I mentioned. Those games were easy to facilitate in a small space.
I did not prepare much for the games. I pay more attention to delivering my 30-minute talk on teamwork, inspired by one of John Maxwell’s books.
After three hours, I finished my first ever team-building facilitation job. The participants said they are thankful that they enjoyed the games so much and learned from the talks.
I got paid. But that event changed me too.
There is more to team building that playing games.
Team building is not just games or talks or ghost hunting. It is not the Amazing Race, the cooking contest, or the virtual games. Those can help create new experiences, but they are just nice-to-have unnecessary expenses unless they serve team-building purposes.
We know that team building is important. But I found very few people who can tell me why and how.
Most Filipino employees do not see the importance of team building beyond the yearly fun events.
Before the pandemic, employees equate team building to playing outdoor games like ropes courses, races, or whatever new gimmicks events organizers offer.
We have been wasting money, energy, and opportunities in our poor attempt to have a semblance of team building.
Team building is important for team to succeed.
Since that day when I first facilitated my team building, I committed to learning more about helping teams succeed.
I studied books on leadership, teamwork, motivation, employee engagement, Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning, business, management — and everything that I believe can help my clients strengthen the capability of their teams to succeed.
Because of this, I realized that many corporate training programs are best designed in the context of building team competencies. Competencies are enablers of performance. Accountability, decision-making, communication, goal setting are team skills typically offered to individuals but never to teams.
Many team-building programs in the Philippines are still dancing between concepts and games but what teams need are team skills and vital behaviors.
Teaming as a business strategy is about 50 years young. There was a time that companies do not need to build teams. Employees follow orders without question. Team building was a strategy in sports, but not in business.
Until some companies experimented with building teams to grow their businesses, They discovered that they got more significant results by creating a group of people with complementary skills. The words collaboration, synergy, and team building became part of the business vocabulary.
Team building is important because…
Most teams underperform without effective team building.
As I have said, the corporate world learned from the world of sports. In sports, putting superstar players in one team provides a competitive advantage — but only if the players know how to play together.
Each will have roles to play. And that means that there will be players who will have to score more than others.
In the corporate world, that’s a bit more difficult to do.
It is typical for employees of the same team to compete against each other when it comes to rewards and promotion. It is not always painless to work so that your co-employees score more points.
In general, people at work dislike those who get all the credits for their work.
Did you get that?
Even if they like each other, a group of employees won’t perform well together if you don’t build a team.
4 Reasons Why Team Building Is Important
Everyone knows that team building is necessary to ensure that team members perform at their best. But it is more than that.
You will understand why I have been trying to persuade team leaders to rethink how they build teams. You don’t do it once a year. It would be too late.
Okay, let’s roll.
1. Team building is important because it develops team awareness.
Team building goes beyond naming a team. It goes beyond having a team color or badge. Team identity begins with the awareness that every action (or inaction) of a team member will impact the team’s results.
The objective is not to be an individual performer but to become a good team player.
Team awareness helps each player appreciates how the role impacts the performance of other members. The real contribution is not the individual product but how understanding the roles and responsibilities speeds up the process and amplifies the results.
So, it is not correct to think of team building as a yearly event.
Team building is mindset shifting. It happens when you work together.
Team building begins with awareness. Unless you see the importance of working to help the team succeed, yours are just a group of employees trying to be friendly with each other.
If someone asks you about the mission and vision of your team, are you ready to answer? Do you know how your role and function affect the performance of the team?
2. Team building is important because it helps members acquire knowledge and understanding about how a team functions.
Members of a team have complementary roles. You may have two persons who have similar functions, but typical teams work when members take different positions.
For example, in team meetings, you will find a team leader. The team leader runs the meeting. A team may rotate the role of team leader, but there is always a team leader.
You can assign roles like timekeeper, historian, and progress chaser. At any one time, you can be a task owner, task coordinator, or task helper. You can replace “task” with the word project.
The point is that we assign roles we believe to be necessary for a team to function effectively.
Team building provides members opportunities to understand the importance of each role and function. Members will appreciate each player’s contribution and, when necessary, develop the ability to substitute each other.
One more example.
Have you heard of Toastmasters International?
I was a Toastmaster for several years. I served as President twice and as Area Government twice. I’ve “founded” some clubs to help more people get more confidence in public speaking.
In a regular meeting, members take different roles. All of these roles are designed to maximize the learning experience.
The Toastmaster of the Night serves as the emcee. The Table Topics master runs the impromptu speaking sessions where four to six members participate. Some prepared speakers deliver speeches according to their learning objectives, and each speaker has an evaluator. There is a timekeeper, ah counter, grammarian, jokester, opening prayer, and Anything Goes Master. All of the evaluators are evaluated by the General Evaluator. And the GE is assessed by all of those who are in the meeting.
The meeting runs smoothly because every member understands the roles. We rotate roles every meeting (except for the President, who opens and closes the session).
We learn to master our roles through experience.
Team building helps you create new experiences that make members understand and appreciate individual roles and functions.
3. Team building is important because it helps members learn vital team skills.
Team building is an intervention. You employ it to ensure that members perform at their best.
Peak performance requires new skills and behaviors which they won’t get by book reading. They need to have shared experiences and learn from them.
Your team may need to master new skills in creativity, collaboration, conflict management, communication, goal setting, problem-solving, or decision-making to develop new behaviors.
When was the last time you learn to practice new behaviors because of team building? What are the specific team skills you have mastered because of team building?
if your last team building did not offer you opportunities to learn new skills, you missed 90% of what team building offers.
4. Team building is important because it helps members internalize attitudes and beliefs.
Teamwork is an attitude. You believe in the power of interdependence. You know that you can work alone, but you can lessen your efforts and multiply your results when you help others succeed.
As I have said earlier, it is customary to seek opportunities to shine while dimming the light in others in the corporate world. Your co-employees, like you, are aiming for a prize. You compete against each other.
Your team-building experiences must have members internalize the belief that they are one. Of course, a straightforward way to change that mindset is to change the way you reward members. If you continue to give only individual awards, people won’t recognize the power of teams.
For example, I once facilitated a team-building exercise for a lending company. It was a complex group to handle. Players complained much. They claimed that others were cheating them (and they were right).
I learned that they’d had team-building exercises for the past five years, and each time, employees fight for the prize. And only one employee gets the glory.
That’s how they do it in their company.
I regretted facilitating that group. The manager never talked to me about their intentions. They never briefed me about the team despite my many attempts to get it from them.
Be careful when you bring your team to a team-building experience. If you don’t intend to build a group of people who care for each other and not for individual glory, why bother.
Many managers motivate people by making them chase the carrot. They don’t build teams; they want followers.
They complain about low performance and use team-building as a solution. Unfortunately, these managers usually get the wrong kind of team-building experience, and they hire clueless facilitators.
What Have We Discovered
If you have reached this point, I am happy for you. Your next team building will likely help members to
- develop team awareness,
- acquire knowledge and understanding about how a team functions,
- learn skills to perform new teaming behavior
- internalize attitudes and beliefs so that teaming becomes a way of life.