What is Teambuilding?

October 3rd, 2011

I can’t take it anymore!!! What is team building?
After 20 years of traveling all over the world and working with the top of fortune 100 companies and the bottom of lots of others, I have hit my breaking point. I’ve been doing leadership development, communication seminars and “teambuilding” and many of my own clients are still wondering… What is teambuilding? I’m wondering what they really want from me. I’m not sure anybody really knows. I might not even know. But at this point, I’m as big an expert as I can find, so I am going to try and help define this beast for all of us. The definition has become so broad, so overused that some people are beginning to confuse “team hazing” as teambuilding and I don’t really want to be a part of that. Do you…?

In 2000, we at Odyssey Teams confused the situation even more by introducing the concept of philanthropy into the teambuilding world with the first ever bike building program, (Life Cycles). The amazing success of this program, and its duplication by all our competition, forced us to innovate again and we followed up with the Helping Hands and Playhouse Challenge offerings. They have been very successful, but now our training process is confused with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) teambuilding events with no actual teambuilding result that impacts the performance of the team beyond the activity itself. We are also mixed in with rafting, paint ball, food fights, bike building programs with a focus on building the bikes and racing them around for prizes and a day pulling weeds by the freeway. What have we done? How do I stop it?
Ok let’s start with the definition… Teambuilding. Is it one word or two? For argument sake, can we just agree it is one word? Somebody get on the phone with the people who create words and my computer dictionary and say we have made a decision. It is one word.
Now… what does it mean? . Definition – ‘Teambuilding’ – the act of building a team as a result of each person on that team doing individual building…together. This is accomplished most often through the combination of information, demonstration, experience and application. For those of you who love acronym’s – how’s that for an IDEA?
Now, lets look even closer. If you search teambuilding on Google alone you get 1,730,000 options. WOW!!! That is a lot of teambuilding. They can’t all be the same or equal value to you, can they? How do you decide what to do for your group and will it build your team at all?
I say we break it into three parts. Whatever programs you are considering or you have participated in was or will be a combination of these: the activity itself, the quality of the training content, and the skill of the facilitator. When you are considering your options out of the 1.7 million possibilities you should start by giving each of these a value. I like a 1 to 10 scale.
1. The activity itself: Some activities have a certain amount of natural or intrinsic value. Building one of our playhouses and giving it to a children’s group will be fun, creative, require teamwork, physically active, and participants will need to interact with each other to get the job done. They will also feel a sense of purpose when they give the Playhouse away and meet the children recipients. I would give this activity a 9 on a 1 to 10 scale of natural value for the team from this activity without training content or facilitation. Pulling weeds along the freeway with your group scattered over a one-mile stretch of road, I would give a 2. The drinking that is sure to take place after the weed pulling work, I would give a 4.
Before you make a choice, consider how active you want the group to be, logistics of your site, and how distracted you want them to be with the actual project. If training content is an 8 on your scale the Playhouse Challenge would not be a good option. I would consider, Helping Hands, Life Cycles or another indoor, moderately active option. This will keep the group engaged and focus on the training purpose of the activity and not just the activity.
2. The quality of the training content: We have been working for years to blend the right experience with the training curriculum of our clients. In some cases this has meant months of meetings and in depth dialogue about how the activity is going to bring to life the behavioral virtues necessary to fill any gaps related to results, processes and relationships. Some teams need to use the teambuilding opportunity to purposely move the dial on a specific measurable in the groups performance. In some cases we have eliminated the activity portion from our delivery altogether, so we can focus on our training process exclusively.
Other groups have had no interest in pull-through and ROI from the event. Fun was king and activity was the joker. What is your priority here? If you have a group that has a new leader, has been going through a merger, or has been struggling through hard times over the last quarter, you might consider this as the key element to your selection criteria. Activity itself is not enough for them. They want to see the activity as an opportunity to connect with the purpose and values of the organization or the new leader. Don’t miss this transformational moment and just give them some busy work. Be sure the teambuilding company you select has the facilitation skills and the ability to blend the right activity with the current state of the team. If you do this, the entire process can become a natural extension of your training curriculum with lasting and powerful results.
We know that memory is linked to emotion. If you want them to remember your training message as more than just an intellectual concept, select an activity that will have them feel and experience the information at a level below their shoulders. This can be transformational to human behavior and team performance. If this is not a priority for this meeting, then set your training content score at a 1 to 5. But know what you are looking for and hire for it.
3. Skill of the facilitator: We have all sat in the back of a training or teambuilding session and had the chill go down our spine as the facilitator vacillated between boring and cheesy. A quick glance in the back of the training room can reveal the person who decided to book them as the most uncomfortable person in the room. Ouch… that’s a bummer.
If you have given the activity itself a high value (7 to 10) for your meeting and the training content is low on your scale (1 to 5), then when the ten uncomfortable minutes are over the activity will begin and by the end of the session the participants are happy and everybody walks out better for it.
The Build a Hand Kit is our Helping Hands program in a box without our live facilitation. If the group is easy or small and not going to eat the facilitator alive, why pay to have the experts come in? If you are looking for a powerful activity with the training content your in-house facilitators already know then this kind of do-it-yourself process is a great option.
Sometimes, people respond better to an outside facilitator. Other times, you may have complicated logistical challenges with a group from 10 to 1,000. In either case it may be best to bring in the facilitation pros and let them do their thing. If you have a high score on your training content and your group needs a transformational teambuilding session – and you have already paid a lot of money to get them in the room together – then hire the best facilitator you can find who will deliver the program you want and enjoy the recognition you are sure to get afterwards.
The Lifecycles bike-building program has been delivered by everyone from beach Olympics companies to motivational speakers and top-level executive coaches. Be sure you are getting what your group needs for the outcomes you have identified. If the facilitation is not appropriate for your group it can distract from the process and you miss out on the possible return on your investment. Caution, pay peanuts and you might get monkeys.
I hope this has been helpful. Next time you have 10 or 10,000 people flying in from all over the country and you decide to do a teambuilding program, keep this in mind. Start your planning with a conversation about these three areas and agree on your score for each. If you need help, great, but at least this gets you asking yourself and your team the right questions before you start looking for the event. If you end up working with Odyssey Teams, we’ll be able to deliver the ideal balance, hit all your expectations and make us all look good. This formula should lead to an easy decision for your planning team and a relevant experience that actually does build your team.
Good luck! Oh and please don’t introduce me as the games guy, or bike-building guy to your executive team. Thanks!