2008 - First Quarter

"Are You Listening?"

Teambuilding: It's not all fun and games!

It is interesting what people think about teambuilding programs. What we have found is that it runs the gamut in people's minds. Either they think it is about (a) people getting together to learn about each other utilizing some kind of style inventory or (b) participating in a scavenger hunt with prizes and plenty of competition.

The biggest common denominator that we have heard from the organizations that we work with is that they have an impression of teambuilding as some kind of soft, warm and fuzzy way to get people to "feel" good about each other and what they do. This kind of thinking results in an image of everyone ending the session with a group hug and a round of Kumbaya....which isn't the most accurate picture of effective teambuilding programs, in our opinion.

Even with thinking like this, teambuilding is still one of the number one things that a new client will ask us for. Why is this? I believe it is because people don't know what to ask for and teambuilding seems like a good place to start, although usually this is not the case or the right course of action.

So, here is the truth: really good teambuilding programs are never, ever like the "feel-good" image we just discussed. This doesn't mean that those kind of activities can't be fun, interesting or even useful, but only when they are coupled with valuable goals, great strategies, and expert facilitation and debrief. In fact, the fluff is what gives teambuilding a bad name.

So our goal in this issue is to rebuild teambuilding's image. We are going to show you how teambuilding can be a strategic tool to reinforce values, a tactical method used to create a culture shift in an organization, and a unique way to connect and reconnect team members, creating a synergy that did not exist in the past. We will also share with you a tool that we have found very useful in teambuilding in its truest sense.

Teambuilding can be the doorway to deep learning, but only when done well. Keep reading and see if your teambuilding is delivering the value we talk about here. If the answer is no," then give us a call and let's see how we can reconnect you with the way teambuilding should be run...just don't expect a Kumbaya at the end!

Re-Enforcing Values Through Teambuilding...
What An Amazing Race!

One of our long-term clients, illy caffe N.A., approached us at the end of last year and asked us to design a teambuilding program for their annual business conference. This 2-day off-site meeting brings together all 90+ illy team members from across the U.S. The theme of this year's conference was "Creating Your Destiny", which focused on the vision for the future of the company, as well as a reenforcement of illy's core values as an organization, which are Trust and Respect, Innovation, Teamwork, Empowerment and Passion.

One challenge that the TBD team faced in terms of designing a teambuilding program for this client was the fact that illy has been a client of ours for over 10 years. Thus, they had seen most of our teambuilding activities and initiatives! So, the TBD team put their collective heads together for a brainstorming session and the result was an engaging, fun and value-based teambuilding program entitled: "The Amazing Race: illy Style".

The 2.5 hour program began with the assignment of teams. Since one of the client's goals was to give people the chance to interact with team members who they don't typically work with back at the office, we pre-determined nine teams, with ten people each, to produce the desired mix of departments.

Each team was assigned a color and given ten bandanas matching that color, as well as a colored team flag and a bag of flag decorating material. Their first task was to create a team name and design a team flag. The energy, passion and innovation that surfaced during this activity was amazing.

Next, teams entered into their first of five challenges. The first challenge tested their ability to coordinate as a team and trust one another, and it was called "Movin' in Synch". Teams raced against one another to cross the finish line first. Once teams crossed the finish line, they were given an envelope with instructions to help them find and complete the remaining four challenges.

Teams could choose the order by which they tackled the remaining four challenges, creating an increased sense of urgency and competition. The activities included:

  • Hit the Target
  • Rack Your Brain
  • Keep Your Eye on the Ball
  • Don't Forget Your Parachute

Each of these activities tested the teams' ability to:

  • Work together effectively as one unit.
  • Coordinate communication, movement and drive.
  • Use their cognitive reasoning and deductive skills.
  • Draw on their knowledge of illy trivia and folklore.
  • Be physical, as well as mentally, quick and agile.

In addition, each activity looked at how teams did (or did not) demonstrate illy's core values, as well as five other qualities of effective teams, all of which were key elements to their success.

When a team successfully completed a challenge, they received an envelope that contained a three-digit code and they were instructed to keep these envelopes until the end.

After we conducted small group breakout debrief sessions to discuss the learnings from each activity, all teams regrouped in the main meeting room. Set in front of the room were 10 locked treasure boxes, each labeled with a specific team's color. Two representatives from each team came to the front of the room to "unlock" their treasure, using the three-digit coded slips that they received at the end of each challenge.

As teams unlocked their treasure chests, inside they found a red sash, labeled with one of illy's core values or one of the five other qualities of effective teams.

Team representatives spoke about how the particular value or quality that was in their treasure served the team and helped them to be successful.

This interactive and valuebased way to close this teambuilding program connected the fun that participants had with the core message that the client wanted to hit home: to achieve our destiny we need to be certain that we are living by our values, having fun and supporting the qualities of effective teamwork.

What a great example of making a teambuilding program more than just fun and games. This program not only added value to the organization's meeting, but it provided a fun and interactive way for team members to connect and learn...it truly was An Amazing Race!

A Synergistic Approach to Teambuilding

For most of us, working with other people is a fact of life. Some of our relationships just seem to go so smoothly and we look forward to working together. Other relationships are full of friction and tension and at times result in outright conflict. While teambuilding can be very effective in helping us build bridges to limit the tension, there is a whole other level of "team" where people are working in a way where 2+2= 8. We call this synergy, and it takes more than an improved relationship to get there.

We recently designed a session to assist a team in getting to that coveted place of true synergy. It meant looking differently at how we approach ourselves, our work, and each other. Whenever we give or receive a performance review, designed to help us improve performance at work, we look at our strengths and our weaknesses. But when we look at these, what we tend to focus on is weaknesses and how we can improve upon them.

From the time we start school, through adulthood, we have spent a great deal of time focusing on our weaknesses, and in truth, although we may improve somewhat, notice how the same things remain weaknesses. A very interesting book by Marcus Buckingham, Now, Discover Your Strengths, points out that when we discover our greatest talents — the ways we naturally think, feel, and behave — and build upon these, they serve as our greatest opportunity for true excellence.

If we have an organization where we focus on building upon and leveraging people's strengths, imagine how much more successful we will be. What's beautiful about organizations of any size is that usually one person's weakness is someone else's strength. This is also true of teams. Imagine releasing people from the endless struggle to improve their weaknesses by reorganizing their job so that it plays to their strengths, and passing the tasks they are weakest at to someone on the team who is strong in that area.

When we did just this with a team, these partnerships created a win/win for both the individuals involved and the organization, and because the team members each now do what they are best at, the result is increased engagement and performance for everyone. (2+2=8)

Nothing creates an engaged team like allowing people to shine at what they are good at. In a time when we are looking for ways to keep our talent with us and engaged, this is something worth looking into. We recommend that individuals on teams start spending more time doing what they are best at and helping others to do the same!

Creating a Culture to Build Your Team

I was recently conducting a management training where I began the session by discussing organizational culture. Shortly after I began my opening comments, a participant boldly stated, "Culture! What are you talking about, organizational culture? Ancient Egypt was a civilization that had a culture. Businesses don't have cultures and we certainly don't have one here!" (I do love it when our Full Value Commitment's speak the truth tenet is embraced). With that said, a brisk dialogue about the definition of culture and whether or not a business has one was on.

One of the simplest yet comprehensive definitions for culture is the behaviors and characteristics of a particular group. When asked whether or not they could describe the behaviors and characteristics of their company, all said yes, and not surprisingly, with a high degree of similarity. Yep, they have a culture.

Culture has an impact on communication, decision making, collaborative versus individualistic approaches, employee engagement, turnover and a multitude of other important business factors, not the least of which is the bottom line. Whether intended or not, all organizations have cultures that emerge from patterns of behavior over time; however, companies don't need to wait for patterns to develop. Instead, they can create and execute a strategy that will drive the culture that they want and its intended results.

One of our long-term hotel clients recently experienced some significant changes. Within a two-year period, a new person was brought on board for every position on the Executive Committee (EC), this after having consistency on the EC for nearly twenty years! With this change came the opportunity — and need — to shift the culture. The EC proceeded through a four step process with two of our consultants, Jeff Vinson and Jackie Sonnabend, to rebuild the hotel's culture.

The first step was to get the Executive Committee together to define what they felt their core purpose was as a hotel. A core purpose is an organization's reason for being. It gets to the deeper reasons for an organization's existence and creates a deeper meaning for the people who work there. Once the purpose was clearly identified, we helped them identify their core values, a small set of timeless guidelines that they felt were essential for existence and defined the desired culture. The team chose teamwork, integrity, excellence and responsibility as their core values.

While actions define a culture, the words define the expectation, which leads us to step two of this process — communicating the purpose and values to the entire organization. They chose to do this in a celebration meeting that included the entire management team. The meeting was delivered with the excitement, energy and passion that set the expectation of how each manager was to lead and manage their daily work lives. The message was clear and motivating.

Steps three and four happened simultaneously and they included (3) creating and delivering training to develop the skills and enhance the behaviors reflective of the purpose and values, and (4) communicating this powerful message to the remainder of the staff. The latter was done in small group coffee break sessions with members of the EC and 10 to 15 employees. Meetings were scheduled until all employees had been enrolled. This was no small feat for a leadership team with busy schedules and functional goals. In the end, the small meetings were much more intimate and threw the doors to open communication wide open.

So what's next? Lots! Ultimately, as previously mentioned, culture is defined by behaviors over time and not by an announcement in a meeting. Moving forward, every communication, coaching, review and reward is an opportunity to reinforce the intended culture and the values that re-enforce that culture.

This client developed a plan with milestones, dates, accountabilities and review times to ensure that they practice what they preach. This process and program may not seem like teambuilding in its truest sense; however, the results speak for themselves in terms of the positive impact that it had on the EC team, and the entire organization as well.

Building Connections by Building Bridges...Literally

Recently, members of the Training By Design team had the opportunity to facilitate a teambuilding program for Meeting Professionals International, New England Chapter (MPI-NE). The purpose of this teambuilding program was to bring together and engage the association's newly recruited and veteran volunteers to plan and strategize for the upcoming year.

As a nonprofit association, MPINE relies heavily on its volunteers to execute the actions of the organization, and does so primarily through committees. As in any organization, the members tend to identify with the smallest group that they are associated with — so committees can become silos — which makes it difficult for a volunteer to make a connection with fellow volunteers from another committee.

To overcome this, after brainstorming with the association's leadership, we determined that the volunteer teams would build bridges, literally, with the caveat that all bridges must reflect their mission, be freestanding and able to connect to each other at the end of the initiative. With this goal in mind, volunteers from each team needed to communicate with other teams to insure that all their bridges would connect. The teams attacked this exercise with energy and enthusiasm and the bridges that they created were both solid and imaginative. The value of this teambuilding exercise, however, was not in the building of the bridges themselves, but in the rich debrief that followed.

The bridges served as a metaphor to have an open and candid conversation about what people were looking for out of the association and what different committees needed from one other to achieve their goals. Seldom are people so candid so quickly, nor experience the attention to the team, especially in a volunteer experience, as they do in a teambuilding environment.

The volunteers from MPI-NE had fun on that rainy Saturday in March; however, at TBD we know that teambuilding is more than just fun and games.

In this instance, teambuilding unearthed dynamics that reflect the "real world" of the participants and allowed for an open discussion that can then change and influence their "real world." The fun factor does make the experience memorable and it engages the participation of all team members. It is the valuable debrief, however, that increases the likelihood of change and this, after all, was the goal. So here's to building connections...literally!

About Ignite
Ignite offers a variety of transforming programs that can propel you and your organization to brilliant successes. And we have experience in a wide range of industries, so we can tailor each session to specifically address your needs and goals.

Our Mission
Customized program design, superior results and lasting partnerships are key components of Ignite's philosophy and approach to training and development.