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An invitation to rethink teambuilding

A team is a group of people on a project with a common task and deadline. They depend on each other to produce successful outcomes, communicating constantly and usually informally. They need each other to “get it done.” When completed, the group has the sense that “we” did it! Examples of a team include a basketball team, a project team, or an ambulance crew. Organizational research demonstrates that teams increase their effectiveness and efficiency through “teambuilding” interventions.

An organization is more often a tribe or, in the case of a large organization, a federation. A federation is a collection of groups that work together to use common resources or promote common interests. The managers of individual groups protect the interests of their own group whether budget dollars, resources, or objectives. In meetings the group managers bring their own aims and perspectives. They promote their own group. A federation is often full of political lobbying and conflict, leading to a lack of consensus. It is easy to see why federation managers would ask for “teambuilding.”

A tribe is a group with a shared identity and a sense of shared mission and purpose. They may have a functional “head” and a “team spirit.” There may be smaller groups or individuals with independent responsibilities that support the larger goals. There are formal procedures and processes. Communication is a combination of formal and informal. There is an overall structure that allows work to get done. While work is judged individually, few people would put the organization at risk so that they could be successful. Usually emotional ties are strong; people care about each other and the organization. Can a tribe benefit from “teambuilding?”

Most managers are not managing teams, but rather federations or tribes. So, what do managers really want when they ask for a “teambuilding” intervention? In my experience, they want people within the group to forge a strong sense of belonging, to be willing to take the needs of the whole organization into account, to be willing to sacrifice for the good of the group. They want to be a group who attracts others to join.

Simple activities that help to forge a sense of belonging include sharing meals together and participating in community service. Informal activities could be a time of storytelling around a specific topic such as, “how I chose to become a part of this organization.” Formal interventions like a World Café or Appreciative Inquiry can increase individual’s sense of belonging and identifying with the group. Discover ways to share the inspiration that comes with increased personal connection and commitment – inspiration and energy attracts others.

I invite you to rethink “teambuilding” in your organization.

On Football and Credibility

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