Teams have become an essential part of the way business is done in companies the world over, from Xerox and General Electric to Australian Airlines and London Life Insurance Company. A Canadian report found that more than 80 percent of its 109 respondents used teams in the workplace. Similarly, in the United States, 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies have half or more of their employees on teams. Also, 68 percent of small US manufacturers use teams in their production areas. There is evidence that tasks that require multiple skills, experience, and judgment are done best by teams rather than individuals. So, it is important to know how to build a cohesive and united team that gels together.
A team is “a few people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach, holding themselves accountable to each other.” Groups can be considered as teams when (1) the members share leadership, (2) the members share accountability for the work of the team, (3) each develops its own purpose or mission, (4) the members work on problem-solving continuously, rather than just at scheduled meeting times, and (5) the measure of effectiveness is the accomplishment of group’s outcomes and goals, and not individual outcomes and goals.
The tell-tale signs that signal the need for team-building exercises are decreased productivity, hostility or conflicts among team members, confusion about assignments, misunderstanding of decisions, improper carrying out of tasks, apathy, lack of innovative spirit, complaints about discrimination or favouritism, and negative reactions to the manager. Team building has the benefits of self-development, positive communication, leadership skills, clear work objectives, high levels of trust and support, motivated team members, the ability to work closely together as a team to solve problems, and increased creativity and productivity.
There are four main types of team-building exercises or activities: communication activities, problem-solving and/or decision-making activities, adaptability and/or planning activities, and activities that focus on building trust. The activities aimed at building teamwork skills should be fun and challenging.
Communication exercises are problem-solving activities that try to improve communication skills. The way to solve the issues encountered by teams in these exercises is by communicating effectively with each other.
These exercises focus specifically on solving difficult problems or making complex decisions by groups working together. These have the most direct link to what employers expect their teams to be able to do. Give the team a problem for which the solution is not easily apparent or which requires the team to come up with a creative solution.
Planning/adaptability exercises require planning and being adaptable to change. Teams need to be able to do these when they are assigned complex tasks or decisions. The goal of these exercises is to show the importance of planning before implementing a solution.
Trust exercises engage team members in a way that will induce trust between them. They are sometimes difficult to implement as there are varying degrees of comfort and trust between individual team members. If implemented properly, these exercises can lead to greater trust between team members.
There are several standard team-building exercises, which you can google to find out. Alternatively, you can discuss the specific issues you are having with running a team with a consultant and carry out his recommended exercises. Usually, the human resources department is charged with the task of paying attention to and carrying out these tasks. So, have a chat with that department to sort out your team’s needs. It is not very effective if you carry out team-building exercises only once every year. Ideally, you should plan on doing them every quarter, if not every month or weekly. Additionally, it helps to value each team member’s ideas, be aware of their unspoken feelings, be clear when communicating, use consensus when making decisions, establish specific goals, and encourage listening and brainstorming.