We’ve had a handful of people reach out to us recently asking us if we do team building activities.

We can quickly and confidently say we don’t do “the trust fall” but after that, it’s always an interesting question to answer, and never really an easy one without first understanding their specific team dynamics. There are so many factors that play into the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of a team.

Usually when someone comes needing team building it’s because something is “broken”. The team isn’t working together, and as a result, they aren’t achieving even close to maximum productivity. The people on the team typically don’t look forward to going to work, but merely show up because of the sum of money that regularly gets deposited into their bank account.

Honestly, in my opinion, this is a tragedy.

Most of us spend the greater part of our week at work, with the same people. And, yet far too many dread going to work.

How can this change? How can we create cultures where people are excited about what they do and who they do it with?  

Let’s discuss a few of the reasons why a team may not be functioning optimally and explore what can be done to make changes.

Challenge #1 – The team isn’t clear on the vision/purpose of their job and where the organization is headed as a whole. An old proverb says, where there is no vision, the people perish. People have to know why they’re doing what they’re doing and how they’re valuable to accomplishing that purpose.

Solution:  The leadership absolutely needs to get crystal clear on the purpose of the organization, and what their 5-10 core values are. And then communicate them to the team (often). Once they have been communicated, all decisions must stem from those core values.

Challenge #2 – There’s a bad apple (or two) in the bunch. We all know this person. Doesn’t want to pull their weight. Complains when they’re given a task to do. Is arrogant and ego driven. They talk about people and stir up the pot. They’re just not team players.

Solution:  Let them go. If you’ve tried to work with them and “coach” their behavior, yet they aren’t changing, you have to let them go asap. Hire slow and fire quick. If they don’t fit your core values (see Challenge #1), they just aren’t a fit. So have the hard conversation today (or at least this week). You’ll be amazed how the energy in your group will change.

Challenge #3 – The individuals on the team don’t feel a part of the greater whole. We all want to know three things: 1) that we are safe – in an environment where it’s safe to risk, stretch, and grow, 2) that we belong – in an environment where everyone feels like a tight-knit tribe… that they are equal and all rowing in the same direction, and 3) that we matter – in an environment where each contributes individually in a unique way. If these three things aren’t present, people will not thrive.

Solution:  Schedule individual meetings with each person. Validate them and tell them why they are important to the team. Listen to them to really understand their frustrations, challenges, suggestions, and celebrations. If you’re not meeting regularly as a team, begin doing so. Even if it’s a 10 minute weekly “stand up meeting”. The group needs to connect. If the team understands the mission/purpose of what they’re doing and believes in their leader/s, they become very powerful.

Challenge #4 – The leader (or leadership team) isn’t effectively leading. Many leaders we’ve seen do not deserve to hold the title of a “leader”. If a leader is removed, critical, not willing to make the hard decisions, sarcastic, not open to new ideas… you know the type, they either need coaching or to step down. Typically, there are not necessarily “bad teams”, but leaders who just have to improve their leadership abilities.

Solution:  The leader needs coaching. They need to understand how their team sees them and how they are affected by them. If the leader is not willing to change and they “can’t” be replaced, it might be time to start looking for another job. I remember one time saying to my boss’s boss after a long period of frustration and discouragement, “either he goes or I go, but we can’t keep functioning like this”. A week later, my boss announced his resignation and (magically) everything began to improve.

Challenge #5 – The culture is not life-giving. A culture is made up of purpose, values and people – including the leader/s and the individuals on a team. One of the most important factors in a solid, positive culture is communication. A negative culture is often caused by unmet expectations, assumptions, and misunderstandings, which can all be addressed through a commitment to communication.

Solution:  Cultures are created by behaviors. If you don’t actively address, celebrate, and challenge people’s behaviors, your culture will run amuck quickly. Ruthlessly pursue open lines of communication, and encourage people to have (and use) their voice in positive ways.

Overall, it’s our opinion that “games” (traditional team building activities) don’t work unless they are followed up with consistent discussion to allow change to really take place. A day or two of “team building” may be nice in the moment, but is usually a band-aid on a bigger problem. Those activities may work very short-term, but people are smart and they know an activity or two doesn’t change anything for the long-term. New habits of relating, communicating, and working need to be formed.

How’s your team? Remember today as Gandhi says, “Be the change you want to see”.

 – This post was written by Julie Weldon.

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