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Team-Building: Gradual Team-Building Over the Long Haul
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Team-Building: Gradual Team-Building Over the Long Haul - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Gradual Team-Building Over the Long Haul

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Gradual Team-Building Over the Long Haul

In some contexts, it’s called a “mountaintop experience,” that feeling of euphoria many feel after a personal revelation or a special bonding moment with others. On those (seemingly rare) occasions after a team-building event when team members have mountaintop experiences, positivity and good vibes echo throughout the team. Goodwill and optimism permeate the workplace and to the less jaded, it feels as if everything has changed for the better. Veterans, on the other hand, have seen it before, and they know that mountaintop experiences feel great in the moment but fade very quickly. One weekend away from the office, and everything reverts to whatever it was before, as if nothing on that mountaintop ever happened.

In our company cultures, mountaintop experiences can be valuable—they are like adrenaline shots to the morale and reminders of what your firm stands for. But nobody can live on repeated injections of adrenaline. If the habitual shots don’t wear out your body, the constant swings from euphoria to mundanity will wear out your spirit. Similarly, effective team-building cannot simply be achieved through semi-annual trips to the ropes course. Something along in the area of team maintenance needs to be practiced and—we’ll use the word again—habituated, so that healthy teams are not something the team thinks about once every few months, but something built into the regular life of the team.

As we’ve said multiple times, good team building is not the result of trust falls or fire-walks, but of people doing meaningful work together. This generally holds true, but some elements of those mountaintop experiences are difficult to tap into on a daily get-it-done basis. There are vulnerabilities, and personal sharing, for example, not to mention active, compassionate listening. Even the most sympathetic people on your team can get wrapped up in the task of busy-ness and the tyranny of urgency. Yet it doesn’t take much time out of a weekly schedule to practice a little bit of caring for teammates: all it takes is a commitment from leadership and the expectation of sincere participation.

Save the last ten to fifteen minutes of your regular team meeting for a regular time of sharing. Open sharing is a dangerous thing, since you don’t know where it’s going to go, and in the context of the office can send mixed messages. Some amount of structure and professional expectation should be expected, so take leadership on this part of the meeting, at least for the first year or so, and over time, the team will know what’s appropriate for sharing. In order to keep things interesting, switch the activity every month or so, and cycle back around once you’ve gone through the list.

“Smileys and Frownies” is simply giving each person at the table a chance to share something he or she has to smile about, and something he or she has to frown about. Remind participants that this is not a gripe session or an opportunity to call someone out, but just a moment to say what’s making them feel good or bad. Frownies are optional, but smileys are required, and yes: we recommend you keep this silly name because it’s thematically appropriate. It reminds the team that participation is serious but the content doesn’t always have to be.

“Five Words and a Letter Grade” is a summation of each person’s feelings at that moment, summarized with a report-card-style letter grade. The five words can be a list, such as “Tired, excited, motivated, challenged, and stressed, B-plus” or it can be a five-word sentence, such as “This report is gonna rock, A-minus.”

“Three Things in Ascending Order” is a short list of things that have happened in the past 24 hours, ranked from worse to better. This one can be revealing because it specifically covers time away from work, encouraging participants to share personal stressors or celebrations.

“This Little Light” isn’t usually as good as the others, since the prop can be distracting, but it’s not a bad idea to slide it in once in a while to change things up, and the photographs can be great. When it’s each person’s turn, he or she lights a matchstick and speaks about anything he or she is excited about until the match blows out or until it must be blown out.

“Object Lesson” requires a small amount of thinking and preparation before the meeting. Inform the team ahead of time when you plan to do this activity, and ask them to bring some physical symbol (an object from a desk, a photo from a wallet, or a printout from the computer, for example) that metaphorically represents their state of mind at the moment.

Have someone record everyone’s answers, not as any kind of evidence, but because it can be valuable every so often to let people see what they shared in the distant past. Some will be surprised to see they smile and frown about the same things every week, while others will see how they’ve moved through a season of their lives with changing attitudes. It’s also fun to ask a volunteer to share first, then when he or she is finished, to pick the next person for sharing.

You’ll notice that the activities are effectively the same concept with different skins, and that’s okay. The point is to build camaraderie though personal sharing, and you’ll find that if an attitude of respect is maintained throughout, trust and sympathy are developed through slow-growth familiarity. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens over time, and our experience has been that teams seldom tire of it even when it’s done up to four times a week. It sounds kind of juvenile and silly, but give it a try, and commit to it for at least a few months, and don’t be discouraged if at first the team-building seems minimal or even counter-productive. Give it time, and give your team a chance to get to know each other in forty-five-second increments.


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Team-Building: Gradual Team-Building Over the Long Haul - Executive Leadership Articles

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