Most Teambuilding Isn’t.

This is the time of year when managers and leaders are inspired by the summer weather. They decide that their team needs to do some outdoor bonding and celebrating, so they sign up for a “teambuilding” session. Activities such as paintball, whitewater rafting, ropes courses, simulations, cooking competitions, and the like are common team building exercises. The hope is that the team activities will help improve relationships across team members, increase cooperative interaction, and team productivity.

The reality is that many of these teambuilding programs do not generate long term benefits. How many of you have gone to a teambuilding program yet found that little changed when the team returned to their work environment?

To ensure teams benefit from teambuilding activities, spend time planning exactly what goals you have for the session (“what do you want to accomplish with this activity?”). Find a provider that has proven experience with intentional instructional design and focused facilitation to help embed take-aways, beneficial agreements, and help teams demonstrate desired behaviors back on the job.

Before you engage in teambuilding, consider a more foundational step first. Our research and experience tells us that teams need clarity of purpose, values, goals, and strategy as a foundation for team performance and team member morale. Chartering your team helps align team member skills and effort towards the accomplishment of agree-to goals and targets. In addition,  these clear agreements enable desired norms in how team members work with and treat each other as they  work to accomplish team goals.

Key Elements of a Team Charter

Your team charter formalizes performance expectations and team values, which clarifies what the team is delivering and how they’ll work to deliver those products and/or services. It is a working document that evolves as the team learns how to increase productivity and team member satisfaction over time. The main elements of a team charter include:

  1. Organizational Vision, Purpose, and Values – all teams are “sponsored” by the organization in which they operate. A team must understand the vision, purpose, and values of the company so that it can align team purpose and values with those defined organizational elements.
  2. Team Purpose – the team’s purpose statement identifies what the team does, for whom, and why it is important. A clear purpose provides direction for identifying team goals and the roles needed to accomplish those goals.
  3. Team Values and Norms – Values are the enduring principles that guide team and team member plans, decisions, and actions. Norms are the day-to-day ground rules that clarify appropriate behaviors for team members.
  4. Team Goals and Roles – goals identify the measurable outcomes and timelines that must be delivered upon to ensure team success. Roles define the individual responsibilities required for the successful operation of the team.
  5. Team Practices – this section defines the team’s strategies and processes that ensure the team stays on track to deliver promised outcomes. Practices include communication strategies, decision-making authority, and accountability practices.
  6. Team Resources – these are the tangible materials the team needs to accomplish its goals, including time, budget, people, equipment, training, etc.

Most teams get a goal or project and madly start working on goal accomplishment. Without these clear charter agreements, though, teams experience what Peter Drucker described when he said, “The only things that naturally occur in organizations are anger, frustration, and fear.” If your team would benefit from clear agreements and norms – if conflict, silos, and entitlement inhibit team performance – formalize a team charter.

Does your team have a formal charter? What norms help your team deliver on performance expectations WHILE modeling team values? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • Absolutely right, Chris. I’ve blogged about this too. I have gone through more than 500 sources on teamwork, mostly primary science, and have yet to find any objective evidence that team building events provide any ROI. Nice job.

    • Thanks for your insights, Jim! In my non-profit days, I did my share of these events but worked hard to ensure the facilitation focused on real work. I’m unfortunately confident that long-term benefit was minimal.

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