Written by Barrie Bramley & Keith Coats.
Most leaders have failed to recognise the real value of â€˜team buildingâ€™! Itâ€™s not that theyâ€™ve taken their teams to the wrong places or engaged in substandard activities, itâ€™s that theyâ€™ve allowed their focus to stop before the finish line, and therefore missed what itâ€™s all about.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, weâ€™re not one of those fiercely anti-team-building drum beaters. Weâ€™ve built team with the best of them, and facilitated many a company team build. We have abseiled down incredibly high cliffs, jumped off waterfalls, collected â€˜courage stonesâ€™ at the bottom of rapid infested rivers, and crawled through our fair share of mud pits, and most of the time we have come out better for the experience. But that right there is the problem; most team builds focus predominately on the experience. The experience becomes the end, instead of seeing it as the beginning.
We dream up challenging exercises and activities for our teams to undertake, in order to convince them that they can do anything they put their minds to. We sit before, during and after constructing lessons weâ€™ve learned and contextualising them back into the work place. We extract leadership principles that will help us to become better leaders and followers on Monday morning. This is all good, but not sufficient.
Team building has a dark side. We take non-swimmers river-rafting, and claustrophobics spelunking. We ask alcoholics to sit around the camp fire while we consume copious amounts of alcohol, and we invite people who are weight conscious to trust the rest of the team to pick them up and lift them over a 20 foot high wooden wall. We ostracise anyone who dares not participate and make fun of those who perform poorly. In short, we set them up to fail as individuals and as members of our team. So much then for team building!
The true value however is not in the adventure, but in the weeks that follow. Itâ€™s not in the lessons learned but the new questions that will be asked. Itâ€™s not in our fresh resolve and our conquered fears. The real value of the â€˜team buildâ€™ is found in the creation of a shared story.
Think back to the weeks and months following the last team build you attended? Back in the office as you connected with those with whom you shared the experience, what was your conversation focused around? In our experience itâ€™s not the 14 irrefutable leadership principles learned while climbing a 20m rock face. Itâ€™s hardly ever your newly defined 7 step vision to success. Itâ€™s not even the similarities between the companyâ€™s mission statement and the life goal of the brown short-quill hedgehog. No, itâ€™s none of that. Itâ€™s the story; the story of the adventure. Thatâ€™s what brings us together around the coffee table.
We would go so far as to say that what has been referred to as â€˜teambuildingâ€™ should make way for â€˜storybuildingâ€™. For one thing, stories create belonging within an organisation and having a strong sense of belonging is a vital ingredient for any successful business. Recognising what we regard as teambuilding as the creation of stories and then knowing how best to utilise this within the context of the team / business is what it is really all about.
Going forward, if team leaders are going to extract the greatest value from a team building experience, more work must be given to the essential elements needed to create a truly great story. A story that is inclusive, in which every member of the team has a part to act out. A story that inspires, and forces us to look inwards to ask the questions that will ultimately lead us to become better human beings than we were before. Some of the most powerful stories do not have neat, conclusive endings. In the process of personal, collective and business development, a preoccupation with happy endings can mean missing the really good stuff (sometimes the messy stuff) that the story invites engagement with for our own growth.
When your approach to team building is to create a shared story, it matters less what you do or where you go. It matters more who goes with you and how they feel. Collective time that is centred on the creation of a story will have far more impact on the team than a mindless agenda of adrenalin-filled activity. New skills and activities are required to fully exploit the creation of story within the context of personal and collective growth. They are not impossibly hard skills to learn or master and perhaps the only requirement to start with is a measure of emotional intelligence that recognises the value of pursuing this direction. Sadly, in our experience, this ingredient often appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Where the onus and focus is so often placed on the external rather than on the internal; on personality rather than character; on short-term gain rather than long-term benefits, it is perhaps not hard to understand why this is so.
In Shakespeareâ€™s The Tempest, Prospero explains to his daughter Miranda why they left Milan. After he has finished his tale, he asks Miranda if she has understood the reasons for their leaving, â€˜Doest thou hear?â€™ he inquires. Miranda responds, â€˜Your tale, sir, would cure deafnessâ€™. Such is the power of hearing each otherâ€™s story; it cures deafness. Listening to the story leads to understanding behaviour and in learning to work effectively together, there can be no greater ingredient than an empathetic understanding of who were are individually and collectively. Teams that pay little or no attention to this are in fact deaf; they are really not teams at all.
As we look to the future of business, what is certain is that stories will become increasingly important. Clients, suppliers, employees will all want to know and connect to the story: why should we buy from you, why should we work for you? The companies and executives who understand this will be the ones who lead the way in the emerging connection economy. That is why, within TomorrowToday.biz we have a â€˜Director of Storytellingâ€™ and should you wish to explore this subject further, we would be delighted to meet with you.
We hope then that for you and your team, this is only the beginningâ€Œand not â€˜the endâ€™.
Written by Barrie Bramley & Keith Coats.
What is it about being out of the office that makes it more possible for people to see each other’s true personalities? I have often pondered this question, because I first learnt this lesson at school on a Veldschool (outward bound school camp) trip to Waterval Boven. I had been a very quiet withdrawn pupil at the girl’s boarding school I attended. I kept to myself and spent school breaks in the library reading the newspapers. I was a loner, one of the invisible ones. Then we went to Veldschool.It was a week of challenges, we got dirty, we crawled through the veld on our hands and knees stalking the ‚enemy‛ in the dark and each challenge was a competition between the 14 teams of girls and the competition was tough. Two weeks later, back at school, I got a summons to see the head mistress. Now, you have to understand that at my school, that was seldom a good thing. We were terrified of her. So, with my heart pounding and my feet dragging, I headed to her office. As it turned out, this was not actually a ‚bad‛ session, however I did get a telling off. I got a telling off because our headmistress had received feedback from the teachers at Veldschool about my leadership traits. The telling off was because I had never shown any sign of leadership at school.Three years ago I was involved with a ‚Youth at Risk‛ project here in the UK with the Wilderness Trust. The trust is affiliated to the Wilderness Leadership School in South Africa and I did a lot of research on the effects of wilderness and leadership development. During this time I came across some work being done with the gangs in the townships in SA and the results were staggering. Rival gangs were being sent into the wilderness together (they were disarmed before they got onto the buses) and were returning home as friends, swapping bandanas and cell phone numbers.What was it about these trips that lead to such a radical change? There were no abseiling challenges, no rock faces to climb. The adrenalin rushes came from the roar of the lions while you lie around the fire with one person on watch. There was a lot of silent time as they walked quietly through the bush in search of game, sitting in their stone rings alone for hours at a time, doing their shift around the fire on watch, knowing that not only their own safety, but that of everyone in the camp depended on them and then a lot of talking around the fire – storytelling ” the tales of the bush, the tales of their lives, the tales of their experiences and somewhere in all of this mix of new information, they found common ground.It would be great if every company could take their teams on these kinds of team building programmes, but this is not always possible. So how do we create a shared experience in the work place so that teams can find that common ground to write the stories that everyone understands. I believe that this is the challenge that we have to overcome to build great teams.
Hi Barrie and Keith. I think you have hit the nail on the head that team-building activities are often just seen as an interlude and then it ’s business as usual. What doesn ’t help is the fact that most adventure companies who might have the hard skills of abseiling, high ropes, kayaking or whatever, but are fairly clueless when it comes to team dynamics, psychology, and other “soft skills ” try to get on the band wagon of teambuilding because it seems like a lucrative business. It is not uncommon to find these guys considering a de-brief as an optional extra, and if it is done at all, then very superficially.I ’ll be sure to distribute your article at the upcoming camnet (christian adventure ministries network) workshop this weekend.Martin Büttner
This is a brilliant article. But oine thing that poped up in my mind is how do one build a team from a Networked or Virtual Resourced office? In other words, a company with resources scattered all over, with no real office space?