The Relevance of Facilitated Team-Building in the 21st Century Business

A corporation’s staff of employees, i.e., corporate team, can sometimes literally make or break its business. The “right” corporate team for an entity cannot be purchased in a store, or at auction via eBay, as an effective corporate team doesn’t simply just happen–its creation is typically both purposeful and highly strategic to the particular entity. Designing the “right”, i.e., effective, corporate team generally requires the assembly of a group of people who are willing to, a) work together, sans individual agendas; and, b) be creative and non-judgmental. After the “right” corporate team has been selected, one of the quickest and most effective ways to foster the quality, seamless, superlative development often required of said team is through tailored, team-building sessions conducted by a trained, experienced, and truly neutral, third-party Facilitator.

Facilitated Team-Building

A team-building Facilitator is essentially skilled in the art and science of group dynamics. Such a Facilitator, in actual team-building exercises, is essentially the process expert in the particular session(s), whilst the corporate team members of the entity client are the content experts in said sessions. E.g., a trained, team-building Facilitator can typically create, employ, and manage exercises designed to foster the effective, cooperative development of new ideas. For instance, if the corporate client’s goal is to develop a new snack food for kids, the typical Facilitator can construct, implement, and manage sessions designed to inspire cooperative, efficient creativity amongst the subject-knowledgeable corporate team members–often through the lens of particularized effective communication and problem-solving techniques–that would ideally produce the new food product for their employer.

A team-building Facilitator essentially, like the combination of a sports organization and a referee, creates the rules, and oversees and corrects the team interactions-inclusive of ensuring that team members are:

a) not harming one another, or, the objective;
b) are playing on the correct field; and,
c) adhering to the requisite time-frames, until the overall objective of the exercise is achieved.

Additionally, a team-building Facilitator assists that “right” corporate team in learning how to creatively use any interpersonal friction toward the common entity goal–essentially merging the varied experiential levels, knowledge, and energies for a common purpose. A few important duties typically conducted by a neutral, facilitative, team-building Professional include the following:

o Gathering Appropriate Background Data:
E.g., Determining,
o What the current opportunity or problem is;
o Who is involved;
o How long the opportunity or problem has been occurring;
o What has been tried before;
o When a solution is needed; and,
o How success will be measured;

o Designing Well:
E.g. Understanding that,
o Good process doesn’t just happen, it is designed; and,
o A dynamic design takes into account desired outcomes, people involved, culture and climate of the organization, and the strengths and weaknesses of available problem-solving processes;

o Setting and Communicating the Agenda and the Big Picture:
E.g., For each meeting,
o Reviewing the situation background both in general and specific, current terms;
o Expressing what is expected to be accomplished at a particular session; and,
o Providing a big picture view of the context, purpose and desired outcome of the entire project;

o Setting and/or Assisting The Generation of Team Rules:

E.g., Employing and managing meeting ground rules, such as,
o The turning off of cell phones and other meeting-intrusive devices;
o Attendance and timeliness;
o A Two-Minute Rule for verbal participation (i.e., if any one person speaks for more than two consecutive minutes, it is likely that s/he is getting off-track and may therefore need to yield the floor);
o Holding one conversation at a time;
o Deferring judgment when generating ideas; and,
o Judging affirmatively when evaluating ideas;

o Supporting The Team in the Management of Group Dynamics:
E.g.,
o Managing conflict;
o Supporting team member honesty and openness;
o Valuing everyone’s opinion; and,
o Being transparent in discussions.

Climate Changes for Optimal Team-Building Collaboration

Facilitated team-building can occur, e.g., at the client’s corporate site. However, often, a climate, i.e., setting/staging change can quickly establish a fresher, more novel tone for team collaboration. In newly formed, as well as established, teams it is often necessary to shake things up a bit in order to avoid habitual, ritualistic performance. Namely, a climate change can provide new perspective amongst team members, toward existing, reoccurring, or currently unimagined, opportunities. Such can be obtained by something as simple as, e.g., sitting in a different chair during the next meeting, or as seemingly complex, as, e.g., meeting in a different location. Atmospheric variation can particularly be achieved by meeting at the offices of a strategic partner. For example, an air ambulance service could consider holding a series of team-building sessions at a local hospital for which it provides services, in order to achieve the desired novel, brain-storming effect of its corporate team.

Typical off-site choices for climate variation have included, e.g., hotel conference rooms, specialized retreat venues, resort areas. More contemporary off-site options for climate variation have included, e.g., rock climbing, adventure treks, sailing, erecting dwellings for the economically challenged, and even meal preparation. When rock climbing/trekking, building a house for the poor, or engineering a new pasta dish, the unknown, e.g., the possibility of encountering a wild animal, experiencing a hammer-smashed thumb, or discovering a strange spice forces the team members to use all of their senses, to be more mentally and physically prepared, and to, a) rely on the strengths, and, b) understand the weaknesses, of themselves and their teammates. Essentially, climate-changed, facilitated team members often quickly learn to merge their own individual points of light–into a blinding bolt of energy that can streak past any competitor.

Virtual Facilitated Team-Building

Optimally, facilitated team-building occurs in face-to-face settings. However, increasingly, employees are finding themselves physically distanced from their counterparts. Electronic team-building facilitation, as conducted via the Internet, can restore higher levels of communication, responsibility, and productivity among, especially, distance-challenged teammates.

Virtual team-building facilitation can be, similar to face-to-face facilitated team-building, targeted toward discreet meetings, continuous projects, and/or strategic planning. Numerous Internet-based tools are available for any need or budget. Some popular search engines, in fact, offer free virtual meeting space. Providers of more complex virtual tools typically charge a fee for their offerings. However, when compared to e.g., the costs of airfare, hotel rooms and incidental expenses required to produce some face-to-face facilitated team-building sessions, virtual facilitation fees are in hindsight, relatively nominal.

The advantages of facilitated, virtual team-building include the practical facilitation of large groups/teams, automatic documentation and updates, uniform use of various tools, file-sharing, and the ability to generate, evaluate, and develop action plans. Input to virtual team projects can be parallel or asynchronous depending upon the collaboration product selected. In addition, anonymity is available if needed. The potential drawbacks to facilitated, virtual team-building are: the requirement of computer literacy, the elimination/reduction of sometimes critical face-to-face social interaction, data overload, and any requisite user fees. Overall, however, facilitated team-building success, whether virtual or face-to-face, is dependent upon quality input and the strategic follow-up of the session participants.

Investment

Facilitated team-building sessions can be designed for almost any budget. One beauty of using a skilled, team-building Facilitator is time efficiency. An experienced team-building Facilitator may be able to reduce the time needed to move from problem/opportunity awareness to solution in a mere matter of hours. Therefore, a focused eye should be toward value as opposed to costs. Generally, team-building Facilitators may be hired by the hour, half or full day, or on a total project basis. Often, team-building Facilitators have set fees for typical sessions, and are willing to negotiate fees for long-term projects. Expect to cover additional costs if the team-building Facilitator is requested to secure a venue and/or audiovisual or other specialized equipment.

Conclusion

Generally, corporate teams that participate in quality, tailored sessions with an experienced, neutral, team-building Facilitator-regardless of the venue–tend to be more focused, goal-oriented, task-invested, responsible, tolerant, and duly satisfied with their ultimate objective outcomes. Facilitated teams also tend to collaborate more, provide higher levels of commitment, and. tend to be less constrained by habitual behavior–resulting in more satisfactory outcomes. A team-building Facilitator can streamline corporate team interactions, thus reducing time and the costs necessary to complete projects. Effective team-building, therefore, is a crucial process that can result in a measurable, competitive edge for the contemporary business.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes and therefore intended to convey the opinion of the author only, and not intended to convey statistical information or advice. Further, the opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Publisher. Each state and/or locality may have specific guidelines and/or laws governing the above subject matter(s). Be advised to consult a relevant professional for guidance regarding the guidelines and/or laws regarding the subject matter(s) in your state and/or locality.

Developing Highly Effective Corporate Teams: The Relevance of Facilitated Team-Building in the 21st Century Business
by Toni S. McNutt, PhD, Facilitator; Owner, Synapse Decisions, LLC

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Team Building – A Process For Increasing Work Group Effectiveness

Too often team building is one of those vague, misused terms managers call into play as a panacea for sluggish work unit performance. The rise in the popularity and use of team building has paralleled the growing perception of work as the output of teams of workers rather than as compartmentalized tasks on an assembly line. Field Research Findings, such as the ones carried out by the American Productivity & Quality Center during their white-collar productivity improvement, multi-organizational field research efforts clearly demonstrate the importance of effective team structures to the overall performance effectiveness of the knowledge/service worker.

The building of a team requires a great deal more effort than simply recognizing the interdependence among workers and work units. It requires, instead, several carefully managed steps and is an ongoing cyclical process. The team-building process presented in this article offers the members of a work group a way to observe and analyze behaviors and activities that hinder their effectiveness and to develop and implement courses of action that overcome recurring problems.

While the underlying purpose of team building is to develop a more effective work group, the specific purposes of the process will depend largely upon the assessment of information gathered during the initial data collection phase. Typically, team building will seek to resolve at least one of the following three issues:

1. A lack of clear goals and expected performance outcomes: Frequently, interview data from work group members reveal that their performance is generally directed by their individual (and often conflicting) performance goals. In that situation, the team-building model can be directed at establishing overall work group goals, which affect both individual and group effort and behavior, and, ultimately, the performance outcomes at both the individual, as well as the group level.

2. Interpersonal conflict and distrust: A lack of trust, supportiveness and communication not only slows down the day-to-day ability of a group to get work done, but also stands in the way of resolving the conflicts that naturally arise as the group makes decisions about its future efforts.

One way to overcome this is to focus on the work problems and improved interpersonal skills necessary for the team to work inter-dependently and more effectively to accomplish the task. In other words, the interpersonal data would be derived from the work context itself rather than from evaluations directed at individual personalities within the group. It is a concerted effort to uncover mutual needs and desired outcomes … a Win-Win approach.

3. A lack of clear roles and leadership: Obviously, duplications of effort result in sub-optimum levels of productivity. But when initial interviews with work unit members suggest confusion over roles, the issues that surface may go well beyond task-specific problems. They may raise questions about who is providing leadership to the group, who feels empowered to act, what sources of power are being wielded and what interpersonal and inter-group relations underlie the group’s effectiveness. When these issues arise, the team-building model uses group meetings to discuss and clarify members’ roles and responsibilities – both prescribed and discretionary

Who are the “players” in the team building process?

On the surface, a “team” suggests a group of interchangeable individuals of equal status. But in reality, most workplace teams have a supervisor or manager charged with leadership and accountability for the group’s performance. Consequently, the team leader plays an important and somewhat different role than do other members in a successful team building effort. Support from the leader is vital because if he or she does not recognize and accept the need for team building, it is unlikely that other members of the work team will be very receptive to the idea.

The Value and Role of a Facilitator-Coach.

In addition to the leader and other team members, successful team building calls for a third party participant in the process – a Facilitator-Coach, a professional with knowledge and experience in the field of applied behavioral science, but who is not a regular member of the team. This person may be an internal resource person in the organization or be someone from outside the parent company/organization..

There are several roles, which this Facilitator-Coach may perform in team building. Perhaps the most common and critical is that of third-party facilitator, a “gate-keeper.” The Facilitator-Coach also trains and coaches the team in becoming more skillful in understanding, identifying, diagnosing and solving its performance problems. To do this, the Facilitator-Coach gathers data needed for the team to conduct its own self- appraisal and structures a “safe” environment that encourages team collaboration and consensus building. As a change agent, the Facilitator-Coach also serves as a catalyst to help bring about a greater degree of openness and trust and increased communication effectiveness.

Another role of the Facilitator-Coach is that of a knowledge resource person, assisting team members to learn more about group dynamics, individual behavior and the skills needed to become more effective as a team and as individuals.

The Facilitator-Coach should generally avoid assuming the role of the “expert.” That is, the Facilitator-Coach’s major function is not to directly resolve the team’s problems, but to help the team learn how to cope with its own problems and become more self-sufficient. If the Facilitator-Coach becomes the controlling force responsible for resolving the group’s difficulties, he or she has denied the team the opportunity to grow by facing and resolving problems confronting them.

What are the steps in the team-building process?

At the core of the process will be a a well-defined process that is made up of a series of structured experiences and events, ones that will be repeated over time, that have been designed to help the group build and sustain a cohesive, effective, and ultimately, a high-performing work team. This process requires carefully laid groundwork as well as long- term follow up and re-evaluation. And further, team building, to be successful in developing and sustaining high performance, must be viewed and accepted as being a “continuous” and on-going process, not an “event” driven activity.

Team building, from a systems perspective, requires several carefully thought out and managed steps and is clearly understood to be an ongoing cyclical process. The team-building process offers members of a work group a way to observe and analyze behaviors and activities that hinder their effectiveness and to develop and implement courses of action that overcome recurring problems. If successfully implemented, the team building process is integrated into the work team’s day-to-day operations.

Assuming work group manager-leader and team members, after having an opportunity to become aware of what the team building process has to offer and requires of them, have indicated and voiced their support for the team building process, the first preparatory step is the introduction of the Facilitator-Coach to the team. Often this is done by the team leader during a regular staff meeting at which the Facilitator-Coach is introduced to the group. The role of the Facilitator-Coach is discussed as well as the process and potential benefits of team building.

In preparation for the kick-off of the team-building process, the Facilitator-Coach will then take responsibility for the next step – the gathering of data from each team member about the “strengths” and “weaknesses” of the team and barriers to effective team performance. This diagnostic phase will typically make use of questionnaires and/or interviews.

he use of personal interviews has several advantages. First, interviews provide the Facilitator-Coach a better understanding of the team, its functions and its problems. Second, interviews enable the Facilitator-Coach to develop rapport with team members and to begin to establish a relationship of openness and trust. Third, interviews provide the opportunity for each individual team member to participate in the identification of the work group’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally, personal interviews are flexible. On the other hand, the less flexible questionnaire approach ensures that common areas will be covered by all team members.

After conducting the interviews or surveys, the Facilitator-Coach summarizes the information, which is to be fed back to the group during the team-building meeting. A useful way of presenting the comments is according to the frequency with which the items were
mentioned or accorded to major problem areas.

During the actual team-building meeting, the data feedback session becomes a springboard for the rest of the session’s activities. With the assistance and support of the Facilitator-Coach, the group then formulates an agenda and decides on the priorities of the issues raised by the diagnostic phase.

Before the team-building meeting ends, action plans are developed which specify the steps the group will take in attempting to resolve specific problems.

What factors influence the success of team building?

Because effective team building is not a one-shot affair, a schedule of future team- building efforts needs to be established. For lasting change to take place, subsequent meetings will need to review the implementation of action plans and investigate additional problem areas.

As mentioned earlier, the support and commitment of the formal team leader (Work Group Manager) are critical to successful team building. His or her attitude toward the process has an obvious impact upon other team members. Furthermore, because discussion sometimes centers on the team leader’s behavior, he or she has to be open to constructive criticism.

The leader must also fully understand team building, its time requirements and implications. The leader’s own personality and leadership style influence the probability of the success of tear-n building. If the team manager is not comfortable with a participative style of leadership, team development simply will not work.

The other team members should also want to become involved in the effort and believe in its relevance. Otherwise, team building may be viewed as a ploy by the leader to pacify the team or simply as a substitute for effective management. Each individual within the group should be part of the effort and feel personally secure to participate in the process.

Since the team-building efforts may create a change in the relationship between the team and the organization, the support of executive management is also vital. The chances for a successful team-building effort are improved if the team has knowledge of any organizational constraints on the options for making changes within the team.

The timing of team building is another critical factor. If the team is experiencing turmoil or confusion over its direction (mission, goals, purpose, objectives, leadership, changes, etc.), the time could be ripe for team-building efforts to begin because the members may feel a need to establish what is expected of them. Thus, their receptivity to the process is often increased under such destabilizing conditions.

Finally, team building requires adequate time for the activities to take effect. Relatively large blocks of time and even changes in the work setting are sometimes needed for team building. Separation from the workplace during the initial team meeting phase of the process is frequently needed to avoid work pressures and interruptions and to help generate greater commitment and increased concentration from team members.

What are the results of successful team building?

The team-building process may affect several levels within the organization. First, the individuals in the team may become more sensitive to the impact of their behavior on the effective functioning of the team. More self-awareness may also lead to changed behavior patterns. For example, recognition by the team leader that he or she does not share leadership and decision making with others may provide the impetus to adopt a more participative style.

Second, team building may help team members realize that different and better approaches exist to the way the team operates and performs its work. Third, team building may affect the relation- ship of the group to the rest of the organization. For example, a team member may stop using other parts of the organization as scapegoats to hide his or her own inefficient operations. Ultimately, greater harmony among organizational units could well result.

John N. Younker, Ph.D.

John Younker is the President and co-founder of Associates In Continuous Improvement, a Houston, Texas based advisory and educational resource to executives and senior managers. Additionally, he has served, since 1993, as a Chair for Vistage International (formerly The Executive Committee – TEC), a developmental resource for CEO’s and Presidents. John also makes the time to serve as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and as a Guest Lecturer for the Eisenhower Leadership Series, George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Former roles include the Director of the Our Lady of the Lake University – Houston MBA Program., Senior Vice President for The Institute, Inc. and Vice President and Senior Field Researcher at the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC). John works with a broad range of client organizations, is a frequent speaker and lecturer, and is a well-published author. John holds a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of Memphis.

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