Nothing will strain a great team like a terrible crisis. And thanks to wave after wave of crises recently, I’m seeing a refreshed need for team-building experiences. But a very different kind of team-building experience. Perhaps a team re-building experience.
Does anyone really like team-building exercises? They’re usually embarrassing to some degree. They typically involve heights. Or fear. Or math. They almost always reveal the misfit rather than incorporate diverse talents toward a shared goal. (Team-building exercises should be renamed: “Who’s the Doofus?” The last team-building exercise I participated in, instead of led, involved making five straws achieve a height of 3 feet, using only tape and string. Guess who was not an architect or engineer on the team.) And when you have a team of people afraid for their jobs, they’re not going to wholeheartedly throw themselves into an exercise that could very likely make them look stupid.
Any leader who wants to strengthen teams these days has the added challenge of the fact that for the past two years employees have been feeling like they’re on their own. It’s been an everyone-for-himself job climate. Layoff survivors have had to cope with shrinking teams by walking past cubicles that were once occupied by people they respected and cared about. And now there is a recent spike of employees quitting. Managers have to find new ways of saying, “Hey wait a minute! Don’t leave! It’s worth your time, career and emotional investment to stay on the team!”
What’s the new team-building model and outcome that works in a crisis economy? One that knits together working groups on the basis of respect, trust and a deeper, understanding of all the teammates — including the managers themselves. The shared experience delivers both a heightened sense of self-esteem on an individual level and mutual respect on a group level. The best team-building experience (note: not exercise) gives everyone the chance to see each other in a new, more authentic, more deeply meaningful light. With no risk of failure or embarrassment — not if you want your people to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the experience and get the most out of participating.
It’s a wonderful thing to hear at the conclusion of a team-building experience, “Wow, for the first time I’m finally confident that my team really gets who I am and what I bring to the group.” The long-term benefits of that added, deepened understanding of who each person really is will last far longer than any momentary high of achieving a 3 ft. straw tower.
Martha Finney is the author of more than 15 books, including “The Truth About Getting the Best From People.” She is also the creator of Career Landscape, a team-building experience designed to help employees rededicate themselves to their mission and each other.
Image credit, urbancow, via iStock