How to Build Teams

The Three Pillars of Team-Building

The problem facing communities today is not the issues, it is the inability to build and maintain coalitions to deal with those issues. 

 – John Gardner

Does team building work or is it just a waste of money?

No question, team building is trendy. It is something “modern” companies do, like having a game room with a ping pong table. I started to ask people – employees, HR, supervisors … – whether they believe team building to be a valuable experience. Some think it is just a waste of time. For others it is even worse. It is one of those events where you have to play silly games and embarrass yourself. Some think it is fun but it has no relevance for the actual work. Others have a vague idea what the benefits could be. I hear nebulous words like proficiency, efficiency, transparency, credibility, productivity, effectivity etc. And, I found those who experienced that team building has a very positive influence on their team and has clearly improved work.

What are the essentials of team building? Is there a simple way to describe how it works?

I believe there are three pillars which are the foundation of every successful team building event:

1. There IS an “I” in Team!

Have you heard the phrase “There is no “I” in Team.”? Actually, there is an “I” hidden, can you find it? The “I” is right at the beginning of “Team.” It is part of the “T” once you lift its top, the horizontal line,  off.

Every team and every team-building activity has to start with the “I,” the person. The team is a group of individuals. They are like the bricks of a house. If the bricks are porous you can’t build a stable house. If the individual is not seen, worshiped, and valued – if he doesn’t like his work, or she can’t do what she is really good at – they won’t be great team players.

It all starts with the knowledge of who you are and who your teammates are. Many businesses recognize that and introduce personality tests in their companies like Myers Briggs, DISC, True Colors, Gallup Strength Finder. Only when you know your strengths and skills can you find the right role and position within your team. It has been proven that it is far more effective to work your strengths than to improve your weaknesses. The person who can work with what he/she is good at will have more energy and will be more content and confident. And the results will be more successful.

 Team Building starts with being aware of each person’s traits and values.

2. The Team

Last summer I read a book, Creativity, Inc., that gives an excellent example of how a team culture was developed and established at Pixar Animation Studios (and subsequently at Walt Disney Animation Studios). The author is Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar. He explains that the reason behind Pixar’s amazing success is not so much outstanding ideas or genius individuals but a peer culture where everybody participates and is safe to be honest and to tell the truth. At Pixar they call this kind of interaction the “Brain Trust.” It is a system in which the 200-250 people who are involved in a production are constantly evaluating and making suggestions and thus working together. 

This philosophy can be transferred to other companies. When Catmull is asked to help revive Disney Studios he states that besides having a huge budget and being able to recruit the best directors, Disney hadn’t produced a huge success for decades. After changing Disney’s internal structure by implementing a culture based on trust and respect, where giving honest and constructive feedback and true collaboration is part of every day’s work, Disney released “Tangled,” the movie that finally brought Disney Studios back to the top of the box office.

What does this have to do with team building?

Since team building events take place outside the daily work routine, they offer a great opportunity to shake things up, to leave the established paths for a moment. Team building events are an excellent opportunity to implement and enforce these values: trust, open communication, and finding solutions together.

 3.  Creativity and Innovation

The only thing that is constant is change.

Do you remember those large companies like TWA, Kodak, Nokia phones that seemed to be solid rocks in the economy and then one day were gone. Every business has to move forward. Constantly. Just continuing to do what has worked in the past isn’t enough. The company that doesn’t ask everyone to continuously learn new things will miss out on the future. Daniel Pink, author of the bestselling book A Whole New Mind, claims that the “right-brainers will rule the future.” We need people who are ready to move out of their comfort zone, take risks, and who aren’t held back by fears. This is exactly where team building events fit in. The team can actually learn what it takes to have an open mind, to thrive and become creative in situations when you don’t know yet what is behind the next corner. Coming up with new ideas and finding new solutions needs stimulation and practice. During team building exercises we invent, and experiment in new contexts. We have the freedom to explore. And we need creative leaders that understand how to set the framework so that innovative teams can flourish.

We prepare for innovation. We prepare for tomorrow.

Does every team building event have to include all 3 of these pillars?

No. Sometimes time is limited. Sometimes you need to focus on one specific pillar. But to make team building successful you have to think about the whole picture first. And based on that clarify your goals for today and your vision of the future.