Performance Management Blog

Does Teamwork Work? Issues and Ideas for Improvement

Jul 25, 2013 | Uncategorized

There are people who think that no teamwork actually works to improve performance and that the effort and expense are a waste of energy and time. Yeah, maybe. But it does require some planning and alignment to the real issues and opportunities of improving management team building for business improvement.

More and more, I see and hear about some exercises that really sound like mediocre ideas for impacting workplace performance and just do not understand how some of those activities are actually linked to performance improvement. Sure, tossing balls around in a circle with more speed the second time can demonstrate better coordination of a group’s activities and, yeah, seeing that improvement after people talk about how they could do it differently does indicate that teamwork works. But what the heck? How do you really make that activity bridge to improving interdepartmental collaboration when the bosses of those departments are not involved in the activity.

(And I DO think that paintball might be a fun activity to watch as the different department heads duel it out on an individual basis for Leadership Supremacy. But I really doubt that winning that exercise will dramatically improve trust and respect among each other or that is it is an optimal paradigm for building teams within an entire organization — paintball sets up, by design, competing groups with no possibility of collaboration. You know that they sell paintball mortars, right? Designed to kill lots of players with one well-placed shot.)

We know that there are many different kinds of troubles with implementing strategies and there are issues of organizational culture and divergent measurement systems that do NOT lend themselves to organizational team building or organizational alignment interventions. There are a lot of different intra-group and inter-group issues that can be directly addressed with interventions and team building, things that can be readily discussed and resolved once the issues are smoked-out.

PMC has a vested interest in the issue, since we design and sell interactive team building activities focused on resolving issues of engagement and collaboration between teams.

The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, for example, has proven itself in its ability to generate commitment for change and improvement since 1993. It’s about solving problems, strategic planning, and collaboration with others who have information they could share. It is about working with others under the pressures of time, with measurable results.

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And there IS a lot of crap training out there calling itself teamwork, in my opinion. I have attended and participated in way too many to pretend that they do not exist. Some are just plain goofy!

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Yeah, let’s all cheer for the outstanding bag jumper while it is 105 degrees…

My particular pet peeves are around activities like Firewalking, Paintball and High Ropes — “training events” that have few links to issues of people working together to solve problems, interacting to define things to improve, etc. I just do not believe that “team bonding” is a sufficiently powerful incentive to change workplace business practives.

And Golf as team building? Really? HOW??— Sure, golfers are known as great teammates and team play is crucial to success (Not!). Maybe when the players are boozing it up at the 19th hole, but not during play, most certainly. It is one-on-one-on-one-on one, or maybe two pairs against each other. They cannot help each other, unless maybe reading a putt.

Bowling? Maybe. Cooking? Maybe, if one is running a big commercial kitchen in a restaurant or hotel and each of team is responsible for ONE aspect of that meal and they are collaborating on the overall timing… But just let one try to help another by offering some “help” in the way of advice.

Too many people ride as cowboys in their organizations – they are one-man bands, working alone and not in concert. There are too many workplaces that reward individual performance and then think they can expect their people to work together. In so many organizations — with lots of research supporting this — many of the people are not engaged and many are DIS-engaged. One might not expect much in the way of collaboration from those people.

A recent Fierce, Inc., survey found:

  • 86% of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
  • 70% of individuals either agree or strongly agree that a lack of candor impacts the company’s ability to perform optimally.
  • 97% of those surveyed believe the lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of any given task or project.
  • 90% of respondents believe decision-makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision; approximately 40% feel leaders and decision-makers consistently fail to do so.

But we can motivate people and drive alignment to shared goals. People want to feel successful and not be scared by the risks of performing. We need to get them to a new place, mentally.

In high performing workplaces, you will also see a collaborative culture where people work together to handle issues and solve problems. Granted, that approach may not work too well in places like Real Estate, Mortgage Lending or Stock Market Sales, but we do see a strong need for collaboration and commitment where things like production or product design or customer service come into play.

Motivate Me poem

Take any group of people, give them some common goals, measure them on shared performance, and allow them the ability to help each other and you have the basics for a workplace situation where teamwork will arise. Then, do some activity that demonstrates the benefit of collaboration on the overall results — something like, “The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Then, debrief that activity and discuss the choices that people made along with the choices they COULD have made, link it to the issues they see in their own workplace, and allow them to make commitments to each other (peer support) and you are highly likely to see improvement (if there is a bit of followup after the session).

Think of all the activities that we engage in where teamwork is absolutely essential to accomplishment — sports is but one endeavor. As my North Carolina Tar Heels demonstrated (yeah, I know about Duke winning the ACC Tourney), their improved collaboration and teamwork was visibly what enabled them to run out 20-3 for the last part of the season. Lacking that teamwork, they started at 6-4… Same players, but a different level of confidence, communication and effort.

And esprit de corps is most certainly higher in those places where people are involved and engaged and working together toward common goals.

Does Teamwork not work? I don’t think so. Teamwork is ALL about group performance. Teamwork always works if we don’t prevent it from working.

Sure, individuals can excel individually, but only through collaboration with others and if they are involved and engaged. Only with motivation can we get a group of people collaborating to high levels of accomplishment and performance.

It is about leadership. It is about identifying opportunities for improvement and then celebrating the successes that are gained.

Playing with Ideas

Have more FUN out There!

scott tiny casualDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at [email protected]

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. -- You can reach Scott at [email protected] and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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