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There’s more to effective team development than making up the numbers, or even the skill set required to achieve a desired outcome – Charisse Gray looks at ways to motivate people, rather than robots, to work together effectively and happily.

Active ImageSo many tasks in business need to be tackled by teams, and a crucial part of effective management is knowing how to build an effective team. Or, how to choose the right outsider to do that, based on a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.

People are not automatically compatible, even when they have a common goal. In a business environment, an individual doesn’t always have a choice as to which team he is on. Normally a manager will group individuals together to form a team in order to achieve a specific goal. It can be difficult when you have diverse members made up of male and female, different cultural backgrounds and ages, maturity and experience. If you get the people dynamics wrong it can impact on productivity and profit. You may experience competition rather than cooperation, and there may be a clash of personalities, ethics and values.

The dynamics of good teams vary. You can’t just pull together a group of employees, call them a team and expect them to come up with the results. You need to consider the dynamics required of the specific team, and choose members with skills and experience that will work well together and who can individually bring something worthwhile to the table.

Typically, you will include the Doers, who make sure the job gets done and give the team drive; the Thinkers, who have good ideas and reject bad ones; and the Carers, who keep the team together, ease tensions, promote harmony, and are sensitive to relationships within the team.

You will need to give each team a strong leader, one who can communicate well, is highly organised, demonstrates concern for the task and the process, and can create a supportive atmosphere.

Teamwork may still not be successful unless you implement and foster a motivated, productive ‘team-building culture’ from the top of the organisation down, enabling cohesion and innovation. Each team needs to feel they have the capacity to create new ideas, initiatives and strategies, as well as the authority to do so.

Only then will effective team building occur.

When a team meets, their energies are usually directed towards problem-solving. They want to ensure they are carrying out the tasks effectively, and making use of all members’ resources efficiently. During this process, team building can be facilitated as members evaluate their working relationship and then develop guidelines for moving forward.


Much of the work people are required to do these days depends on some form of collaboration. As John Campbell, partner, Australian Growth Coaching explains, "Employees today tend to work in a range of situations with others. Some of these situations are on extended long-term teams, others may be short-term project groups. Work today seems to be much more interdependent, occurring through a whole network of interpersonal relationships. These relationships can be with people within your department or unit, with people in other units, and with customers, suppliers and partners.

"Today, collaborative skills, which are at the heart of teamwork, are more critical to business success than ever," he says. "A good team-building exercise will highlight how effectively a team does these things, and in doing so provides powerful learning that is directly applicable in the workplace."

Campbell isn’t comfortable with the term ‘team building’, and prefers to call it team development. "Team building has often been associated with soft, touchy-feely type exercises which often have little long-term business value. However, teams do need to continually develop and renew themselves and redefine the skills they need to enable them to work collaboratively."

When building a team you need to not only be clear about what you want from them as a whole, and individually, you must also have the skills to communicate these requirements effectively.

"When deciding what you need from your team, make fine distinctions around the specific skills you need to teach them," says Ross Judd, managing director of Sydney based team-building company, Team Focus. "Is it clarifying goals, reviewing performance, providing feedback, decision-making? The more specific, the more successful your team building will be."

Alan Rich, principal of Business Mentoring Australia, believes people generally feel better working in a team, their work is therefore more productive and they feel better about themselves.

Staff Engagement

Many organisations today are conducting staff engagement surveys or something similar in an attempt to measure whether the organisation is tapping into the full contribution each individual is able to make.

"The premise is that if the workforce is more engaged the company will be more effective and profitable," Judd explains. "A team culture leads to increased engagement, contribution, commitment, and ultimately profitability.


"The challenge for an organisation is to get the right blend or style of team culture. All too often a generic ‘team’ culture is applied that does not suit the situation, individuals, or organisation. If this occurs then attempts at a ‘team culture’ can be detrimental. Get it right, though, and a team approach can save time and money and make everyone’s life easier."

So, be clear about purpose and goals, guidelines and processes for solving problems and making decisions. As Campbell explains, "When team members have been able to contribute to identifying goals, a strong sense of ownership and commitment often results. When this happens an effective team is in the making."

He also points out that building a team culture is a long-term strategy that needs support from senior management, and a clearly articulated business case for establishing and nurturing such a culture. HR practices also need to support the culture and only in this type of environment can team-building activities provide long-term value.

Paula Martin, marketing manager for ABL State Chamber, agrees with this approach. She manages a diverse team of 20 men and women who straddle three workplace generations and have differing cultural backgrounds and experience. "Before you even start employing team-building activities, it is important that each staff member understands the fundamentals of the organisation and the business unit in which they work—like the mission statement, the values and goals, and the behaviours and competencies required of each staff member," she says. These competencies should tie in with everyone’s KPIs (key performance indicators), enabling everyone to be working from the same platform.

"It is important that my team has consistent behaviour and I have identified specific behaviours necessary for our unit to work effectively. These behaviours may differ from those required in another business unit within the company, but they are essential to the collaborative and project-driven nature of the marketing activities. Clear, open, honest communication between team members is essential.

"Teams need to get together as regularly as possible. We spend long hours in the workplace and I think it’s important that there is a forum where staff can relax, interact, learn, and bond with the people they work with. An opportunity to get to know the way their team-mates work, what they think and their idiosyncrasies. Basically, we need to know what pushes each other’s buttons."

Team Building Exercises

Active ImageTeam-building exercises are often imbued wi
th elements of fun, humour, camaraderie and bonding experiences. Activities can range from the simple to the sublime: developing a new work process, planning an initiative to survive a shipwreck, creating an advertising campaign for an imaginary product, developing an imaginary company’s mission statement, creating a budget plan for new business, white water rafting, and war games. In the US, the latest is a Da Vinci Conspiracy team-building experience.

Well-chosen exercises can deliver huge benefits to all organisations and to all employees involved. You need to clarify at the outset what it is you want to achieve from each exercise, whether to address a problem or issue, how to best maintain or improve performance, or more specific indicators such as encouraging clever strategy, previously dormant creativity, insightful problem-solving and decision-making.

Activities can be held on or off site and can be facilitated by an in-house executive, or a specialist consultancy. Costs will vary depending on your requirements.

Exercises that are poorly chosen can waste your time and money, and can have a negative effect on employees. "There are certain team-building exercises that truly challenge the dynamics and interactions within a team, and these can be extremely powerful levers for change," Judd explains. If an employer knows what they want to achieve, and what outcomes they want, then a good team-building company will be able to deliver a very successful result.

Judd recommends different approaches for different outcomes. Factors such as group size, previous experiences, demographics and location should also influence the approach. However, Judd warns employers that some exercises on offer in the name of team building, provide little benefit other than bonding.

Team building doesn’t end with the last activity of the day. Debriefing sessions to review what has occurred and assist the learning process, are crucial.

"Each activity itself is a simulated team problem-solving experience. Achieving success in such activities is really of no great consequence," Campbell explains. "What is important is that people learn principles about teamwork that translate back to their workplace situations. The debriefing discussion led by a skilled facilitator helps to link this application. Without such a link, the exercise is just a fun activity with no meaning beyond itself."

An effective team

The team leader must:

• have good people skills;

• have strong communication skills;

• establish clear, challenging goals which everyone understands and wants to achieve;

• use consultative processes to plan teamwork and allocate tasks;

• establish protocols and standards;

• engender a willingness to cooperate and built mutual trust;

• adapt their leadership style to suit the situation;

• ensure that each team member feels a strong sense of belonging;

• be able to get the best from each team member; and

• monitor individual and team progress effectively.

Team members must:

  • • have complementary skills and experience;
  • • have similar values and attitudes;
  • • understand that the team is more important than the individual;
  • • have a strong sense of belonging and commitment;
  • • be clear about goals and targets, individual roles and responsibilities;
  • • feel challenged by their individual tasks and responsibilities;
  • • feel responsible for the outcome;
  • • feel free to say what they really think and the authority to develop their own ideas; and
  • • be prepared to follow an agreed course of action even when they have a differing opinion.

* Charisse Gray is senior business writer for ABL State Chamber. Visit http://www.australianbusiness.com.au 

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