The words “team building” was originally based on the age-old metaphor that people are like building blocks (Sibbet, 2011).
When I hear this analogy, I immediately think of the Legos or primary colored wooded building blocks my boys played with over the years. A person stacks one on top of the other and eventually, with some patience and ingenuity the builder has their finished masterpiece. But in the real world of team building, I would use the metaphor of dancers coming together for a Broadway production.
Imagine dancers coming together for the first time to learn and perform a professional Broadway production. Meeting with anticipation for the mission that lies ahead, all looking at the tasks and end result through different viewpoints, strengths, and experiences. Some dancers are professionally minded, goal driven and structured, others are relational, a few are power and ego driven, yet most are driven by the inner story, beauty, and ritual that the production and theater holds for them (Bolman & Deal, 2008). As the dancers are introduced to their group, they struggle to find their footing and not step on anyone’s toes during rehearsal. In the beginning, it is hard to know which role each dancer will play. Questions arise: Who is strong enough to throw and catch the dancer and who is courageous enough to trust a stranger to catch them? Which dancers want to lead and which ones want to follow? But once each person’s strengths are determined, a rhythm is found and the dancers’ steps begin to move in correlation with one another towards the creation of a beautiful Broadway masterpiece.
The idea of teams and what they can produce can seem magical, but we have all been a part of groups in which we felt we could have easily arrived at the same destination on our own in half the time and without the headache. Poor meeting, poor training sessions, poor brainstorming, they are all led by poor organizers. I read somewhere once, it is not the process, it is the manager you are frustrated with. I knew that author must have been talking about me! If I was frustrated with the productivity of our teams, then it was my fault as the leader.
Here are things I have learned from my failures as a team leader:
- Always have a roadmap, timeline, and production benchmarks. Make sure you are clear about people’s commitment, time restraints, and ability to complete the tasks on time.
- Ask clarifying questions about people’s expectations and about people’s strengths. For example: If a person claims to have the talent of putting together high-level power points, ask the question: “Do you have an example you could share with the group?” or “Does that mean you will commit to making the background slides or are you committing to entering the information for the presentation as well?”
- Encourage team members in the skills and talents they bring to the team. Accept people for who God created them to be and allow them to work in those God-given areas. Recognize your team, by word, deed, mail, and email for their accomplishments in person and in front of others.
- Invite a “team commentator” to observe your meetings and give feedback on team interaction. This person should be a neutral person who can sit quietly in your meeting and take notes on your team dynamics and strategies that may or may not be working. For example: The team commentator may note that one person dominates the conversation or that another appears bored and uninterested. When brought to the attraction of the group, the team can start a healthy process of working towards a given goal.
I truly believe that God created us to solve the world’s problems by entering into a collaborative community with others. As hard as it may seem at times, I am not giving up on teams and I hope you won’t either.