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Building Real Project Teams vs Phony Team-Building Exercises

Updated on January 4, 2018

Meeting, Meetings, Meetings

Are your meetings productive?
Are your meetings productive? | Source

How Not to Build a Team

How do you create an amazingly creative and productive project team? One strategy used by many businesses is as follows:

1. Collect a random group of employees. Declare them to be a team and give them an assignment.

2. Pay a consulting firm a jillion dollars to take the team through a series of team-building exercises, such as making people take turns falling backwards into the arms of their teammates or taking the team whitewater rafting, skydiving, or rock climbing.

3. Wonder why project teams are not successful. Call new consultants for additional team-building exercises.

I suggest an alternative: select teams carefully and on purpose, based on the strengths and weaknesses of individual members.

Select Team Members for Success

By purposefully selecting people with complementary skill sets and personality traits, you can create a team that has the essential ingredients for success: initiative, leadership, vision, focus, attention to detail, follow-through, and specific subject expertise. If consultants are used, use them to help assess employee talents and build teams based on those talents. Such teams will not need to go rock climbing in order to work together. They will simply work, each according to his/her gifts, to accomplish the given projects.

The most productive people in a firm would rather be working on projects and using their gifts than going on retreats. The most intelligent people in a firm will be insulted by the silly pop psychology at a team-building retreat. Simplify your life by just picking talented people, giving them a job to do, and letting them do it! Do the work at the front end, when teams are created, instead of trying to fix teams that were poorly, thoughtlessly built from the beginning.

Resources for Building Successful Teams

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is a delight to read. If you have ever been the victim of management consultants and their silliness, you will find this book a refreshing change. Rather than untested theories, Buckingham and Coffman pored over two huge studies by the Gallup Organization in which successful managers were found to behave contrary to prevailing wisdom. We can learn a lot by studying success rather than failure.

Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk by Dr. Ben Carson and Gregg Lewis is not specifically about business, but is the best general treatment of risk management I have ever read. Dr. Carson, a neurosurgeon, knows better than anyone that there is no such thing as a risk-free life; he teaches us to accept that fact and offers his simple decision-making model for determining which risks are worth taking. Every project manager needs to read this book.

Quiet by Susan Cain is dedicated to those of us who thrive on quiet work in our offices and dread business social events. If you despise the open floor plan and mandatory singing of the company song and meetings where people just talk and talk while saying nothing of substance, this book is for you. Give copies to your boss, your extroverted coworkers and the teachers who made you do endless group projects when you wanted to read your books.

Introverts Prefer to Work in Quiet

5 Qualities of Effective Managers

1. Effective Managers Recognize Talent

The best managers are not threatened by employees who are smarter than they are. Secure in their own abilities, great managers seek out the best people and surround themselves with talent. Such managers recognize their job is not to do everything, but to make sure that everything gets done. By recognizing talented employees and giving them credit for jobs well done, the effective manager earns the respect and loyalty of high-quality workers.

2. Effective Managers are Matchmakers

Matching skilled people with the tasks that best utilize their skills is a gift of the best managers. By recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of individual workers, an effective manager forms teams that function in harmony and get work done efficiently. Rather than accepting traditional career paths without question, managers can try to create career paths that best utilize talented individuals. For example, a brilliant engineer could be kept in engineering rather than being promoted to a management position.

3. Effective Managers are Teachers

The best managers recognize that ongoing education is essential in the workplace. Workers who have opportunities to learn and improve will usually do so. Mentoring younger workers, arranging in-service seminars, or accommodating an employee's evening graduate school class are all ways to develop and retain quality employees. Effective managers do not want to lose their most talented team members to better opportunities at another firm.

4. Effective Managers are Communicators

Managers who can clearly define objectives and state problems make it easier for workers to achieve objectives and solve problems. While managers need not have the oratory skills of Cicero or Martin Luther King, Jr., they must have excellent interpersonal communication skills. By communicating clearly and honestly, effective managers open the door for communication from their employees as well. People who understand their common business goals can help each other achieve them.

5. Effective Managers Take Care of Their Team

People will put forth Herculean efforts for a manager who treats them well. The manager who praises exemplary work, fights for fair pay and good equipment for his department, and intervenes when the corporate office loses an employee's insurance paperwork will earn the respect of his team.


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    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      6 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Check out the new link I added in a side box. How to antagonize and chase away your best employees:)

    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      7 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Today I added a great resource that explains how introverts are undervalued by American society and gives advice for introverts coping with an extroverted business environment. Quiet by Susan Cain is must reading.

    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      7 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I've noticed schools are doing this team-building stuff as well. It makes even less sense in a school setting, since the kids are only a group by coincidence of age and geography. At least people in the same company share some common interests and goals, and are there by choice rather than force!

    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      8 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I added links to extreme sports gear for those who still want to go through with the "team-building" exercises:)


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