Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 23;   June 9, 2004: Team-Building Travails

Team-Building Travails

by

Team-building is one of the most common forms of team "training." If only it were the most effective, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. How can we get more out of the effort we spend building teams?

It was the end of the team-building training, and as everyone politely applauded, Maria began gathering her things. The binder. The picture of her with Diane holding the eight-foot paper elephant. Her certificate. And of course her notes, which included long lists of to-dos that came to her during the times she was zoned out. Feeling both energized and depressed, she turned to her left to look at Diane.

An elephant

An elephant bull, head-on. Photo by Joe Milmoe, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Diane looked back, saying nothing. They were both tired. Finally Diane said, very quietly, "Two days. What a waste." Maria nodded and they both stood and walked silently out of the room, among the first to leave.

Back in Diane's office, door closed, Maria kicked it off with, "And how long will it be till we forget this?"

Maria's impish side triumphed: "Forget what?" They both laughed. A needed laugh.

"You know what I mean," Diane said. "Will we ever use this stuff?"

Maria and Diane are experiencing some of the letdown that frequently follows team-building training. It's a common reaction, but it needn't be. Here are some simple ways to make team learning last longer.

Think of it as "learning" rather than training
It's amazing how powerful the words are. Learning is the real goal, so let's call it learning. Training is for puppies.
Inflicting education rarely works
Give the team a choice. Allow budget and schedule for team learning, if they want it. Mandating it instead of supporting it produces different and inferior results.
Structure learning in short bursts
Is it "team training"
or "team learning"?
Words do matter
Unless air travel is involved, even two days of education is usually too long. Leaving space between "modules" gives people time to practice and integrate new ideas into their work.
Limit turnover on the team
Changing the composition of a team is disruptive. The new people often didn't attend the recent team learning experience, and more important, change entails Chaos (see "Now We're in Chaos," Point Lookout for September 19, 2001). You might get more out of a team by keeping its members in place than you would by cycling in an expert for a short-term specialized task.
Leave some slack for experimentation
After a team goes through a team learning experience, we hope they'll apply what they've learned. They'll be a bit clumsy at first — it's like learning to walk. Give them the slack they need to experiment with the new methods they've learned.

Most important, follow up. Setting an actual date for a "post-graduate" follow-up to any educational experience makes actual application of the learning much more likely. Setting a date creates an expectation that we'll be reviewing the results of applying the methods we've learned.

A year later, what will people remember from the team learning experience? Will it be the important lessons that were so difficult and valuable to learn? Or will it be the eight-foot paper elephant? Go to top Top  Next issue: Team Thrills  Next Issue

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
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In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

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