A Critical Team Building Mistake to Avoid At All Costs

Please don't do this. Last week I spoke with a company executive who said, "People are upset, can you help us with some team-building?"

I replied, "Probably not."

He looked at me with a combination of shock and amusement - he wasn't used to trainers or consultants telling him they didn't want his money.

"Okay, tell me why you won't help us?"

It's not that I wasn't willing to help - of course I would. But if your people are upset, team-building isn't the solution.

Start Here

As with any problem solving, the first step is to get the facts and identify the real problem. When people are upset, that's generally a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself.

When I asked the executive why his people were upset, he wasn't entirely sure. "They seem frustrated."

As we dug deeper, we discovered that there were significant breakdowns in communicating big changes along with one midlevel manager who had started acting territorial and was needlessly frustrating other departments.

Fix The Real Problem

You can’t team-build your way out of fundamental problems. Fix the problem.

For this executive, that meant apologizing for the communication problems, getting the right information out to everyone, listening to and addressing the concerns his people had about the new process, and then taking aside the territorial manager for some one-on-one coaching and accountability.

Don't team build in response to problems or low morale. Fix the communication problems. Improve the process issue that prevents people from doing their job.

Icing on the Cake

Team-building is often loathed and panned by employees and managers alike because it's a waste of time - a well-intentioned, but completely ineffectual response to a problem that takes real work to solve.

Done properly, real team-building is the icing on the cake. Imagine trying to spread frosting on a cake that is only half-cooked. You'd a have a nasty, goopy mess that ends up in the trash. You can't frost a half-baked cake and you can't use motivation or relationship-building in place of fundamentals.

Don’t try to motivate your way out of a mess. Fix the mess. That's real leadership.