A successful business organization is one that incorporates the team building philosophy in the workplace. To help understand what are the advantages of incorporating a team approach in a workplace and tips for team building, I have interviewed therapist and consultant Robert Gordon, M.S., M.A.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I have been an internal and external consultant for over 25 years, specializing in organization development, training, and leadership development. I have directed training, career development, and organization development for three large public agencies. I have led something of a ‘double life,’ writing and performing music and live comedy, publishing humor in regional periodicals, and studying world wisdom traditions in my off work hours.
I hold an M.S. from American University in collaboration with the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science. I also have an M.A. from the Tai Sophia Institute, where I am a faculty member for the master’s program in Transformative Leadership and Social Change, the program from which I graduated.
As an organizational consultant I work through my own company, Comprehensive Coaching and Consulting Associates. As a counselor I work through the Imago Center of Washington DC.”
What are the advantages of incorporating a team approach in a workplace?
“Assuming you’re talking about an actual team (we’ll get to that shortly), I could define ‘incorporating a team approach in a workplace’ in at least two ways. One is the use of teams as the way things get done, as in TQM (Total Quality Management) and Six Sigma. A second way to understand ‘team approach’ is in being conscious about how teams form and behave and being purposeful in aiding their harmonious development. I’ll use the latter definition because any organization could use it without making a fundamental shift in their way of doing business.
If team development is purposeful rather than accidental, you can profit from a team’s diversity, leverage its creativity, and create an environment in which workers are not only highly motivated and productive, but deeply satisfied. They’re satisfied because their unique gifts are brought to bear on producing something of value. It goes without saying that an organization benefits from such committed, productive workers.
Highly developed teams are efficient, flexible, permeable, and self-reflective. That is precisely what the emerging U.S. role in the global economy requires. As our economy shifts from a manufacturing milieu to moving information and creating ideas and technology, these are just the kinds of teams that fit the bill. Top heavy organizations and command-and-control leadership styles are already obsolete.”
What are some general team building tips you can give for any workplace?
“First, don’t try team building on a team that isn’t one. Let me explain. Most of us use the word ‘team’ to refer to people who work in the same office or environment. There’s nothing wrong with that until you get into working with team development, which requires more precision. For team building purposes, a team is a formal workgroup of people working together toward a common goal. This definition turns out to be very important because if you undertake formal team building activities on a bunch of individuals who happen to work in the same location but who are not actually tasked with working toward a common goal you could be wasting valuable time (theirs and yours) and money. You may help them get to know each other, but you’ll be spinning your wheels in regard to business outcomes.
Assuming you have a team, here are some tips on team building.
Save the scavenger hunts, rope courses, and outings for recreational purposes (which have value in themselves) and design your team building exercises around the actual work of the team. This not only helps the team ‘get close,’ but also helps them harmonize and have fun around the purpose of their togetherness'”the work. Almost all unskillful team building efforts wrongly start at the interpersonal domain. This is an easy mistake to make because when a team isn’t functioning well, their disequilibrium shows up most visibly at the interpersonal level, where well-meaning consultants go in and try to get everybody to ‘communicate better.’
Indeed, communication is always an issue, but smoothing ruffled feathers and hurt feelings is kind of like taking aspirin for a brain tumor. It may feel better for a minute but you haven’t really addressed the cause.
In my experience, team building efforts succeed when you engage the team in working on their work. This is most effective when you do this from the top down:
First, help the team get clear (or regain clarity) on its purpose and objectives: Why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing?
Next, the team must be (or get) clear about who’s responsible for what. In some rare, highly evolved teams, roles and responsibilities are fluid and flexible. But in the great majority of teams, people have (and need) clear roles and responsibilities. Ambiguity and overlapping of roles and responsibilities cause much of the ‘interpersonal problems’ that team building consultants mistakenly try to address first, though out of context from the system that created them.
With purpose, objectives, roles and responsibilities clear you can then help a team tackle its procedures and processes. When those are in disarray, workers (and customers!) are easily frustrated and bent out of shape.
NOW, with all the above in place, team building efforts may move on to interpersonal communication. Interestingly, though, I have found that about ninety percent of the ‘interpersonal stuff’ is gone or sorted out in the resolving of steps 1, 2, and 3. There may be something left over, but it’s much easier to deal with when the organizational causes have been resolved. (NOTE: This principle does not apply in reverse!) I have studied Imago Relationship Therapy, which teaches a process of ‘intentional dialogue’ to restore interpersonal harmony with couples. I find that intentional dialogue also works well in dealing with interpersonal struggles in teams and organizations.”
What type of professional help is available for a business that wants to take on a team building approach?
“Unless you’re thinking of moving your organization into a TQM or Six Sigma mode of teamwork, I would suggest using specialists trained in organization development. The NTL Institute, the founding entity of organization development, is a great place to start learning about what organization development and team building are. That would help prepare you for acquiring the services of a skilled organization development provider. Or, from NTL’s weblink, www.ntl.org, go to ‘Programs and Services,’ then ‘Customized Solutions,’ where you can employ their own consulting services.”
What last words would you like to leave for a business that wants to create a team building work atmosphere?
“Humans are wired for working in teams. We’re born to it. But we also have ego needs. The needs of the whole and the needs of its parts are always in a push pull relationship. That’s OK. We just have to learn how to dance with it and sometimes it helps to have someone from outside help us look at our ways of being with each other.
I’d like to say, ‘Relax and don’t take it (team building) too seriously. You’ll figure it out.’ But the truth is that I learned what I did from skilled mentors, a graduate degree in organization development, and 25 years of experience. It’s good to do a little research and self-education on theories and practices of team development before jumping into it.”
For more information on Robert Gordon or his work you can check out his therapist profile at www.imagocenterdc.com or his consulting website at www.comprehensivecoaching.net.
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