The Business Improvement Network

Teambuilding equals Business Improvement

By PJ Stevens

P J Stevens

In the Forbes article titled ‘Why Team Building Is The Most Important Investment You'll Make’, it notes that teambuilding ‘builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration’. It further states that ‘effective team building means more engaged employees, which is good for company culture and boosting the bottom line’, the key here may be the emphasis on ‘effective’ team building.

You can certainly buy fun team bonding and teambuilding activities which will have little or no business value, and sadly there’s plenty of very poor team building options available that might lead to more conflict, damaged relationships and misunderstanding. Low quality or badly delivered team events and activities can exclude people, negate people’s values and cause unhelpful disruption which will likely lead to negative impact at work and increased costs and losses.

The largest reducible cost in business is to be found in working relationships such as poor communication, misunderstand, personality clashes and the like. Therefore attending to this, through effective team building and team development, will directly develop and improve the greatest resource a business has which is its people. Consequently if you want to build or improve a business it is necessary to develop the team and invest in team development.

The essence of a business improvement is described in the ‘What is business improvement’ ( PJ Stevens) article as the ‘’process of a ‘thing moving from one state to a state that is considered to be better’, usually through some action or intervention intended to bring about that change and improvement.’’ Given this, its people who will come up the ideas and creativity, and will action the intervention. Teams who work well together, who trust eachother, listen and collaborate are far more likely to share ideas and problem solve at a higher level. 

Gallup suggests it is important to encourage teambuilding and teamwork because their research found that poorly managed workgroups are 50% less productive and 44% less profitable. Similarly on a call I had at MIT Sloan School of Management, it was suggested that team work improves the ‘flow of ideas, productivity and dollars!’ If we break that journey down: we start by tapping into the creativity, knowledge and ideas that exists in business in our people, from there we can work out what to do, make decisions, create a plan and take focused action. As a result of the first two, which are almost entirely people centric, the third element ‘flow of dollars’ will come.

One of the key resources that we need in order to collaborate, but don’t always have, is trust. For a group of people or team to share ideas honestly and effectively, work well together, get creative and problem solve, is trust.

Think of a couple of people, teams or situation where you have experienced low levels of trust. What did it feel like and look like in the team? What did you notice about people’s behaviours and relationships. Shelley Smith wrote ‘a lack of trust in the workplace is the virus that can create a diseased workplace culture. It often begins with leadership and spreads throughout the team, leading to a cycle of unhealthy responses that affect engagement and productivity.’

In a work place with low trust, we typically hear people say that we: just do our job, have low energy, experience high level of errors, told what to do, can feel isolated and looking for other jobs. None of which is condusive to high performance, productivuty or improvement.

Conversely, if you think of situations where you have experienced high levels of trust, what did that look and feel like? How were people behaving and what was the atmosphere like? More importantly, if I was a new member of the business or a client, what would I notice coming into that stuation?  

Trust is the cornerstone for creating a workplace where employees are engaged, productive, and continually innovating. However, there are studies and surveys that report many business are suffering low levels of trust. According to one Harvard Business Review ‘58 percent of respondents admitted to trusting strangers more than their own boss’.

There are of course many ways to test the level of trust in business through the use of surveys and polls. Perhaps the best way is simply to ask people and have a useful conversation together. The act of asking the other person about trust, what it means to them, what they need to be in place in order to trust will almost always develop trust and impact on other team elements such as openness. Assuming of course you do this in a trustworthy way.

It is better to develop these skills and experiences, and have these conversations initially, with a qualified facilitator at a teambuilding or team developent event or workshop. The facilitator can set the scene, provide a safe environment and offer various activities, feedback and conversations which enable participants to build the trust ‘muscles’ through positive and practical experience together – not just theory or role play – so that they can continue to use and develop these skills in the work place. To support this development put a plan of ‘continuous improvement’, including coaching and team development sessions at work. This will lead to an improvement in the overall culture of trust, collaboration, understanding and leadership, and offer quantifiable ROI.

Indeed rather than just Business Improvement, the notion of team building might sit more usefully in relation to Continuous Improvement. When does stopping improvement make any (business) sense anyway, surely we should be continuously improving, learning and developing selves, teams and businesses?

If you shift your thinking from team building being a one off team event, to the notion of continuous improvement, then team building and team development, and the associated reality of that, such as improving communication, people skills, collaboration, alignment and problem solving becomes a lot more exciting and perhaps easier to see it as the investment it is.

People are our greatest asset, yet they don’t sit on the balance sheet, at least not usually, unless perhaps you own a Sports Team, such as professional football club where players are bought and sold.

The Sporting world is a great place to get stories, analogies and lessons from which we can translate into business benefits. For example in the Compliance & Ethics article ‘Why team building is important for your business’, they note that when ‘a sports team wins a championship, the players and coaches often cite playing together as a cohesive team as the key to their win’. The same could or should be true in the business and businesses. Businesses with high performing teams are, on the whole, better places to work, are more successful and most usually see an increase in productivity and their bottom line.

Sadly, many managers and leaders in businesses fail to understand the value of team building and the significant impact and improvement it can offer the business. Therefore they don’t take the time to invest in teambuilding activities and facilitated team development programmes. Funnily enough, over the years, I see these same leaders make sure their cars are regularly serviced. They see this as necessary investment as its ‘important to follow the dealer service plan’ and ‘a car is a reflection of me’. Surely it is more important to have a service or development plan for your people and how you are as a leader speaks way more about you than a car?

If you are still wondering if you should invest in a programme of team building – virtually, face to face, or a hybrid - remember these words from my mentor, Shay McConnon, ‘its people who drive a business forwards, slow it down or put it in reverse’.

Teambuilding is an important investment in business and business improvement, and if you are serious about business improvement, consider team development in relationship to continuous improvement. Team development is about continuously improving people, relationships, trust and teamwork, which will go hand in hand with the culture and behaviours necessary to support continuous improvement in business.

In summary:

Part 1

People = your greatest asset

Teambuilding = investment (not cost)

Part 2

Team building as an event = business improvement

Team development as a programme = continuous improvement

About the author

PJ Stevens is an expert in organisational change, performance and improvement, with 20 years experience. He is chair of the business improvement network.

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