BigPicture is now on ! Enjoy enterprise-grade Program & Portfolio Management, now fully integrated with boards and workspaces.  Try it now
September 23, 2022

Team Building 101. Part III: threats and summary

Project Management Resource Management
BigPicture Team

Team building is important for your team, we already know that. Just like we know the activities we can encourage our co-workers to participate in. In this third, and last, installment of the team building series, we will present the potential threats and failures in team building and sum up the whole topic.

How to fail at team building?

Team building, like every aspect of your work, isn’t fail-proof. Many things can go sideways on every stage. Let’s look at the potential flaws, that can turn team-building into an awkward slog:

1. You don’t have clear goals

Typical for most of the problems, lack of purpose can also undermine your team-building activities. How? Every initiative, no matter how trivial it may be, must have some keynote. Whether it’s adrenaline, cooperation or just getting to know each other better, it always creates a framework the participants can work within.

2. You force people to do that

We mentioned that in the first article -don’t force people to have fun. There’s always a part of the group that doesn’t need to know their coworkers better. Usually they focus on proper communication and cooperation, they don’t have to show their kids or pets photos to each other. When they say they won’t participate in extracurricular activities, respect their decision and boundaries. This is also a team building activity.  For those, who treat their workplace with more emotional distance.

3. You fail at communication

Lack of proper communication is a downfall for many projects. This can mean different things. Too many (or too few) channels people use to talk to each other, ignoring employee remarks and notes, gatekeeping of crucial information. The list goes on. Team building can be botched by informing about the event too late, choosing activities without knowing the participants opinions, and ignoring their preferences.

4. You create a hostile environment – Divide et impera

This old Roman rule was meant to weaken the conquered tribes. Unfortunately, it can still be successfully used by the team leaders in a less or more conscious way. What are the signs you may have a problem with too much bad blood within the team?

  • You play favorites – it’s natural we prefer one person more than the other, but in the workplace this urge must be tamed. Other employees will feel discouraged and hostile towards the one you favor.
  • You allow cliques – sometimes teams will break into smaller groups. It’s nothing wrong, but when they start competing, it may be dangerous to the whole workflow. Instead, you should focus on common meetings and promote the culture of transparency. In more drastic cases, you may even intervene and break the clique to make sure the power dynamics within the group is stable.
  • You ignore gossiping – everyone loves to spill some tea. There’s some level of gossip everyone should tolerate, but if they start to harm people by bringing very sensitive information to the surface, then the play stops. As a team leader you must often address potential information that may breed gossip (especially about company’s moves). Sometimes you must remind people that bringing out personal stuff is not only unprofessional but childish and has no place in the team.

  • You don’t ask people about their opinions – this error concerns every aspect of the work, not just the team building one. With the growing popularity of Agile people are looking for a job, where they won’t be treated as mindless drones, that must do what the upper management tells them to. Everyone wants to be heard, and your job as a team leader is to make sure this voice is heard. This both builds your authority and trust within the team.
  • Micromanaging – is the complete opposite of trust. This way you show the team members they need assistance in every menial task, even during the team building process. Meaning they can’t feel comfortable enough to open up to other people and be their natural self.
  • Unrealistic expectations – team building is about process. You can’t just throw one party and call it a day. The same goes to relationship building – not everyone will like each other at the beginning. They may even start with distrust and slowly build the connection. Or it can start with much enthusiasm and fall into polite indifference. You can’t force people into deadlines for their relations.
  • Unhealthy competition – when you ditch the common goal and start forcing people to compete with each other, it will not end well. The tension will rise and your team may implode due to the rising conflicts and distrusts. If you want to spice things up, think about the voluntary activities that will influence the work directly.

5. You do team-building to avoid individual problems

There are people who can’t find themselves within the teams. Sometimes they just prefer to work solo,which isn’t the issue as long as you know where and how to delegate them. Unfortunately, there are also individuals who are too selfish and narrow-minded to become part of the team. You may try to work with their disadvantages, it’s always worth a shot. But not by organizing bigger events or with outdoor group activity. Team building isn’t a magical formula, it won’t solve individual problems. When you see that one of your teammates’ behavior is destructive, talk to him and solve the problem by yourself. This will be much more effective and less harmful for the rest of the team.

Team building – summary

Team building isn’t just about booking a restaurant. It’s a process.  It’s long, sometimes painful, but a necessary one. It happens day by day with Agile ceremonies and every basic interaction between people. As a good manager, you must know when to let people build the relationships organically, and when to offer some off-work activity to bond them even stronger. Reading the room and having a sense of time is crucial for your initiatives.

As a team leader, you do not create relationships. You can only create a proper environment for the people in the workplace. What they’ll do with that, is mostly up to them. But if you show them they can be open with their opinions, thoughts and ideas, they can also be more honest with each other. That leads to a healthy and productive workplace, and creates a culture that people want to be part of.