Teambuilding Is Not An Exercise

By Thomas J. Roach

Teamwork Is Easy To Spot, Hard To Explain And Harder To Create.

Professional football franchises spend millions of dollars on players, training camps and bonuses. But they can’t guarantee that when the quarterback launches a deep pass that the wide receiver will catch it.

Teamwork is easy to spot, hard to explain and harder to create. Teams know their strengths and weaknesses; they make sacrifices and challenge and protect one another. They sense one another’s movements and anticipate next steps. Teams may not like one another, but they like working together to achieve success.

Team-building exercises don’t make teams. They can only demonstrate what teamwork looks like. Building a team requires more than a weekend retreat. The teambuilding process starts with hiring and needs to be supported every day.

The hiring process should be run by the workgroup. They know the job and the intangibles that aren’t in the job description. A workgroup search committee supported by human resources can ask behavior-based questions and forward two names to a supervisor to make the final selection.

Open communication is part of the long-term teambuilding effort. Employees who are free to ask questions and participate in decision-making will know their jobs and their coworkers and be more motivated to achieve results.

One thing that the weekend teambuilding exercises get right is they make work fun. Retreats, retirement parties, bowling teams, birthday lunches and dress-down days allow coworkers to develop well-rounded relationships.
Reward and recognition is most significant. Feedback has to be personal and spontaneous, not written into a report once a year. Teams congratulate one another when they do well, and they let one another know when they disappoint.

Memorable Experience
One of my most memorable experiences was with a championship Northern Illinois University dormitory league football team. I can’t say recruiting had anything to do with it.

We looked around our floor the first week of school and realized we had someone with high school or college experience to play every position on a football team. We started practicing before we knew one another’s names, so we worked with nicknames and mispronunciations.

We won our first few games. Then two cliques developed. One was the working class group, and the other was the prep school dropout group. We began arguing about who should play what position and whose fault it was when we lost. We needed to win the last game of the season to go to the playoffs. A blizzard moved in towards the end of the game. The refs wanted to call a tie, but we begged them to us let keep playing.

Finally the storm got so bad we couldn’t see across the field, and we had time for one more play. My quarterback wanted to throw a bomb into the wind. The running back/wide receiver wanted to try to outrun the defense on the snow-covered field. They hadn’t talked in weeks, but now they were screaming at one another. I was the coach.

“John, are you sure you can throw down field in this storm?” “I can throw it if he can get down there to catch it.” John and Dave stared at one another. The ref wanted us to hurry up. Dave conceded. “I’ll be there,” he said.

Dave wouldn’t be able to see the ball, he would have to run to the spot he had been running to all semester and hope it fell into his hands.

John’s pass disappeared a few feet over our heads. The ref and I ran down field. As I got near the end zone I saw the ball emerge from the white abyss. Dave appeared, leaped in the air, cradled the ball in his arms, and plunged into a drift. Touchdown. We went on to win the dorm championship.­­

Equipment operators, sales staff, drivers, every one, every day has the option of working together or working independently. It is more a journey than an exercise, because you don’t make teams, you grow them. 

Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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