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Building A Team Without Silly Teambuilders

Building A Team Without Silly Teambuilders

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    “As we go around the circle, tell the group your name and something special about you.”

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    That kind of team builder may have been useful on the first day of kindergarten, but when you’re building a business team or putting together a team for another important project, you need to go far beyond silly icebreakers to create a cohesive group. There are hundreds of groups that offer to help you create a team out of a group of disparate employees, but you can’t really outsource team building — even if you have thousands of dollars to throw at the problem. It’s been my experiences, though, that most people and companies have much better places to put that budget. Instead, you can best build a team by working with them.

    Making Introductions

    When you’re working with a group of people who have never even met before, it may seem like you need to carefully orchestrate introductions. A casual setting, a stress-free environment and so on can sound pretty good. But elaborate introductions can actually get in the way of getting your team together. Rather than one-on-one introductions, giving your team members some of the information that you let you to tap them for a particular project can give each of them a better idea of where they fit into the picture.

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    Having that overall sense of hierarchy can provide a surprisingly smooth transition: if you meet a bunch of people in a social setting, it’s difficult to figure out who’s operating more in a support function, who needs to crank something out, and who has the skill set to help with particular problems that come up. Such an approach has an added bonus of offering a way to jump directly into the project. Email out short bios on each time member, preferably with some sort of framework where people can interact and follow up, and you can probably skip at least the first round of awkward introductions.

    Your team will probably still need some level of orientation, if only to meet internal requirements on bringing people up to speed, but you can skip the painful icebreaker session. And if you were planning to bring in food to smooth out that icebreaker, I’m sure that I speak for your team members when I say that you can make everyone feel more comfortable with a meal even if you’ve jumped straight into working on the project.

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    The First Project

    There are a lot of arguments to introducing team members to each other in an informal environment — that is, outside of the office. But it’s not the best option when your goal is a working team. There is always time for socializing down the road, but creating a team capable of tackling big projects requires professional relationships rather than ‘best friends forever.’

    When you’ve brought together the individuals you want to turn into a team, your first step should be to assign them a project. It can’t be just any project, though. The project should be short enough to require only a few days at most to complete. It should offer a chance for the team to get a glimpse of how each member works — and even a short project is enough to see where your team has problems interacting. The real benefit of a small project is there: if you see problems, you’ll be able to debrief at the end of the project and learn from them quickly. You won’t have to try to manage them in the middle of a bigger project, or have to break the work flow to discuss them.

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    It may seem like you don’t have enough ramp-up time to add a small project to the front-end of the larger problem you’re building a team to solve. However, you can easily call the first step of a larger project your stating point. Breaking a large project into smaller sections offers an additional opportunity for team building: if you assign different team members leadership roles for different sections, you’ll find that their continued interactions will help develop a working relationship. You can actually get to the meat of your project faster if you use even a starting element as a more efficient icebreaker. Reducing orientation only provides a chance for your team to be productive much faster.

    Problem-Solving

    While it’s nice if each member of your team is best buds with all the rest, that rarely happens. Problems — especially when your team is first learning to work together — are a given, no matter how many icebreakers you shoehorn into your schedule. Finding a solution for these problems is just as much a part of team building as initial introductions. Give your team members the space to come to an agreement they can live with. A leader’s attempts to help can easily be seen as taking sides and any interference from outside the team should be reserved for problems that have escalated.

    Sooner or later, a problem will likely reach the point where your intervention is necessary. It’s hard to give across-the-board conflict resolution advice, but if you use tact and look for a compromise that represents the best interests of both the team and the project, you’re most likely to find a solution that everyone can live (and work) with. That, combined with a team with a working relationship rather than something based on superficial information shared at yet another introductory session, can keep you and your team working together.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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