The sizzle and steak of team building

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The Independent Online
WINTER IS here, I can tell. Since the end of October, everyone seems to be talking about "team-building". People talk with a new vigour and determination to "really make things work this time".

The request for team-building programmes reflects that there is something amiss in the organisation; the request is usually a symptom of something that is fundamentally wrong in the business. And if it is true that the need reflects a more deep-seated problem then a quick-fix programme will not solve it.

One option often advocated to resolve the team-building conundrum is what is euphemistically described (for trade- mark reasons) as "working in challenging environments" or "working outside".

The argument goes that managers have to work in a constantly challenging and changing environment they need to be able to respond quickly; so, put them in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar challenges and they can learn from their experiences - "using transferable skills". This was recently described to me by an eminent banking client as "going to the Lake District to bite the heads off rabbits". Just because the England football team and the Shadow Cabinet have done it, does not mean it works.

If an organisation has deep-seated problems then how will making managers pump high levels of adrenaline around their bodies for a long weekend help their overall performance? And what about the poor soul who feels that the whole experience is bordering on bullying or totally irrelevant to their ability to sell laptop computers in the Milton Keynes regional network?

Some team-building programmes do not seem to cover the basics - to manage the team effectively you need to understand:

the significance of "the team";

the power of a "self-managing team";

what makes the team "effective";

how to achieve "good teamwork";

how to analyse and review team performance, and

how to put your learning into practice.

To build a team you need to establish some sense of urgency and direction; set performance related tasks and goals; get people to work together and build networks; do not emphasise hierarchies. Do not confuse the sizzle with the steak.

Robert Craven is Associate Fellow at Warwick Business School, Visiting Professor at Toulouse Business School and Managing Director of The Directors' Centre.

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