When the economy is slow, company managers and leaders have to be very cautious with every expense. As a result, we will often put off hiring new employees until more certainty in the marketplace develops. Although natural efficiencies will develop in a downward economy, can team building activities help increase productivity so that we can avoid the expense of adding on new personnel? The answer to that question is… “Well… It depends…”
Don’t Confuse “Morale” with “Productivity”
Team Building is almost a generic term that is used for both “morale building” activities and “productivity building” activities interchangeable, but if you confuse the two activities, you can make some costly mistakes. Morale building activities can include anything from going out to a movie together to an office holiday party to entertainment style activities at annual meetings ans conventions. These activities provide a shared-experience that builds temporary camaraderie and provides a fun relief to the normal day-to-day rat-race. Productivity building activities are training events or innovations that help teams do more with less. Although people will often call both of these types of activities “Team Building”, the activities themselves get totally different results. Both are needed to create a team culture, but quite often, managers and leaders will schedule one type of activity hoping to get the needed result from the other type of activity and be sorely disappointed.
Although productivity will often improve (sometimes dramatically) when morale improves, an increase in morale doesn’t always cause a team to be more productive. For instance, if a manager came into the office and announced that the entire team would get the whole week off and still get paid, morale would skyrocket, but productivity would drop to zero for the week. Morale building activities like team outings and company parties are extremely important, but they can’t entirely replace productivity building events and activities.
Since the team atmosphere created by morale building activities can be temporary, you’ll want to schedule activities like this regularly so that the individual team members get to interact with each other in a more fun way to build camaraderie. Charity team building events at annual meetings or conventions can be a great way to insert a morale building activity. These team building functions are very economical, because the company can generate great public relations without increasing the cost of conducting a convention or annual meeting. For instance, most conventions are going to have some type of entertainment or at least a company outing of some kind. Many companies are replacing these activities with a charity bike build or a team scavenger hunt where team members build gift baskets for soldiers. The investment in each activity is fairly similar, but the results of the charity activities often provide impactful, lasting memories that build great camaraderie between team members.
Build Teams by Training Team Members Together
In addition to morale building activities, a team also needs to develop new skills in order to keep them productive. Many years ago, a mentor of mine told me that “You can’t build a team by training individuals, but you can build a team by training individuals together.” I didn’t really understand the power of this advice until I started my own business, but I understand it more and more as my company grows and grows. For instance, many big companies offer tuition assistance for higher level degrees for their employees, but what often happens is that a company will invest a ton of money into the development of an employee only to have the person leave the company and start working for a competitor. This happens because the individual employees is growing, but the team as a whole is stagnant.
Oddly enough, any skill development activities will work to build the team culture in an organization if the skills developed gives the team a competitive advantage in the marketplace. For instance, Apple decided to eliminate cash registers inside their Apple Stores and replace them with the ability for any employee in the store to be able to use their smartphones to ring-up items for purchases on their smartphones. Because Apple is doing something that no one else is doing, the employees who have been trained in this new technology feel like they are a part of an elite group that is different from other retail stores. Whether they are or not doesn’t really matter, because the team believe that they are ahead of the curve. Customers can find an Apple employee and within seconds create a purchase and have the receipt sent to the customer via email and be on their way. A dramatic increase in productivity and decrease in cost while creating more of a team atmosphere among employees.
“Soft-Skills” Team Building Training is Most Productive
The most effective team training to increase productivity comes from “soft-skills” training, though. While Hard-Skills are ones essential to doing individual jobs within a company — for example hard-skills for an engineer might be calculus and physics — soft-Skills are skills that improve productivity no matter what specific role that a person has within an organization. Soft-skills would include communication skills, presentation skills, the ability to persuade people, the ability to coach and mentor others, etc. If the engineer improves in any or all of these soft-skills, then he or she will likely improve their individual success as well as the overall success of the team.
When teams train together in these soft-skill areas, they automatically develop that same type of team culture that Apple developed with the technology change. Team members know that they are a part of a unique, elite group that is different from most organizations (because most organizations don’t train this way).
For example, a few years ago, I was hired by a commercial construction company to help them deliver high-level sales presentations better. Companies that build skyscrapers or have groups of construction projects often bid out these huge projects in one big contract, so they will often ask for huge proposals and have each qualified contractor come in and do a presentation to narrow down the field. The company that hired me was closing about one out of six of these presentations, but wanted to increase their numbers. So we conducted a series of presentation skills classes with the teams of presenters. Because they trained together, they developed a team culture that showed up when they conducted their presentations. Quite often, at the end of their presentations, the board members who were in the audience would say, “We chose this group because they just seemed to work very well together.” The team culture showed, because the individuals within the group had been trained in soft-skills together, so they saw themselves as having an advantage over other presenters (and they had one.)
Presentation skills, people skills, coaching, mentoring, and other soft-skills training can really help teams become more productive as long as the teams are going through the training as a team. I remember my college football coach telling us, “You don’t fight for records or awards, you fight for the guy who is next to you in the trenches.” When teams train together, they build a rapport that lasts.