Team Building Is Construction Work

Craig Wagganer  |  October 21, 2010
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Building a team is somewhat like building a house. It takes organization, effort, and skill to make one that meets the needs of the people that inhabit it. Likewise, building a team in a work environment takes organization, effort, and skill.

When a construction crew gets together to start working on building a house, they are working on one house. There are plans drawn up that show all the intricacies of the work to be done. There will be carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and other specialists that will do their part, but there is one plan. Everyone works from blueprints for the same house with the same goal in mind.

To Build a Good Team, Mae Sure to Follow the Blueprints.

Team Building Is Construction So also in team building there has to be a goal, or set of goals that everyone shares in common. That goal, those goals, need to have buy-in from each of the team members. A house builder would never give different house plans to the different workers and expect a good result. So, effective teams have to be built from the foundation up. It starts with a unified purpose and understanding of where the team is heading. Team members need to be able to see the desired end result and know-how they, each individual member fits into the team. All the workers that contribute to the building of an edifice have one end in mind. They aren’t working for their own results, but for the end results that come from the combined contributions of all the workers.

A team must grow together to realize that the individual efforts are not as important as the end result. It is not each team member that is working for themselves, but rather each team member is contributing to a grand purpose, a unified completion of a task or tasks.

When You Build Teamwork, It Is Similar to Building a House.

I visited a friend who was building quite an elaborate house. The sound system and security systems were especially complicated. Because of the size of the systems special contractors were brought in that specialized in those areas. Their expertise was vital to making the sound and security systems work correctly. And as important as that was, their contributions were no more important than others who built the house. And, although the sound system was the showcase of the house, it wouldn’t have been much if there plumbing was inadequate, or they forgot the electrical wiring in the walls wasn’t finished…

Teamwork is construction work because every person’s contributions are vital to the success of the team. Whenever one team member is left out, not included in decisions, or feels minimized in any way, the work of the team is hurt and the best efforts will not result. The results may be great, but not as good as they could have been, and worse, the left out member becomes a liability to the rest of the team.

Planning is Essential to Build a Great Team.

Team building is construction work in that planning is essential. No one would go to a supply store and start buying things to build a house without making plans. And once the plans are made and the materials bought, you wouldn’t just grab a hammer and nails and start putting boards together.

There has to be a plan and it has to be organized and communicated to all who will be involved. I would be in big trouble if I planned on building a house, had the blueprints all made and ready to go, and then hired only electricians to do the work. Or perhaps I said to forget about the electricians and hired only plumbers. It wouldn’t be a very good house. It takes the contributions of individual people who have expertise in the areas that are needed to be completed.

As critical as that is, oftentimes in work environments, individuals are put on teams for many reasons other than the considerations of their talents and abilities to contribute to the overall purpose of the team. Part of the planning and organization of the team is to realize the purpose and goals of the team and then match the right people for those tasks. It isn’t, what needs to be done and lets some people to do it, but rather, what are the purpose and the goals and who are the people most qualified and best suited to do the best work and bring the best result.

Team building is construction work- the team has to be unified in its purpose, each team member’s contributions need to be recognized as vital, and planning and organization are of the utmost importance.

Team Building Is People Building

It amazes me how much material is available on team building. Apparently there must be many ways to do it. Of course, some are more effective than others. We have all seen the results of great teams that perform excellent work with excellent results. Likewise, we have all seen ineffective teams that labor painfully to accomplish little.

One key to great teams is for the leader to understand that team building is people building. The leader is vitally important and the primary function of the leader is to inspire the best efforts of the team members. Here are three keys for team leaders to practice…

Team leaders need to know their team members intimately. It isn’t just knowing their names and the history that a human resources file might provide, it is getting to know them as individuals. To understand who they are and what makes them tick.

Are Personality or Temperament Test Valuable?

Popular among workplaces today is personality or temperament testing. These devices are used to understand one’s own preferences or motivators, but too often they are then used to judge other people and their behaviors. The problem is that we begin to understand personality theory and we label people, and we think we know them. But once we have placed them as a certain “type” then we no longer get to know them but think we understand them. This is a real problem and short-coming with many of the applications of the Meyers-Briggs, DISC, and others like them. These each has definite strengths and can be very helpful, but they have definite dangers and concerns as well.

The best team leader will get to know the person, not just about them. The great leader will build a relationship with the team members so that they understand their situations, their concerns, their dreams, their motivators, their de-motivators, their passions, their frustrations- and all this not as a result from a survey or test, but from spending time with them and developing a caring nurturing relationship that goes both ways.

Did I say, “Goes both ways”? Yes, and that is vitally important. The team leader must be willing to receive from team members as well as contribute. And that doesn’t just mean receive the contributions made to the team, but just as the team leader needs to know the team members, the team leader needs to be known by the team members. Team leaders need to be vulnerable and open to suggestions from the team members. Team leaders are not just put in charge. They are not the boss and cannot risk exercising strong authority over the team or it will become a matter of resentment.

Managing People Is Not Leading People.

We have all seen teams that lack effectiveness and often times it is the result of a strong leader that has to have things their way and are reluctant (at best) to take suggestions from anyone. They see their responsibility as giving orders to their team and the team members are present only to follow orders. Those team members become frustrated and resentful of the situation, and usually only put out a half-hearted effort with little concern for quality, just get the job done.

Team leaders must build their people. This means valuing them, listening to them and being open enough to take suggestions both for the team and personally. When a person feels safe to make contributions and valued as an intricate part of the team there will be mutual respect and admiration for each team member. But it starts with the example of the leader.

Team Leaders Serve their Team.

Another key element in team building is for the team leader to serve the team. A lot is said and written these days on servant leadership, and it is growing in popularity- and rightly so. But oftentimes we shy aware from the root word, serve.

Team leaders need to serve their team members. That means working to make sure they have all they need to do their job to the best of their ability. It may also mean investing in those team members so they can expend their abilities. Team leaders need to consider their team and how they can best get the best effort from each one. And that means looking at each individual and recognizing their contributions and talents. It also means going out of the way to make sure the individual team members are growing in ways that will benefit the individual and the team. Quite simply- team leaders need to make sure that they are building the people on their team.

Cooperation Is Important to Serving Your Team Members.

Several years ago I worked at a shipping counter for an animal health company. Charlie and I worked the counter shipping small packages UPS. We worked fantastically together. When demands were high together we could ship as many as three hundred packages. Each package would have to be individually weighed, and labeled, but we succeeded amazingly well. After a time we both got promoted to different positions.

Two other people were brought in to replace Charlie and me as the UPS counter. These two had worked for the company over 20 years each but didn’t really get along very well. Of course, productivity at the counter went way down. To help the situation an automatic scale was brought in, conveyor belts installed, and a new labeling and postage machine. All these were designed to make it a smoother faster operation. When I left the company daily backlogs were normal and rarely was the new team able to process more than 100 pieces per day.

Reflecting back, I think there were several reasons productivity changed. Charlie and I became best friends. He had worked there much longer than I. However, when I was chosen to work with him he never treated me like he was the leader. He never through his authority around, but treated me like an equal. He was always ready to listen to my suggestions and felt free to confront me when I needed it. This wasn’t done through power. Charlie had a genuine concern for me and the job we were doing together.

We became sensitive to one another and grew in that sensitivity. We went from just working together at the start to caring deeply for one another. Charlie led me in that way. Charlie said he never wanted to be a boss. But he was a great leader and set a wonderful example.

To Be a Team Builder, You Must Be a People Builder.

Know them, receive from them, and serve them. Pulling people to come and join is much more effective than pushing them in a direction you have chosen for them.

Team Building Is Like Target Practice

I’m not much of a marksman, but I have known several. My brother-in-law is a crack shot. My dad and he were deer hunting and Larry, my bro-in-law, was riding in a small trailer being pulled by a tractor. They were heading out in the woods to their hunting sites. As they crossed a pipeline going north, two deer, a buck and a doe crossed going south. Larry saw the deer out of the corner of his eye, with the tractor moving and the deer walking the opposite direction, he turned, drew a bead on the buck and dropped it with one shot. HE was using a lever-action 30/30 and, if you know what that means, then you realize how great of a shot that was. In fact, you have to be pretty confident in your ability to use a saddle gun to go deer hunting the thick Ozark hills of Southern Missouri.

Some of the same elements that make a great marksman are the same for team building. First, you have to know your target, then you have to have the right equipment, and then you need the confidence to put the two together.

As a child, my dad would take me rabbit hunting. He had a double-barreled shotgun, and I carried a .22 caliber rifle. I was never too excited because the possibility of shooting a rabbit with a rifle was pretty small. But it was fun to be with my dad and to watch our dog, Prince, enjoy the run. He was a good rabbit dog. My dad was a good shot, and way back then he had three guns; the .22 caliber for squirrel hunting, the shotgun for rabbits and turkey, and a 9-millimeter rifle for deer hunting. Each gun had a specific purpose.

Teams Need to Have a Specific Purpose.

Each team needs to have a specific purpose, and the more defined that is the better. A shotgun is good for rabbits and turkeys, where rifles are suited better for deer and squirrels. But even within that description more needs to be defined. Smaller caliber guns a fine for smaller animals, but the larger caliber is necessary for larger animals. The 22 for squirrels would do little to drop a deer, while my dad’s 9 MM deer gun would destroy a squirrel or other small prey. The 20 gauge shotgun was fine for squirrels, but he eventually got a 12 gauge more suitable for his turkey hunting trips. Likewise with team building, to not only have a purpose but to have it defined well enough to be considered a target, or goal, will help determine the effectiveness of the team.

I remember the Christmas I got my first BB gun. I wanted a .22, but I got this BB gun. I was excited and disappointed at the same time. That afternoon I headed out in the woods. As I was leaving the house my favorite Aunt came by and asked what I was hunting. I simply replied to anything that moves. Here was the problem, first my goal was too broad, and second my equipment wasn’t sufficient for most things that moved. I’m lucky I didn’t come across a bobcat or coyote.

First, you must know your goal, then make sure you have the right equipment. In team building that can mean a number of things. One is that you must make sure you have the right people on the team. The team selection should be a result of the goal, or purpose. Once the goal(s) has been set then you can decide on the special skill sets that are needed to reach the goal in the most effective and efficient manner. Too often we have teams and then come up with the purpose or goals- this is backward. A hunter wouldn’t go buy a gun and then decide what he was going to hunt. The prey (goal) comes first, then the selection of the right equipment. When a need presents itself, then the team to address that need can be selected to make sure the right people, the most qualified for that purpose are put in place to handle the project the best way possible.

Team Building Is COnstruction, But It Isn’t New.

Now here is the critical part. What has been said is nothing new. The real problem is putting it together. Often times within corporations the teams are set, the division is made, the departments have been decided; the people are already on teams. A project comes up and it is given to a team, usually, the best one suited, although I have also seen things given to the team less busy, and away we go. The problem is- is that the best more effective and efficient way to handle the problem? That is an important, imperative question that needs to be asked and answered. And the answer may mean we need to redraw the lines, re-divide the groups. So that we understand the goals, choose the right talent set to address it, and then have the courage to make changes necessary to make it happen.

Too many teams miss the mark, the purpose and goals have not been clearly defined. A team has been assigned rather than all the people considered and those chosen that have the right talents, skills, and passion to do the best job. Team leaders and decision-makers rarely take the courage to challenge the process and make necessary changes to utilize the best people for the best results. Team building can take a lot of learning from the old adage, ready, aim, fire.

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