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Of course you know the value of a good team and the importance of being a good team player.  You’ve probably even been to some fancy team building seminars or adventures (can you say “ropes courses”?) that left you so exhilarated that you couldn’t wait to get back to the office so you could unleash the power of your team.  You’ve taken blind walks with “sherpas”, built lego models, performed team commercials, voted for x’s and y’s to show your collaborative side and “conducted” a symphony.  All in the name of learning how to build a great team.

Big friggin’ deal.  Name one thing you do today with your team that you learned at one of these training sessions?  Okay, name two.  Just as I thought.  You probably have one good habit that you learned but you’re not winning any Best Team Captain awards.

Don’t you find it interesting that “team building” is one of the most consistent training offerings in companies?  When the budget is being slashed, team offsites are the last to go.  It is widely accepted that bringing a group of people together to create esprit de corps will increase cooperation and therefore productivity.  Excellent idea.  I fully support the notion.  I even have a long history of being that consultant who ran these sessions.  But I was always a bit skeptical about the lasting impact of these meetings.  And then I became an executive and decided I should give back every penny I earned doing team building gigs.  (Well, not literally give it back…just figuratively.)

Why the disconnect?  How could teams be so valued that companies spend tons of money training folks yet those efforts have so little return on the investment?  Participants (sic. you) are just dense?  The consultants (sic. not me) are terrible?  Yep, sometimes.  But most often the intentions and leadership commitment are good, the sessions are well planned, participants enjoy themselves and frequently real work gets done.  The issue is less with what takes place in the training but more with what happens afterwards.  Take away the professional facilitator who knows a thing or two about teams and a leader is left to his/her own devices to carry on.  The truth is that leading a team is very difficult.

To understand how hard this might be for you personally, answer these questions.

  1. How comfortable are you in a group setting?
    1. I’m the life of the party especially if I get to be in control
    2. I’m willing to be present as long as I can be invisible
    3. Root canal is preferable
  2. What happens for you when 12 different people express 12 different opinions in a group discussion?
    1. Love it!  The more variables to integrate, the happier I am
    2. I max out at about 3 different ideas at once
    3. Tilt!  Game over
  3. How do you react to conflicting points of view?
    1. Nothing like a good debate of ideas
    2. I pray that no one gets hurt
    3. I am philosophically and emotionally a pacifist; I don’t do conflict because that can lead to war
  4. When you are leading a discussion and one person continuously dominates, what do you do?
    1. Politely hold that person off and invite others into the conversation
    2. Throw dirty looks at the person
    3. Change the topic, end the meeting early, send snippy notes to the person next to me, doodle, take out my BlackBerry…
  5. How do you feel about people posturing and jockeying for position or authority (playing politics) in an open group setting?
    1. I’m laughing my ass off in my head and completely disregarding it in the conversation
    2. I’m keeping a running tally of who I need to watch out for
    3. You want a pissing contest?  Bring it on.

This is just the tip of the iceberg but you get my point.  People get graduate degrees in group dynamics.  The training you’ve gotten along the way won’t be enough to help you navigate the tricky layers of behaviors that occur when more than two people are in a room together.  You can read some great books and attend more sessions to learn more about how to lead teams but the improvement will be modest.  The gap between the good theories and reality is big on this one because, in the end, teams are really about human behavior.  And math.  You may do a decent job of understanding yourself and the individuals on your team.  But the complexity increases exponentially when they are all in a room together.  One plus one plus one…equals overload for most of us.

Fear not.  The situation is not hopeless.  So breaking this down into small bites that you can actually do in reality no matter what your skill level is will be the topic of the next entry.

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