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Teamworking Skills: Its about Compatibility, not Cloning

With the (soccer) World Cup  in full swing it’s probably no surprise that this months blog is focused on Teamwork and Teamworking Skills  (we did contemplate drama but decided that not all the on-field acting was entirely wholesome).

Something that’s long been accepted amongst those who are at the delivery end of Teamwork Development is that it’s not about ‘cloning’ i.e. driving compatibility by eliminating individuality. Just the opposite, it’s about emphasising individual contribution and developing the skills that are needed to direct these contributions towards improved performance. We strongly advocate the use of experiential learning tools in teamwork development because of this emphasis, as they are a great way of illustrating differential contribution to team performance.

But this message hasn’t been entirely accepted, there are still an awful lot of people who approach teamwork development as an exercise in finding, and forcing, the idea of a homogenous team member - versatile, interchangeable, but ultimately unable to further develop because of the social pressure to conform that has been created in the team. What this approach ultimately delivers is a ‘capped team’, one that may perform well in the short term, but hasn’t got the dynamism that will allow it to further develop in the light of changes to its operating environment. In biology more complex environments support the evolution of more complex organisms - in complex business environments this suggests that we need pretty sophisticated people if we’re to thrive, and sophistication doesn’t develop in ‘capped teams’.

Here at RSVP Design, when asked if we could get involved in a teamwork / teambuilding initiative, we automatically ask the questions that will allow us to determine whether what’s been asked for is Teambuilding or Teambuilding Skills. Teambuilding is valuable for newer teams who have a stable membership and there is unlikely to be a lot of change to that membership. Teambuilding Skills is a far more dynamic approach that seeks to give every participant the individual skills that they need to make a positive contribution to any team they affiliate to. In a world of changing business demands and organisational structures this is a far better investment for anybody who wants to use teams as vehicles for stimulating performance.

A Teamwork Skills intervention looks different at the point of delivery too. We use practical learning tools that allow the team to explore, and move towards, the situations that best elicit the contribution of each individual. This can be recognised and recorded to support transfer back to the workplace, and will result in teams that automatically flex their operation to get the best out of their members.

Typical of the tools we would advocate for this type of application are:

Mystery Objects - this follows a cycle of creative thinking, concept development and pitching that will allow a team to recognise where the energy and aptitude of each team member lies.

Or if you have the time and need for a ‘deeper dive’ into the innovation cycle:
Breakthrough Thinking - this is a fully resourced set of workshop materials that has all you need to deliver four x two-hour sessions covering the innovation cycle in a more considered, but no less dynamic, way.

Narrow Margins - detailed problem solving that highlights problem definition and description, option development and evaluation and attention to detail. Throw in the optional competitive pitching component and you will see teams really needing to get focused.

Keypunch - a high energy team challenge (I use it immediately after lunch to avoid the slump), that explores the way that the pursuit of performance improvement will often involve the abandonment of practices that have previously delivered good results. This one is interesting in that it can emphasise the message that sometimes your best contribution can be to simply do nothing. With less physically able teams you will get similar results by using something like Network 2i or Teambalance.

Voyage Mapping - a tool that is available in versions that allow teams and individuals to explore the future as they anticipate it unfolding. A common source of confusion in teams is around the behaviour and decision making of individual members, and the differences are often rooted in that each individual has a very different idea about where the team / organisation is going. This tool allows individuals to share their anticipated futures with other team members so that there is greater awareness across the team of why individuals behave the way they do. This, if required, can form the basis for the team to further develop their ideas about a shared future.

Wed love to hear your views on teambuilding and teamworking skills - what are your go to materials and responses?

Dr. Geoff Cox

[email protected]

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