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Take one (or more) for the team: 5 group activities that build trust, commitment & accountability

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By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster, copyright 2018 No More Boring Meetings

In his bestseller, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni describes five primary reasons teams fail. (To which some will say, only half-jokingly, “What, only five!?”)

Using these dysfunctions as a framework, I’ll profile corresponding teambuilding exercises to turn that dysfunction into engaging, purposeful function.

1. Absence of Trust

We know trust is the cornerstone of solid teams. Ropes courses are classic, often-used and perhaps now-tired ways to instill team trust. Want something fresh—and essentially free? Workshop leader Scott Crabtree uses a simple, powerful and fast method. He invites members of low-trust teams to present personal pecha kucha (the Japanese phrase for chatter) slide shows about their lives outside of work, so people connect as individuals.

Ten image-only slides get just 10 seconds’ of one’s personal life story. Says Scott: “Keeping the presentations short preserves engagement and interest, and ensures everyone gets a turn. More than that, in this simple act of revealing our non-work selves, trust and vulnerability are built as we learn more about each other in 10 minutes than some do in 10 years.”

2. Fear of Conflict

If you’ve enjoyed improv as an audience member, you know the best ensembles make the art form look easy and seamless as they perform off-the-cuff sketches based on audience input. To help work groups realize similar levels of cohesion, the famed Second City improv company (through its business solutions division, Second City Works), offers workshops nationwide that in great part help teams lessen conflict. After all, improv is successful because it’s based on the fundamental concept of “yes, and”—which means improv players affirm and advance one another to move a scene forward when working without a script. Disagreement—“no, but” thinking—has no place in the environment of positivity and possibility that improv fosters.

Business work groups learning improv come to see how teams that say “yes, and” to new ideas, to new directions—and only later figure out how to execute—perform better. “Here we are, in the first human colony on Mars.” “Yes, and…let’s use this pick shovel to find water!”

As President of Second City Works Steve Johnston explains: “In improv ensembles, as in high-performing teams, ‘Yes, and…’ aren’t just two words. They stand for a positive, advancing, non-conflicting, framework for moving effectively through the world. As performers—and teams—advance ideas, they must refrain from disagreement, or they’ll lose the audience, and others’ trust.”

Meanwhile, everyone’s having so much fun they hardly notice they’re learning new skills, which beyond lessening conflict, include building trust, listening, communication, managing change, cohesion and accountability.

3. Lack of Commitment

Distractions abound at work. How can we get a strategic advantage in the midst of chaos? A new team activity that engenders palpable commitment to an organizational mission (and every other quality of a high-performing team) is Strategic Operations Skills Training, out of San Diego, CA. Actual U.S. Navy SEAL instructors—themselves synonymous with powerful teaming—teach civilian business people the strategic principles that keep Special Ops forces alive and successful on the battlefield.

This two-day SOST training powerfully and viscerally gives teams the raw, and nearly real, experience of being 100% committed to a mission. After classroom learning and some actual MREs, participants get weapons training, don real uniforms, head into a mock village—and when it comes to commitment—learn to fully own their assigned roles and decisions with no room for error. They breach rooms. “Stack” and enter buildings one by one. Rescue hostages. Perform kidnappings. As IEDs explode, smoke billows, team members go down, and adrenaline rushes in, they must continue to commit to the mission, trusting that all are doing exactly what they’ve been assigned.

Executive teams, sales groups and board members all fail fast, train some more and hone their instincts as exercises become harder. Debriefs—even conversations many weeks after this training—reveal the unwavering respect gained among participants after what they endure and discover about themselves and each other.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

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Another team building activity pulled right out of the real world: the NASCAR pit crew environment as a learning lab for boosting accountability, trust and results. Andy Papathanassiou, a Stanford Master’s graduate who’s worked with NASCAR pit crews with championship teams since 1992, creates for corporate groups realistic, high-stakes pit-crew experiences he calls “Over the Wall.” Using the same equipment the pros use—real race cars, impact wrenches and tires—these interactive, hands-on sessions can be staged inside just about any meeting venue, without noises or messes.

Every tenth of a second counts because teams compete for the best time—just like on race day. Each inefficiency negatively impacts the stopwatch. Accountability and the means to win revolve around the weakest links, so everyone must be accountable to the group. In addition to having distinct, engaging experiences together, participants get hardcore lessons in successful teambuilding, leadership and innovation. Connections to real work challenges are part of the debrief.

5. Inattention to Results

Achieving relevant outcomes is a successful team’s cornerstone. Yet many fall short when individuals’ personal needs take over the group’s collective process. One company that effectively helps teams achieve stronger results is Toronto-based Learn2 Solutions, which delivers customized, participatory experiences with lifelike situations and relevant business scenarios and actionable results.

Learn2’s founder, chief learning officer and MPI member Doug Bolger, explains how in their Team Forward program, for example, participants solve for gaps in performance, culture and communication, and align to “one direction.” Among the activities: planning, constructing and integrating sections of a multi-part bridge using real building materials so an egg can roll safely across a perilous 16-foot gap.

Says Bolger: “We give teams processes to stay attentive to results—quarter over quarter—by tracking, communicating, reprioritizing and celebrating progress each week. The ownership of outcomes becomes second nature.”

For newly formed or dysfunctional teams, Learn2’s One Team Simulation focuses participants on behaviors and attitudes that create results. In place of teams used to lecture and blame are groups renewed with vim and vigor.

Are you conflicted about how to best serve your team? You can trust that committing to any one of these five solutions will account for the results you’re after.

Go ahead: take one for the team!

photo of parachuters courtesy of the US Navy via Flickr