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September 2011

Trends in Team Building

By Dr. Susan Cain of the Corporate Learning Institute

We have all heard all the descriptions of the current economic challenges and what we should do about them; economic downturn, slump, recession, let us hit the reset button, rebound, regroup, rethink, engage, enhance, rebuild, re-motivate, rebirth. However, what are the current trends in team building today?

To find out, I searched through the ASTD (American Association of Training and Development) database, looked at recent publications and asked several clients from large multi-national corporations they are were doing to build teams in their organizations. What I found was surprising, and points toward the need to find new ways to motivate employees to work together, despite the daunting economy.

First of all, the news from ASTD: The growth of elearning platforms will continue to provide learning opportunities for time-strapped employees. But how can teams take advantage of this new technology? Elearning offers teams opportunities to learn about team development, can help them diagnose their culture, allow them to assess their strengths and limitations, and even develop action plans. Many e-learning companies exist to help build elearning platforms that are customized for your company’s training needs. A good example of the usefulness of elearning to build teams is the growth of companies offering tools like the Myers Briggs Type Inventory on line. Teams can complete their work style assessments and share results the same day.

A brief search of recently published material revealed a strong focus on the need to develop individuals and teams that feel engaged and committed to their organizations. Patrick Lencioni, who wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, has commented recently that “companies that create true team environments turn into places where other team-oriented players want to work.” Team building training can help potential teams develop the identity, skills, and strategies they will need to drive high performance. There are three essential approaches that trainers use to build team performance. The first approach includes team-building events that focus on building personal motivation, engagement, and appreciation of others. Examples of these include cooking events, outdoor team challenge sessions, or charity events. If done well, events can provide a short-term solution to a company has need to deliver an important message, build morale or even introduce new employees to each other.

The second training approach offers actual skill training that focuses on building teamwork skills such as communication, collaboration, problem solving, and support. Training program are available in short sessions or multi-day sessions. Some companies even opt for short learning modules delivered over a longer time span. Short-term training is best for building awareness of team building issues, while longer-term training offers opportunities for application of learning and integration of learning gains back to work. Training sessions can be held at your company or a designated off-site location. Work with your training provider to determine your needs, time requirements and expected learning outcomes.

The third area-team strategic coaching- focuses on a team’s objectives and tactics for getting work done. Research shows that in a downturn economy, that companies are more likely to hire external trainers who can provide an exact fit for the type of training that they need. Team coaches offer on-going consultation so that team performance improves. A coach can play many roles, such as trainer, facilitator, or coach, to help a team achieve its optimal performance together. A competent coach can make a huge difference in the life of a team.

Finally, I asked some of my own client corporations to tell me which area they were focusing on to build teams in their organizations. From larger companies I received word that cost-containment was still a critical need and hiring and wage freezes were still the norm, but that many were returning to providing team engagement events that allowed team members to become more familiar with each other and feel more connected. Example of this is a telecommunications client who held a charity event to bring new hires together. Other midsized corporate clients reported that they were offering half-day team refresher session to any interested group.

Knowing what a team needs and providing training services when needed is a vital part of creating what Lenciono calls “true team environments”. As technology improves, it is likely that web-based training tools will be combined with hands-on team building to develop high performing teams more efficiently. One client concluded that that “Human beings will always have a need to connect directly with each other. Computers serve a purpose, but it is important to know others in your company, and how to connect to them.”

Dr. Cain has been a practicing organizational consultant for 25 years, working with top-tier corporations and organizations throughout the world. She is partner at The Corporate Learning Institute, a Chicago-based training and development organization offering corporate training, coaching and strategic planning services.

This piece originally appeared on the website for the Corporate Learning Institute.

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