In the last 12 months, managers and leaders have eagerly sought out tips for virtual team-building activities to fill the void of building interpersonal relationships in the absence of natural in-office interactions.
Fast-forward to current reality, virtual team-building exercises and activities are still important and will continue to be utilized. Now, managers and leaders must be thinking about how to build effective teams in hybrid working worlds. This may not initially appear as a challenge to many. The biggest challenge lies in determining how to maintain inclusive team-building practices in an environment where the collective group is executing their work lives in different physical worlds. A hybrid team environment implies that we need to take collaboration to a whole new level. With only 10% of teams ranking themselves as high performing, it is clear more work needs to be done.
Churchill’s Jayne Jenkins led a panel on how to implement effective team building to elevate your organization at Opal’s Learning and Development Virtual Summit in February. The goal of this panel was to determine meaningful ways to create team bonding exercises that can be applied to both virtual and in-person settings. Jake Breeden, Head of Global Learning Solutions at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Courtney Michener Miller, Director of Talent and Development at AstraZeneca for U.S. Biopharmaceutical Business, and Svetlana Yedreshteyn, Head of Organizational Development & Learning at One Main Financial accompanied Jayne as respondents on the panel.
Move from Many Cross-Functional Teams to One Cross-Functional Team
We frequently hear the term “cross-functional teams” when talking about people or teams from various departments or groups coming together. Rather than viewing this collaboration as having different “sides,” Jake recommended that organizations start compiling one cross-functional team that is comprised of two or more people from each functional group or department. Reframing the mindset and intent of cross-collaboration not only gives employees more ownership and accountability for the cross-functional role they play, but also enables them to have a first-hand look into the day-to-day life of other team members in their respective departments. This insight helps cultivate empathy, strengthen overall organizational purpose, and grow a deeper appreciation for the work others do in departments outside of their own. This newfound knowledge can then be taken back to individual teams and be spread organization-wide.
Empower a Leader as a Catalyst
When asked about the greatest team they had worked with, panel respondents Jake and Courtney both revealed that the leader of that team had little involvement in the process. They both agreed that the best leaders allow their teams to have the autonomy to go through the stages of team development on their own, whether it be Tuckman’s model or another. Leaders should provide a clear direction, vision, and intent but should step back to leave room for the team to own the process.
Enable Emerging Talent
Younger or newer talent likely don’t have an opportunity for face time with executives and other seasoned leaders. Organizations should take the time to create opportunities to elevate emerging talent by enabling them to learn from senior teams, Courtney shared. This environment might look like global cohorts of employees from various locations and departments. They would have the ability to participate in a “transition lab” to learn from both internal and external subject matter experts. A learning experience like this also removes hierarchy stigmas from the game. The global cohorts can then take what they’ve learned outside and bring it back to their routine team. Incorporating third party or external experts can frequently calm the waters and serve as an unbiased, no pressure bearing source. While teams, on their own, can be dynamic and agile, sometimes the support of a nudge from a third party can be the push a team needs for a breakthrough.
Find Power in Speaking Last
We have all been a leader of a team, filled with excitement to share our latest idea with the group. All too frequently, the leader is the first to share their opinion, perspective, or feedback on a discussion topic. Despite having heard that leaders should speak last, sometimes the excitement gets the best of us and is deleterious to the team in ways we don’t realize.
Svetlana shared an example of the positive and negative impact this situation can have. Speaking last is about more than being the decision maker. Speaking last provides the team with a safe place to explore and play on their own before a leader intervenes. Oftentimes, leaders don’t realize what they are doing is harmful to innovation and creativity, regardless of how well-intentioned they are. One leader Svetlana worked with had no idea that he was preventing his teams from sharing, engaging, and being active participants in problem-solving and brainstorming by speaking first. Once he became aware of his actions, changed them (started to speak last), and played an active listening role, he was amazed at the intellect and input of those on his team. He reported a much more dynamic team with incredible ideas.
Implement Tangible Team Building Activities
1. Common Factor Game
Bring people together from diverse cultures and teams globally, across-states, or cross–departmentally (depending on the size of your company). Ask them to find one thing in common as a cohesive group – it can be anything. The room will fill with chatter as people begin to converse to find a commonality. They will discover crazy, unique, and creative similarities. This game is a lighthearted activity and effective way to find common ground.
This is an actual book of questions that will help facilitate ice-breaking and effective team building conversations. The book (linked above) can be found online or in stores.
You might be familiar with this soccer or beach-looking ball that has various questions or prompts written on it. Make your own by writing on a ball you already own or buy one with prompts prewritten on it. Throw the ball to someone in the room, and when they catch the ball, they have to answer the question that one of their thumbs is on. This physical game gets energy levels high and enables teammates to learn fun facts about each other.
Think About your Audiences
When approaching team building overall, be sure to think about your target audience and what they would respond well to. For example, think about the type of exercise an introverted person might like versus what an extroverted person might like. An exercise that works great for a sales team might not work well for an IT team.
Other tools like personality-type assessments are also a wonderful way to communicate across different departments because they provide a common language for employees to share details about their personality, character traits, strengths, and what they need from their coworkers.
Effective learning and development initiatives, such as team building, take time to refine and discover what works. Progress comes with taking baby steps, highlighting successes, and emphasizing areas that are proven to have an impact. To gain buy-in from higherups, managers must have a solid understanding of the L&D challenges they are trying to address and solve within their teams and how that challenge proves itself as a business problem.
With the right support from colleagues, a solid understanding of your team, and a mix of meaningful tools under your belt, you will be able to empower strong, effective, and successful teams. To learn more about implementing and enhancing your effective team building strategies, click here. You can also contact us at 888-486-8884 or drop us an email at Solutions@Churchill-LG.com.
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Elena is a double gator with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in International Business from the University of Florida. She holds roles in marketing and business development with her involvement in different organizations. She is passionate about helping others develop their soft skills and interpersonal capabilities for an enhanced and optimized workplace environment. Her top 5 Strengths are Includer, Woo, Connectedness, Belief, Responsibility.
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