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  • Jan. 29, 2012, 1:59 p.m.

    Team building - positive training

    An article from my friend and collega Thomas Kozlowski

    Team building - positive training

    The trainings gain a more sophisticated shape due to the increasing demands of the market and the appearance new companies which specialise in training, event, team building, outdoor, integration, fun, adventure, quad, off-road, paintball and other activities. They offer a lot of good adventure, fun and integration. The ordinary target shooting does not amuse anyone anymore. 

    The training has to connote affluence, provide the best equipment; often it is also important to have something better than what the competition did. The client expects to be surprised all the time. More often the meeting itself is called team building which does not necessarily means that it really is. Yet, such trainings can be really fascinating, educational and unforgettable. 

    They can be arranged in different terrains; they can include competition without harming the structure of the team, and reliable psychological knowledge can be acquired then in the form of moderation of specific tasks conducted by the teams in the field. Interesting scenarios can be created, which are in one form or another just a different version of the work duties. 

    Increasingly often, the goal of such a meeting is to present the team the way it functions in a difficult situation. As a result, we achieve the diagnosis of the functioning of the group and the auto-diagnosis of the functioning within the group made by each of the participants. 


    During team-building meetings, people are faced with different challenges: they build bridges, rafts, they climb in the night, sleep in caves and snow pits; they travel hundreds of kilometres in off-road vehicles and quads; jump off planes; but always for a reason, not just for fun. Out of free will they face, let's call it, a difficult situation as truly it is they who can establish where the boundaries which they don't want to, or won't, cross are.

    Here many questions are formed: Why do it? Why do the employers pay companies which specialise in organising such types of activity? Why do such trips become an annual part of the budget? What does a participant get from such an event and what does the company which sends him there?

    As it turns out, working in such tough circumstances helps in detecting the weak points worth working on. The "tough" conditions designed to fit a particular group (its abilities and physical conditions) help to reveal those points quickly. Also, the role which a participant assumes in his team: whether that of a leader, worker, hero, star or assistant, etc., can be recognized.

     The difficult and unusual situations arranged during such trainings and the success achieved while overcoming obstacles help to build positive relations within the team. Such relations, which involve understanding the need to see others in the team not only as the people who take a specific hierarchical place but also as the individuals with various needs and weaknesses, become extremely valuable for the team itself and its environment. 

    Such meetings are also to reveal that the participants are not only necessary for the team as the indispensable elements of a well-functioning whole, but also their task is to reveal that the team gives them a sense of safety and being needed for the realisation of the set goals. It obviously does not mean that directly after such a meeting the tasks which were difficult before will suddenly become easy. The task has the same degree of difficulty as before and causes the same number of problems. What changes is the way in which individual participants tackle the awaiting difficulty. They have had experiences which proved that they can easily function as a team, and they often feel pride to have participated in the tasks set before THIS particular team. They helped and received help. Their weaknesses were tolerated and they showed sympathy towards difficulties voiced by others. They managed and they were under the management of others. 

    They were the authors and co-authors of successes and failures. They experienced that losing one battle does not mean losing the war. And all that happens during fun activities which involved remarkable intellectual entertainment, manly adventure, adrenaline, professional equipment of highest quality; not to mention a very important fact that those activities are interwoven in an interesting and sensible scenario carried out in some "beautiful landscape". What is also important is that those difficult tasks are undertaken by women who often turn out to be tougher than manly men.

    The important benefits for the members of a team from the custom-made program are the shaping of the awareness of the group's importance in solving shared problems and the shaping of the ability to deal with one's weaknesses. The result that applies to the employee might be the increased insight into the possibility of drawing on one's personal ways of coping. And the employer gets a better functioning team which commits to the company not only because of their job satisfaction and salary, but also in a way, because of their gratitude for sponsoring a nice and constructive fun activity. Participants simply come back satisfied from our trainings, and even on the way back they are constantly on the phone talking about the whole event.

     For, if such issues (and here I mean sharing practical knowledge which is to improve the functioning of the team) are provided based on an interesting and surprising scenario in an interesting place and not only in a conference room as a list of topics for lectures; then they cease to be perceived as a training course agenda and become (still being a training course) just great fun.

    Will the team be better following such a meeting? The probability that the teams functioning will improve is directly proportional to the solid identification of the problems of the team, on the basis of which the needs of the team are specified. It is extremely important whether the person, who is to diagnose the functioning of the team, and consequently influence its work through specific actions, for example, outdoors, has appropriate qualifications and experience.

    It is simply important to ask the contactor to present the credentials of his training staff, such as university degrees, instructor qualifications in specific areas which are offered as the activities in the programmes. When we type "team building" into a search engine many companies offering services in this field appear. Yet, often we do not know how many events particular people organised and what the effects of their work were and whether they have any practical experience in other fields, where one may encounter truly difficult situations to which people who work together are exposed (here I mean rescue actions in the mountains, caves or at sea, excursions and expeditions, working in extreme conditions).

    My experience tells me that the identification of the needs is most reliable and accurate when the talk between the employer and training contractor ceases to be business and becomes an honest answer to the problem posed before the organiser concerning whether he can, without a shadow of a doubt, answer: Yes, we can meet your expectations, we can create a program which will consolidate your team. 

     Because there are people who claim they are experts on everything and can do everything. Here I would advise caution, because the contactor, who claims he can do everything, probably cannot do so much. With the diagnosis consequently comes the second composite factor, which I mentioned before, i.e., the range of experience, qualifications and competence of the team or specialists working on the problem of the group, however that is easy to verify.

    A man who correctly recognises his place in a team (not to be confused with the pejorative toeing the line) will discover his true value for the team and will see that being a part of that team also means specific gains. As a result, he feels an increased sense of security within that group. 

    Being a member ceases to be something unknown because the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the group dynamics guarantees feeling good as part of it. The group with its advantages and drawbacks is more predictable for him or her.

    Yet, we should look at the employees going on an integration or TEAM BUILDING event not only as the members of the team who, during the three days, will undergo "manipulation" that is to increase the profitability of the company, to improve the relations in a particular office, or to better the working of a warehouse or a service department of a company.

    Such meetings offer the opportunity to see the participants as parents who hurry to their children in kindergartens, as husbands and wives, as people who have passions outside work, who work to spend the money on fulfilling their dreams outside work. Therefore, it is very good that the employers increasingly often understand that the time spent with families is extremely important for most of their employees and they try to organise events on working days.

     And even though the meeting and fun take place during working hours they may be more beneficial for the company than a marvellous event which HAS TO be attended by the employees who may have planned the weekend with activities less attractive, but chosen by them on their own.

    A company may have all the necessary "tools" for work (systems, and methods of management and motivation, qualified staff, financial means and stability) and the set plan is being carried out in half, for no apparent reason. Nothing wrong will happen if the team spends time together after work, i.e., will have fun together and solve a task which does not mean "life or death" for their company. 

    The people may want to meet also for the accountant to stop being an accountant and let himself be known as a nice man who has passions unknown to anyone in the office, and for the unapproachable boss open up and finally let himself to be known as a true Chuck Norris fan, ... as we all are.


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