Author: Peter Cantelon, Executive Director
I remember my early days in the typical office environment where periodically a well-meaning manager would announce a team building event and by and large a loud collective groan would raise up amongst my coworkers.
It would usually be something of an athletic/cheer leading type of an event. You could count on it being loud, bright and generally annoying.
In many ways these events, held by well-meaning management following the advice from any of a dozen bestselling business gurus of the day, felt like a cross between a high school pep rally and military basic training.
Something about being forced to get excited about working together for the organization’s mission just feels wrong. Even for those people wired as high octane extroverts the team building session’s high only lasted a few days before everyone sank back into their regular routines.
The reality is team building, like any business strategy, needs to have a long-term vision…especially in the non-profit space where perks and performance bonuses are scarce or non-existent.
A team sensibility may be created quickly in moments of adversity, but like forged steel that is not tempered, while strong it can shatter or break under pressure. This is the team built for the 100 metre dash.
The better approach is the marathon or endurance oriented one. Like metal that has been tempered, this type of team has grown in a steady, paced fashion over time and bends under pressure but does not break.
Key attributes of a strong team include healthy, open communication, respect, trust, clear objectives and well defined responsibilities and roles that do not significantly overlap.
Activities that lean heavily into social connections are best employed here rather than surprise high adrenaline events like tightrope walking over a gorge or walking across a bed of hot coals.
Simple things like organization sponsored staff lunches for example. Having birthday and holiday parties, farewell celebrations etc. from time to time and, in larger organizations, structuring mentor relationships between senior staff and junior – particularly across departments…can help to build the kind of team you are looking for.
Team meetings are also critical with this kind of strategy. Now some people may think this is so obvious it does not need to be mentioned but, in the busy space of most non-profits it isn’t easy to maintain regular weekly team meetings over the long term.
A good team meeting leaves room for social discussion and not simply a group of people competing to win busiest staff person of the week award. They should be less about tasks and more about what’s going on and an opportunity for people to share ideas.
Think of team building like family or friendship building. Families and friends are the two strongest types of naturally developed teams in society. Each has different characteristics based on the people involved and both are more informal in nature and not forced.
If you employ these strategies your team will develop and grow over time and your workplace will benefit significantly.