Old School Team Building
I’m facilitating an RCM Analysis this week in a second-floor conference room that overlooks a company courtyard complete with manicured landscaping, picnic tables, park benches and walking path complete with distance markers. While this park like setting has been mostly empty the first few days this week today there is a group of 30 people milling around. Some small groups of 2 or 3 are clustered together talking and most everyone is checking out their smart phone for various unknown reasons. I can’t help but wonder what is going on so I ask the team I’m working with why so many people are in the courtyard.
(This is not the best move as a facilitator because I now have 4 people looking out the window instead of focused on our task at hand.)
“Oh, I think this the new teamwork training that started this month. None of us have been yet, so far just the engineers and supervisors are doing it. I’m not sure how its working but from what I hear they have all enjoyed it. When they go outside they are doing trust falls off the picnic table benches. I guess they started doing them from the table top but there was some question about the need for fall protection so they moved it down.”
And what might I ask does a trust fall have to do with teamwork?
We are no longer talking about failure modes. This is of course unless someone is allowed to fall all the way to the ground. I’m sure that would undoubtedly be looked upon as a failure.
“Trust is a big part of team work. If you don’t trust the people you work with you’re not likely to work well as a team.”
Interesting concept. I always thought reaching out to catch something or someone that’s falling was human nature. You don’t want the object to break or get hurt so you reach out to prevent the fall. But listen, we need to get back to work. I could talk for a couple of hours about team building exercises I have participated in. Most were a lot of fun but accomplished very little in terms of team building. I agree by the way, that trust has a whole lot to do with team building but trust takes time. While things like this are a good start, you don’t build a whole lot of trust in a 4-hour workshop.
The remainder of the day goes off without a hitch and later I find myself in a hotel room thinking about teamwork.
In my first 10 years as a Journeyman I had the pleasure of working with the best team of people one could ever imagine. I can also tell you we didn’t become a team by going to a training session and catching each other. We never sat in a conference room and built Lego models, went to climb rock walls or played a business version of a board game.
I guess you could say we learned teamwork in a way that has fallen out of fashion. You could say we were lucky. We worked for a company who at the time cared about its employees so much that it provided benefits above and beyond what most would ever think about doing today. The goal was to provide they employees a work-life that made you want to stay. A place where a large percentage of its workforce stayed working there for that company their entire careers. We were paid well, and had a benefits package that was the best for companies of similar size but those things had nothing to do with teamwork.
The company understood that if you wanted your employees to work in a mature team environment, you had to build a culture that embraced team work. Getting people to work as a team takes time. Understanding this, old school team building took place at work and outside of work and the examples seem endless.
Imagine a company that invests in athletic fields, soccer, baseball, tennis courts. An onsite gym, basketball courts, volley ball, a fitness center, and a bowling alley that was open 24 hours a day. A movie theater, stage, shooting and archery range. Add to this a list of employee clubs that was as long as your arm and most of these activities were free. Hire your employees in fresh out of school and urge them to get involved and soon you have employees who work together playing on a softball team and working out at the fitness center at lunch or after work. People who have common interests have something to talk about and the next thing you know you have a group of friends.
Trust, it’s not only a big part of teamwork, it’s a huge part of friendship.
And it doesn’t stop here.
We had work parties, multiple each year to celebrate production records, the completion of a major shutdown and Christmas parties. Not so unusual you might say? Every one of these events included family, bring your spouse, the kids, Mom & Dad if you want and even your brother who might be visiting from out of town. The more the merrier! I should add these events weren’t held at the company cafeteria, we went to parks, party houses, the local AAA baseball field and amusement parks. Some were catered, some we barbequed and brought a dish to pass and everyone had a blast. We played games that involved the parents and kids complete with prizes for the winners.
I can hear the corporate accountant adding up cost of all this but before we get to that I’d like to say again; it didn’t stop here.
When you include family at these events what happens naturally?
Your spouse and children meet the spouses and children of the people you not only work with but have become friend with. You go home and hear things like “I’m so glad I got to meet all these guys you have been talking about! Mark, Bob and Kevin are a riot, we should have them over this summer and hang out by the pool.”
The relationships now extend beyond work, friendships grow stronger and you now have a group of people working together who have a stake in one another’s lives. The level of trust that comes with these relationships is like family. Relationships in my experience have lasted a lifetime.
So, what does it cost to build a team the old school way?
I think the better question is what is it costing to try and force fit team work instead of providing a means to let it occur naturally? What does it cost to continuously recruit, hire and train employees who will stay an average of 7 years and move on because making them feel valued has fallen out of style? What does it cost when your best equipment operator or engineer decides to leave because they can make a dollar an hour more at the plant across town? It’s a hell of a lot easier to leave when that person has watched a dozen before him do the same thing.
It’s not like their leaving any friends behind when our companies have become a revolving door.
Old school works! I still to this day communicate and meet with the people I worked with on that team on a regular basis. We did after all build a team that created bonds that have lasted decades.
As for the modern day methods of team building, still waiting on something else to come along. In the meantime, if this laptop happens to start to fall off my desk here at the hotel. You can all trust in the fact that I will reach out to save it!
As usual, I would love to hear back from anyone who might have a great story about a team they have worked with or are working with. How did you build your team?