Recreational to Developmental Team Building

This article covers …

  • Difference between morale events and developmental team building
  • Leveraging trust
  • Using a shared experience to facilitate learning
  • Taking advantage of a break-through to shift paradigms
  • Difference between facilitation and training

What is the difference between recreational and developmental team building?

Recreational team building, commonly referred to as morale events, can take on many forms. For instance, having drinks together, going bowling, and attending a holiday party are events that take teams away from their task for a short time in order to offer them a reprieve from their work.   Morale events connect people, which in turn creates feelings of  “togetherness” or “community” that are often short lived, because the event lacks a direct connection to a team’s existence.

Team development offers teams a way to work together better, enjoy themselves, achieve goals, and build capacity by rooting teachable moments in the team’s work dynamic. Developmental team building strengthens relationships, as well as develops a compelling purpose, embraces differences among the team, stimulates engagement, and results in profound learning.1

The Board Room Essentials

A department of five project managers approached us with the goal of working better together. After consulting with me, they decided on an Essentials program, a program focused on what it means to be a healthy team. Each Essentials program is based on a proven design template.   The implementation and results vary because each team is different depending on their individual makeup, goals, structure, and task. Prior to the program there is a discovery period, which includes gathering information and designing the day.

An icebreaker was the first item on the agenda.  The icebreaker oriented participants to the Adventura experience, created connections, had people moving around, and established trust. Although the team worked together for two years, they learned new information about each other: two of them had gone to the same college, one worked on a factory ship in Alaska, and many had received speeding tickets.

Experiential Learning Cycle

Kolb Experiential  Learning Cycle

Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

The next stage in the process was a group initiative, a small project, designed to create a group experience.  The dynamics that surface during these activities are often similar to what people experience in the workplace. An initiative allows the group to “play” with their dynamics in a safe environment. This process is portrayed in the Kolb Learning Cycle or as the shorthand.

Once completed, we debriefed the project.  Debriefing is a time to reflect on the group’s experience and then develop new concepts and ideas to improve their process. Their facilitated debriefing was a lively discussion about roles in the group and how individuals worked in different ways to achieve a group goal. After discussing changes to be made, the group did the initiative again.  This time they were much more effective.

Next, we debriefed the entire process focusing on qualities that made them more effective.  Then I asked, “How does this experience relate to your work?” This question was followed by 25 seconds of silence. Asked at the right time, a simple question can become powerful. As a result, there will often be a period of silence, because to answer this strategic question requires a paradigm shift. 2 Some people break the silence to make the situation more “comfortable.” In my experience, this robs the group of critical thinking and profound learning.

Contentment, Denial, Confusion, Renewal

Four Rooms Of Change

After what seemed like an eternity, Dave said, “It doesn’t, because we don’t debrief like that between projects. We offer status updates about what happened, not how it happened.” This comment was met by teammates with resistance (denial), discussion (confusion), and finally agreement (renewal). This was a breakthrough for the group, because they realized debriefings were an important tool to use back at work.

Teachable Moments

Strength Finders

Strength Finders

When the group came back from break, they were more engaged. We transitioned to a conversation using Strength Finders, an assessment tool that maps preferred styles of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It was a juicy conversation about how they were developing as individuals.  I shifted the conversation to discuss how individual development could occur as a larger team to promote a learning organization. 3

After our second break, everyone shared an extraordinary group experienceThe team came up with five similarities in their values; strong goals and leadership, trust, appreciation of different personalities, individual over team, and fun.  Then we ranked and discussed how their current team posses these traits and areas for improvement. The results of this exercise were a list of action items everyone was committed to.

This group’s experience was extraordinary because they learned how to assist others in their development.  They shattered their mental model that critical feedback was akin to micromanagement.  By sharing best practices, without prescribing solutions, they found new ways to be productive.

Reflecting Upon the Board Room Essentials

Prior to the facilitation we built a foundation to enable engagement.

  • The retreat goal was clear and open ended: work better together.
  • The Strength Finders assessment grounded the learning in their experience.
  • Conversations with leadership allowed me to prepare activities and questions that tapped into individual learning styles.

A room of confusion is a powerful place.

  • Upon reflection this process may seem very clean and clear, but it was not.
  • Participants were challenged throughout the process and often needed to search for answers.  When they were stuck, they asked for my advice.  I redirected them, but never prescribed the right answer.  They stepped up to find the right answer for themselves.
  • The leader did not take over or try to control the process. He added to and enriched the conversation.  This empowered the group to come up with their own solutions.  Which they did.

There was leadership buy in

  • The leader of this group was an engaged participant.
  • After the facilitation we collaborated (and still do to this day) on ways to coach and mentor people about the group essentials and how they lead to success.

1 Bellman, Geoffrey M. and Ryan, Kathleen D. Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results. Kindle Edition, Jossey-Bass 2009.

2 Peavy, Fran. “Strategic Questioning: An Approach to Creating Personal and Social Change.”  By Life’s Grace: Musings on the Essence of Social Change. Philadelphia: New Society, 1994

3 Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday, 2006.

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