I recently attended a team building day. No, it wasn’t one of those outdoor tree hugging events where you learn to trust your colleagues by jumping out of a tree into their arms. It was much more fundamental, much more basic than that. It was simply a chance for a team spread across multiple locations to get together and meet – some of us for the first time – ever.
The team had identified problems with communication, with leadership, and with working together. So we got to know each other. We put names to faces. We shared a little about how each of us worked, about different styles or working. And we learned a bit about what we each do and why we do it.
That ‘why’ was very important. Because if you understand why someone is asking for something, why they need you to go that extra mile, then you are much more likely to help and support them. It brings the need to life and gives context to the requirement.
Technology – help or hinderence
Technology has brought many benefits to the team. Some fantastic collaboration tools such as Lync (or Skype for business as it’s now called) where you can have instant chat conversations, share a whiteboard or file. With home broadband we don’t even have to be in an office and working from home is now an accepted norm.
But technology de-personalises things. Communications become stilted and business focussed. You don’t spot the body language or facial expressions that give the hints a colleague is under the weather or under stress. So you pile in with your perfectly valid work demands and exacerbate the situation.
You miss what one of my former colleagues used to call ‘the water-cooler moments’. Those impromptu chats when grabbing a cup of water or coffee from the machine. The opportunity for a quick ‘how are you’, ‘what are you working on’ or ‘is everything ok’.
Much more is being discussed around mental health these days. It is much less of a taboo subject and people are more open to discussing their problems. But at the same time, remote working is taking away that very opportunity. It makes us more isolated and inadvertently adds to the pressure without ever meaning to. It adds stress to the individuals and to the team.
For many businesses having dispersed teams or work groups is an economic necessity. And working from home can bring tremendous flexibility and other benefits for many people. But there has to be a balance and a recognition that face to face has an invaluable role to perform.
You’ve probably heard of the four stages of building a team: forming, norming, storming and performing. Well at each stage, face to face really helps to accelerate the stage. To build the team ethos and understanding. Once you have met your colleagues face to face you feel like a team. It is quicker and easier to sort out those working relationships and to gain that common purpose. It ios also easier to identify and resolve any issues or challenges. Then, once into performing, a regular face to face catch up revitalises and reenergises the team.
That’s what happened at our team building event. We renewed some friendships and made some more. We gained understanding or each other and our common purpose. And we had some fun. Never underestimate the power of fun to bring a team together. But it’s really hard to have fun when you’re not together.
How long ago was your last team face to face meeting? Get the next one in the diary now. And don’t forget to make it fun.