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#Team Building

Issues in building and retention of teams



Dr. A.S.K. Ghori, Senior HR Professional, Bengaluru


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The article discusses the concept of team building and how team activities and initiatives go a great deal in developing todays teams. The author discusses the challenges in ensuring team effectiveness and explore the probable way ahead.

Team building is the collective term, for various types of activities used to enhance social relations and define roles within teams, often involving collaborative tasks. It is distinct from team training, which is designed to improve the efficiency of the process, rather than the interpersonal aspect of it. Many team building exercises are intended to find and address interpersonal problems within the group.

In today's world the concept of team work and team building has caught a great deal. Enough literature and movies have been designed and developed for the purpose of team building. In addition to this, popular relevant motion movies have been adapted as examples to demonstrate team building in various contexts.

Salas et al. have brought forward four approaches of team building covering Goal setting, Clarification of Roles, Problem solving and Interpersonal-relations.

Goal setting

This is the most important aspect of team work and emphasizes the purpose of having the team. Any goal setting process has to be SMART - Simple, Measurable, Accountable, Realistic and with Timelines drawn. Each team member needs to understand, what is his contribution to the overall team goal is and what are the targets that need to be achieved. The big picture needs to be shown and how his contribution would affect the team's performance is to be clearly brought forward. When the cause and purpose of a team's existence and deliverables are kept forward and brought out clear it makes it easy for the team also to understand what they are in and why they are in it.

Clarification of Roles and their clarity

The role clarity has to be very clearly ascertained and communicated to every role/s played by the members. In fact Belbin's work and assessment can play a great deal in identifying the roles that come naturally to each individual and cash upon their strengths and be aware of the limitations. Some of the roles Belbin talks about are Shaper, Implementer, Completer Finisher, Resource Investigator, co-ordinator, Team worker, Plant, Monitor Evaluator and Specialist.

The knowledge of what roles are required specifically in each team can help in designing an ideal team, one desire. In case this cannot happen and the team is not a freshly selected team for a specific purpose, but a team that one has inherited. There is still no harm in evaluating what specific roles each of the existing team members play through Belbin's assessment.

It also helps in understanding the roles team members are playing better and why the team members behave the way they do. A fairly in-depth understanding of the Strengths and the Weaknesses of the role and not necessarily the person can go a great deal in understanding team members well and cash upon the natural behavioural traits and work styles.

The detailed understanding of the roles that a team would require to effectively operate the task for which they are together would not only help the team leader but also the team member in understanding the expectations, which are needed.

Lot of teams are not able to operate well, as some times the leaders are themselves not clear of what they expect from the team or specific members. Sometimes it might happen that the expectations are not clearly articulated to the team members by the leads. All this could lead to a lot of confusion causing a lot of damage to the deliverables and may come out only at the stage of post-mortem analysis to ascertain the case of damage. Hence role clarity and the expectation setting need to be clear at the time of the formulation of the team itself.

Problem Solving

The art of problem solving in itself is a great exercise; every leader needs to spend a lot of time in learning and implementing this. Problem solving may start as an aspect, one need's to acquire knowledge on, to start with and later on with proper practice convert it to a skill, which becomes more of an art soon. Though there are many problem solving techniques, like MECE, 5 why's, Fish bone analysis etc. and work well for lot many situations.

But what may be really required in most situations is common sense, which may be uncommon in most situations! However, identifying the real problem through a proper diagnosis and implementing the right problem solving technique is the hall mark of a great team leader. Involving the team in the problem solving through a brainstorming session and having a collective leadership by assigning responsibilities and the corresponding authority to carry out  the decisions, also helps a great deal in solving a lot of day to day issues.

Interpersonal Relations

It is very difficult for a team to exist without the very basic aspect of trust. Only when team members are willing to trust each other, will they communicate and share day to day operational issues and learning's. Lack of trust is a major reason for lot of people not to mingle with each other and share their thoughts and ideas. More the team leader is able to support his/her team members and give the right environment to open up and come to the leader and share things with him/her, the more effective would the team and its leader be. This would also enhance the trust level within the team. Regular skip level meetings and New Manager Assimilation meeting also may help in integrating the team with clear expectations and two way communication.

However this environment of open communication and sharing should have no fear of conflict. Conflict at times could be very healthy and work a great deal in getting problems out in the open and probable solutions can be discussed and  freezed upon then and there. There also needs to be an environment that encourages people to work as per their comfort level and with time  and slowly move  them out of their comfort zones to start performing tasks, which may be different and be a new learning to the team and its members.

Though the aspects of Goal setting, Clarification of roles, Problem solving and Interpersonal relations, play a great deal in team building, there could also be some current challenges in achieving this.

Current challenges in achieving effective team building and ways to achieve successful teams

Lack of team working skill

Many times it is seen in teams that its members are at times, great at what they do individually, but not as a team. It is either their style of work to be on their own, that is inherent or which they have developed over a period of time, becoming individual performers who do things on their own in their respective domains.

For others they could be that they are loners or a bit insecure of sharing things they know, perhaps because they feel in the event of sharing what they know with others, there importance may reduce and they may become replaceable in the team and they may be no more indispensable. This could also cause creating job insecurity within. These kinds of team members can be coached on how they can be valuable assets to the team by sharing their knowledge with the team and making them feel secure about their role and job.

They could through the route of coaching apply their knowledge and serve as subject matter experts, within the team and help other team members in developing  the skills they are good at and in the process also pick up new skills what others may be good at. By this way lot of synergy can be brought into picture with more quantity of output being achieved at a better quality within a short time. Also the process of learning sharing and knowledge transfer will be active in the team in a more subtle way than being launched as a separate initiative leading to a positive outcome. Specific task teams also can be formed by keeping together loners who prefer to be individual performers and demonstrate to them the benefits of working in a team and becoming team players in the longer run. This could also pave way at looking forward to making some move into generalist roles than remain as specialists.

Virtual work place and multi locational issues

Lately, with offices becoming scattered across different locations and even at times around the world  the concept of office space has become virtual  and can be anyway outside one physical location and team members  communicating in all possible ways, apart from physical face to face communication like communicating through e-mails and mobiles primarily, which could extend to Messenger, Video conference, Audio conference calls, Fax apart from conventional communication and hardcopy movement through internal and external postal and courier service.

Modern gadgets like Mobile, Personal computer - Laptop and Desktop, Tablets and a host of other technical gadgets have aided the teams spread across offices in different cities in different continents to communicate and work with each other. Bosses need not necessarily, physically sit in the same space or an office necessarily to monitor work. However this has limitations in places where the culture of the organisation is more comfortable with a boss being available around and the possible lack of discipline that may arise with the lack of it or in an environment that is less mature.

Another situation also to be kept in mind is when companies give the option to work from home. As the reporting officer still has a track on the work deliverables and monitors work through tools without being in the same physical. There can however be other communication issues arising due to lack of one to one communication have and may not be effective in all industries and job functions.

Flatter Organisation structure

With flatter organisations and a different kind of organisational politics developing where there is no immediate team leader but a lot of people parallel reporting a single boss may also is an issue. Flatter structures work more in process functions and routine activities as it is possible to have a larger span of work. Also cost considerations with more managers also play a major impact in these processes. However with proper training and cultural assimilation this can also be handled but expecting this to happen through e-learning or technical training would be a disaster and would have to happen but through on the job training or coaching with the right soft skill training support followed by ample time to practice it adjusting this system with current reality. The intervention of some specific behavioural training modules is also required in some cases. The fact that lot many companies, have started moving in that direction is a visible sign of changing times.

Issues due to globalisation

Most big companies have become global and most of the leading companies are MNCs and the team members of these companies in most of the functions are from different nationalities and dissimilar languages. Not to mention the difference in culture, values and approach to working in teams. There needs to be a lot of hand holding from the leader's side and also a lot of acclimatization and sensitisation to be done to the new joiners, who may not very comfortable, working with people from diverse cultures. Absence of this can add to a lot of chaos and problems. The role of proper induction, training and coaching is very important to bind the team together and ensure deliverables are met timely, within the cost and quality framework.


Having seen the current issues and challenges of team building and how they can be tackled would help a great deal in developing world class teams with proper coaching, training and hand holding in place. The successful achievement of the above would automatically retain the team members and also solve the attrition issue without adding unnecessary initiatives and cost.