Making the Connection Between What Team Building Is and What It Is Not

What team building is: Team building is like building a campfire. The elements that create fire are fuel, oxygen, and heat. In order to create a blazing campfire you need to know how to prepare, assemble, and control these elements. If you understand the environment you’re in; assess the climate; and know where to get well-seasoned wood, you’ll be off to a great start.

Fortunately, oxygen is free, but you have to know how to control its inflow and outflow in order to avoid smoke or tamping down the fire altogether. And you need to be familiar with your ignition source, or kindling so that you use it efficiently. With proper planning and handling, you’ll have a roaring fire around which you and your crew can gather. On the other hand, poor planning and mismanagement may result in someone getting burned.

In the workplace what  team building requires is the assembly of elements like personalities, skills, and an environment or atmosphere that make it possible for each person to understand the role they play, and be recognized for their contribution to the success of the team project. With careful planning, proper preparation, and skillful handling, your team will literally be fired up!

What team, building is

Your leadership style provides the fuel to ignite their passion and zeal for the mission at hand. But to create collaborative synergy, you also need to identify the fuel sources around you–both green and seasoned. The key: always strive to engage everyone.

The seasoned veteran who can inspire the team and keep them motivated–it’s easy to make this your go-to guy every time. But an easy short term solution is not always a smart long term plan. Engaging everyone means identifying the assets and liabilities each person brings. Undergird newbies while they’re still green. Make them feel free to explore and to even risk making mistakes in their quest to improve so that in the long run, they will flourish and become seasoned themselves.

Effective team building is the masterful care–yes, care–of and about each member of a team, so that every attribute they present can be cultivated and transformed into an asset for the whole group.

What team building is not:  Team building is not for bullies. Indulge me for a moment of cliche-inspired reflection: It’s absolutely true that “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”

Case in point: after the industrial revolution many of our grandparents and parents spent more time with their coworkers than they did with us. Today, in this uber-technological age of faster cars, smarter homemaking gadgetry, and other digital delights–most of us are just as tightly tethered [electronically and/or physically] to our jobs as our forebears.

How ironic,then, that even though we spend so much time with each other, competition is encouraged, but  camaraderie and friendship among coworkers are often discouraged! According to a number of recent studies, many old school CEOs sought to steer well clear of the kind of fraternization that could lead to office romances; claims of sexual harassment; accusations of nepotism and favoritism;  and other potentially volatile matters that could slow down production and drain the company coffers.

Fear, intimidation and territorial conflict were the fuel that stoked the fires in offices and factories all across the country from the 19th through the 20th centuries. Sadly, as long as the cash kept rolling in and the stockholders were happy, the bosses didn’t notice or care about how many of their workers burned out.

Findings from recent studies indicate that even traditionalists are gradually beginning to accept the reality that competition without collaboration is toxic. And while it may seem counterintuitive to business owners, statistics show that camaraderie is not anathema to corporate earnings.

In the current marketplace, team building is not just about the profit margin, it’s about the people who create that margin. Treating human beings humanely, instead of like microchips in an ATM is not just old school, it’s a textbook plan for failure over the long haul.

What team building can be: Team building can be a game changer. From generation gaps [i.e. Baby Boomers, Generation-X’ers, and Millennials]; to gender parity politics; to ethnic, social, and cultural diversity conflicts—there are plenty of schisms to widen the chasms between us all.  

With all of these breaches to bridge and walls to surmount, communication between coworkers can be difficult because everyone’s speaking a different language: a language based on personal agendas, ambitions, and goals; trust levels, vulnerabilities, and insecurities; in addition to age, race, gender, and past experiences. Talk about a labyrinth inside a minefield!

Team building can be a bridge builder. It can serve as a light beacon illuminating points of commonality among people who can only see disparities. It can be a gateway to cultural enlightenment and acceptance. It can break down the barriers that make people wary of each other and help them discover how much they can edify each other.

Campfire building and team building are symbiotic. Whether you’re the leader who builds the campfire or you’re one of the key elements contributing to it, team building is a way for everyone to become fully committed, validated, and valued. It’s the fuel that blazes the trail forward for the benefit of all.

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