Team Development - It's On The Cards

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I am passionate about team development and have written several articles on the subject.

I am totally convinced that teams who are developed properly results not only in the overall team being developed but this development will really enhance the performance of the actual individuals within the team. If all individuals develop and achieve their targets and goals then this ensures that the team itself achieves its own objectives, targets and goals. However I get very frustrated when I hear talk of team development because this is what it is in many ways – just ‘talk’. Many organisations and managers within those organisations talk a ‘good game’ when it comes to team development. They think that just by holding regular meetings and by keeping communication levels high, this will be enough to develop the team to its full potential. Some firmly believe that a night out at the pub or restaurant, having a few drinks and a meal will enhance team ‘bonding’ and hence make them more productive. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Having worked in, and alongside, many teams from professional sports teams through to sales teams and with executive boards, I know that without regular review of team results, processes and behaviours, teams will never get anywhere near their full potential. In fact look behind the scenes of many teams and you will find cliques, in-fighting, ‘back-stabbing’ and ‘corridor conferences’. The team visit to the restaurant will only enhance this, not change it!  Of course these ‘behaviours’ will never come out within the regular ‘run of the mill’ ‘manager-run’ meeting either. This is not a healthy situation and certainly not one that will enhance either team or individual performance.

So, what are the challenges that managers face in developing their teams and what can be done to support them?

I interviewed a number of managers recently and the key challenges that they highlighted were:

•    Time. The pressure is on for results and team meetings were limited and agendas crammed with ‘business’ and ‘reporting’ items. No time was put aside within these meetings for team or individual development.
•    Money. Cash is tight.  The recession has caused training budgets to be slashed or ‘moved’ elsewhere. Bringing in external team development specialists or taking the team away for outdoor team development sessions won’t happen in the near to medium future simply because the money isn’t there at present.
•    Training. As regards team skills such as leadership, performance coaching, and facilitation there are few training courses being run internally and although there are internal company resources such as books and videos, little attention is being paid to them due to challenge number one – time! There are numerous external courses but again time and money is limited.

So what is the solution to these challenges? It is recognised by all the managers that I spoke to that development of the team was vital if results were to be achieved and if a solution was found that could support the development of the team in a timely, cost effective, motivational and productive way then it would be well worth while looking at.

I got my ‘thinking cap’ on, and put down some key principles that would have to be adhered to if a suitable solution was to be created. These principles were:

•    The solution must be affordable and be a ‘no-brainer’ as regards cost.
•    Any intervention must be able to work within limited time restrictions and be used within a regular business meeting.
•    It should be easy to use and not reliant on external ‘experts’.
•    Every member of the team must be involved and able to contribute.
•    An action plan to move the team forward must be produced.
•    It must be a motivational experience and hopefully a bit of fun!

The result was that I came up with a ‘team-cards’ product. Coaching cards have been used by coaches for several years now, whereby a coach will use a set of cards to get individuals talking about their situations and feelings. Typically, the individual being coached would pick a card, analyse the question, statement or picture and then relate their feelings, thoughts and comments. The cards are a catalyst to enable the individual to talk and talk freely. I asked my self the question. “Why can’t we use a card product for teams?” The answer to my own question was, as you’ve guessed, “Why not!”

So, I produced two sets of, what I call, ‘Team-Cards’. There is an ‘Original’ set composed of 52 questions about teams and there is a ‘Provocateur’ set which is composed of 52 fairly provocative statements about teams. The ‘original’ set is for newly established teams, with the ‘Provocateur’ set for more established teams who are more open to expressing their feelings and importantly more open to constructive ad direct feedback.

The rules are simple:

•    There must be a facilitator, a time keeper and an action taker. The facilitator does not need to be the manager, only someone who can effectively facilitate a group or team discussion.
•    The individuals within the team must agree to be as open and honest and as constructive as they can.
•    Time must be put aside within the meeting to enable the cards to be used effectively. 1.5 to 2 hours for a team of 6-8 is recommended.
•    The facilitator shuffles the cards and asks a team member to choose a card. It is important that the team member picks the card as opposed to the facilitator dealing the cards. The team members must feel they have made the choice of card. The team member will then read the card’s question or statement and then answer the question or give their comments on the statement. All the questions or statements relate to critical aspects of team working.
•    The facilitator will then encourage discussion and debate around the question or statement while the action taker records any development actions that arise from the discussions.
•    This process continues until each member of the team has picked a card and commented on the question or statement. Tests have shown that a team of six persons will have two chances at picking and commenting on cards within a two hour session.
•    The end result of a session will be that the team members will feel motivated because they have all contributed and had the chance to air their views and in addition a team action or development plan will have been constructed.

In team ‘test’ sessions run so far the feedback has been excellent. Time has been found in regular business meetings; individuals feel motivated; the Cards are very cost effective so there are no real budget implications; action plans have been constructed and overall the teams are ready to use the cards on a regular basis. And, yes not a ‘rope course’, human table football, or expensive team development consultant like me in sight!


About

Allan Mackintosh is a Training and Development professional who has been in the industry since 1982.

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