Team Work Blue Paper by fourimprint


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									Teamwork Matters

Teamwork Matters

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Teamwork matters. Just ask researchers Francis Crick and James
Watson. In 1953, the duo boldly announced they had “found the
secret of life.” Crick and Watson, along with the assistance of a
few other scientists, had discovered DNA.

Their chief competitor was Linus Pauling, a scientist who
worked alone. Pauling did come close to an answer, but
ultimately it was the team of researchers that made the
discovery. Crick and Watson’s scientific breakthrough earned
them a Nobel Prize and infinite accolades.

Watson readily recognized the value in having a collaborator.
“… we had each other,” he said. “It helps to have someone else
to take over the thinking when you get frustrated.”1

When people collaborate, problems get solved faster. Crick and Watson knew
it, and today new researchers are confirming it. In March 2008, researchers from
the Stanford Business School revealed a study of productivity in steel mini-mills.
Researchers found that yield was higher in mills that used problem-solving teams
to overcome a variety of hurdles such as preventing material jams and reducing
equipment failure.

“You need a group of experts coming together to solve a complex problem,”
said Kathryn Shaw, the Ernest C. Arbuckle Professor of Economics at the Stanford
Graduate School of Business, one of the study’s authors. “You’re bringing people
together because no one person can solve the
problem as well as the group.”

Simply convening a team however, is no predicator
for success. The members must work together. For
the fortunate, cooperation is inherent. For others,
it must be taught.

Thom Cody is a consultant and co-owner of Pathmakers, an organizational-
development firm based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In more than 20 years of
consulting, he has seen several companies fail to develop true teams.

“If there is one thing I’ve seen over the years, companies make the mistake of

    eslie Palich & Linda Livingston. “Improving Research Performance.” Graziadio Business Report, Pepperdine 

   University. Accessed May 19, 2008.
                                                       © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
putting people in the same area and calling them a team,” he said.

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That’s where Cody and other facilitators come in. Research shows (see Teambulding
Activities below) that teambuilding activities do have a measurable impact on a group’s
performance. Groups CAN be taught to work together.

Teambuilding can …
       •      Help people get to know each other
       •      Increase trust
       •      Increase communication
       •      Improve problem-solving and decision-making skills
       •      Build a greater sense of camaraderie
       •      Foster appreciation for diverse strengths
       •      Facilitate change and acceptance
       •      Increase morale

Teambuilding alone cannot …
       •      Silence a chronic complainer
       •      Change inefficient business practices
       •      Improve an ineffectual leader

If your company or department is experiencing challenges, teambuilding is a solid
first step to improvement. Combine team activities with strategic analysis, leadership
training or process improvements to make a lasting difference.

If your company/department is strong, but you want to be better, teambuilding is an
effective way to re-energize and reconnect your staff. Give their interpersonal skills a
boost, and team achievement will grow.

Building team – step by step
Step 1: Examine leadership

Study leadership’s vision for the company. Does a clear
vision exist? Has it been communicated to the team? Has
leadership set any standards to which people aren’t being
held accountable?

For example, Festival Foods is a Wisconsin-based grocery chain in which employees are
schooled in the art of customer service. Get less than 10 floor tiles from a Festival

                                           © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
employee, and he or she will likely greet you. Ask for an item’s location, and the white-

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shirted staffer will walk you to it. Say “thank you,” and you’ll hear a “my pleasure”
in return.

Festival has high standards for its team members; standards employees are fully expected
to meet. Dave Skogen, founder and chairman of the board, believes in communicating
his values and holding staff accountable. Employees who struggle are coached and
encouraged, but ultimately, if they don’t follow the rules, they can’t be part of the team.
The parting message from Skogen is compassionate but clear: “We love you and we’ll miss

Part of creating a high-functioning team is bringing together the right mix of people.
When someone doesn’t fit well on the team, the leader has a difficult responsibility to
make a change.

“A leader has to be willing to look at themselves first,” said Thom Cody. “People follow a
leader that is willing to stand for something.”

Leaders, ask yourselves:
        •     What does success look like to me?
        •     If I close my eyes, what would I need to see to feel successful?
        •     When people interact with this organization, what will they
              see? Will we be known for creativity, integrity or something else?
        •     What are my non-negotiables? Am I willing to make the hard
              choices to hold my group to these?

“In the ideal world, leaders would have clarity about where the company is going,” said
Cody. “Teambuilding starts with the convictions of a leader.”

Step 2: Talk with the team

Does the team understand its purpose? If not, are team members getting in each other’s
way and stymieing progress? Explore individual roles and team objectives.

Cody was recently asked to help a team that had been reorganized into a customer service
group. Team members had diverse responsibilities, and only a few had interacted with
customers before. Thrown together in a group, these employees were not succeeding as a
cohesive unit. Rather, they reported being “irritated” by each other.

Step 3: Establish a shared purpose

This is joint work for the leader and the team. Determine how you would define a high-
                                          © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
performance team for your organization. Identify ways to share success with all

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After talking with individual team members, Cody met with them as a group to have a
conversation around roles and purpose.

They had what Cody calls “hard conversations.” He asked people to share their
frustrations. Team members need to be able to tell each other, ‘When you do that,
here’s the impact it has on me, on the team, and on you.’

In the end, the team members understood each other
better. They were more committed and invested in each
other’s success, as well as the company’s overall goals.

Step 4: Establish rules for engagement

Talk about how your team will address conflict in a way
that encourages respectful debate and disagreement.

A certain amount of conflict is desirable on a team. Recent
research by Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford’s Graduate
School of Business suggests that teams with at least two
separate points of view make better decisions. That’s
because the pressure of the minority forces the majority to consider alternatives.2

Dialogue and debate are essential to a company’s ongoing success. Teams that avoid
conflict will go along with an idea, rather than challenge its merits. Lack of positive
conflict stifles an organization’s potential and wastes resources. When team members
are afraid of conflict, they lack buy-in, reducing productivity and results.

On the other hand, teams must address conflict appropriately in order to succeed.
Guide teams to success by helping establish some rules of engagement.

“The easy road is ‘I have a problem and I’m going to talk to everyone ELSE about it,’”
said Cody. “I’m not going to talk to YOU because I’m afraid.”

The more challenging (and ultimately successful) option is to address conflict directly,
face-to-face. Alternately, team members can just agree to let and issue go. Side
comments and “coffee-break complaining” should be off limits.

 “Better Decisions through Teamwork,” Research news accessed May 19, 2008.

                                                     © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Team size

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Research shows that smaller teams are more productive than larger ones. Serious
deterioration sets in once the group reaches 12 or 14 members.3 With fewer people,
teams reach consensus more quickly. Everyone has an opportunity to voice an opinion
and feel validated, without bogging down the decision-making process.

According to an article in Fast Company, Internet behemoth Amazon breaks its
workgroups into “two pizza” teams—that is the number of people than can be
comfortably fed by two pizzas. “That limits a task force to five-to-seven people,
depending on their appetites.”4 These innovative, nimble teams are responsible for
some of the site’s most popular features.

Naturally, larger teams contribute a
greater diversity of ideas. Nevertheless,
save the large group sessions for
brainstorming and information
gathering; then charge the actual
work to a small group.

The manager’s role
While the company president is
responsible for communicating a vision, the management team is responsible for
building effective teams that can achieve those goals. Managers build teams with
capacity for success by encouraging innovation, providing resources, addressing conflict,
and—perhaps, most importantly—bringing the right people to the project.

To foster creativity, some managers encourage employees to form their own task groups
around topics of shared interest (e.g. wellness or environmental impact). By fostering
this sort of grassroots activism within the corporate structure, companies leverage
energy and initiative in a way that is dynamic and flexible. Employees who are allowed
to run with a new idea often bring greater motivation and productivity to their work.

Usually, however, a manager must be more proactive, convening necessary project teams
by his or her own initiative. Clearly, creating the right mix of talent is critical to the
team’s success. That “right” mix means more than having necessary skills at the

   J.R. Katzenbach & D.K. Smith. The Wisdom of Teams, HarperCollins, 2003.
   Alan Deutschman. “Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos.” Fast Company, August 2004.

                                                       © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
table. When possible, managers should consider personality differences and look for

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opportunities to create naturally cohesive groups.

The dissenting opinion here is that employees should learn to work together, regardless of
their differences. While some conflict is valuable, too much will quickly lead to decreased
morale and productivity. Keep a difficult individual in the group only when he or she is
vital to the project’s success.

One of Thom Cody’s clients learned this lesson in dramatic fashion: The 100-year-old
company had staffing challenges on one of its production lines. Eight employees were
supposed to stand evenly distributed along the line, but seven of them stuck together,
huddled about 45 feet away from the operator.

The operator could accurately be descried as “cantankerous,” and he regularly cut corners.
However, his line outperformed all the others, two-to-one, and for years the company was
loathe to challenge his behavior.

Eventually, leadership decided that safety and teamwork were indeed priorities that could
not be sacrificed, even for production. The operator was informed that his attitude and
practices needed to improve. He tried for a while, but found change too difficult and quit

Within a week and a half of his departure,
the remaining line members approached
management with ideas for improvement.
They asked to meet with the equipment
manufacturer, the supplier and company
engineers. Changes were made, and less
than three weeks later they were
outperforming their previous
best day, three-to-one. What’s more,
they only needed six people to operate the
line, not eight.

Cody says it is not uncommon to see an incredible
release of energy like this when companies reorganize negative
teams. In this case, he says the company’s willingness the stand up for issues
of safety and courtesy also paid dividends.

                                          © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Teambuilding tools

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Teambuilding activities are tools to be used within the context of a
larger teambuilding program.

“If I demonstrate that team is important and do that from the heart, then I earn the
right to use teambuilding tools,” said Cody. “I think a lot of people go out and find a
tool, and it comes across as stiff or disingenuous. People think this is the gimmick of the
week. But if that leader has clarity and is willing to talk about real issues, then all that
teambuilding goes along for the ride.”

There is no magic formula for creating a cohesive team.
Seminars, ice breakers and problem-solving games alone can’t
fix large-scale team dysfunction. Combined with thoughtful
introspection and candid conversation, they can go a long
way to bridging many common challenges.

A few popular methods:
Adventure teambuilding
Ropes courses, white water rafting, scavenger hunts and orienteering are classic
teambuilding activities. More than just fun, facilitators use adventure tactics to help
participants learn about communication, goal setting and trust.

Facilitated retreats
A professional team-educator will bring fresh energy and perspective to your group. By
using an outside professional, all internal staff has a full opportunity to participate and
learn. Plan to get some real work done during a facilitated retreat. Discuss
long-term corporate strategy, brainstorm process improvements or handle
any big-picture brain work that’s difficult to concentrate on during the
throes of day-to-day business.

Company socials
Employees have an easier time managing conflict when they know
each other on a personal level. Sponsor a picnic, buy appetizers at
social hour, or bring in pizzas for lunch. This kind of activity does
triple-duty as reward, retention tool and teambuilding exercise.
Pump up the get-to-know-you factor by holding a pot luck. Ask each
team member to bring a favorite dish from their childhood. Add to the
fun with old fashioned pick-up sticks, bubbles, or squirt guns.

                                           © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
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Philanthropic teambuilding
A new trend in teambuilding uses volunteerism to bring employees together. Employees
practice all the tools of an effective team while benefiting the community. Many projects
culminate in an off-site work day such as renovating a playground or repainting a shelter.

Be aware that philanthropy projects without facilitation will probably build camaraderie,
but not interpersonal skills. Some training companies address that need by packaging
the two concepts together. Odyssey Teams is a California-based company that integrates
teambuilding with hands-on volunteer projects that have participants building bikes,
playhouses and even prosthetic hands.

Teambuilding games
According to research conducted at Virginia Tech, team building games do have a positive
impact on group cohesion and success.

Dr. Mark Springston broke nearly 300 students into 99 teams. Half of the teams
participated in three hours of team building games and half were given brain exercises.
After lunch, all teams received a technical problem to solve, requiring team skills to

At the end of the exercise, Dr. Springston found that the smallest groups (two-to-three
people) didn’t perform any better after receiving training.
However, groups of four that participated in team building
games did far, far better than groups of four that didn’t.

Tom Heck, owner of the, wrote about
Dr. Springston’s research on his blog. He suggests that when a
group of four people must work together, they reach a
tipping point at which they must receive team training to
excel. Teams that receive training (such as participating in
teambuilding games) he argues, are at a huge advantage
over those that do not.      5

Getting to know you games
Learning more about your team members builds confidence and trust.

Two truths and a lie
In this perennial favorite get-to-know-you game, participants stand in front of the group blog. Oct 2, 2005 post.

                                                © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
and present three short “facts” about themselves. Two of the stories are true and one is

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not, and the rest of the group is challenged to guess which is which.

I bet I’m the only ...
Give everyone in the group a set number of tokens (poker chips, pennies, M&Ms),
somewhere between 5 and 10. Team members take turns telling something about
themselves they think no one else has done, such as, “I bet I’m the only one who’s had a
broken nose.” Everyone who has had the same experience passes the speaker one of his
or her tokens. The game ends when someone runs out of markers.

Problem solving games
Problem solving games are designed to build a team’s communication,
brainstorming and consensus-building skills.

Square up
Tie a long rope in a loop and lay it in front of your team members.
Instruct the group to put on their blindfolds, pick up the rope and
form a square. Once the group thinks they have a square, they can
take off their blindfolds and see how well they did.

Evaluate. Did someone stand out as the leader? Aside from plotting
positions ahead of time, what could the group have done to be more successful?

Ask your team(s) to imagine they’ve been infected by a dangerous virus and must be
quarantined in the company offices for one year. The government is sending a medical
quarantine group to make a one-time delivery with all the food and water they will
need for a year, two changes of clothes per person, and a list of supplies team members
have requested.

However, the quarantined team can only receive up to $400 worth of supplies (pick a
dollar figure appropriate to your group size). Provide access to some general purpose
catalogues and/or stacks of Sunday sales ads so teams can work with realistic prices.

Assume utilities and communication systems (phone, Internet, computers) will work—
only as long as the equipment doesn’t need repairs. Give teams 20 minutes to complete
their requisition lists.

Evaluate. Did the groups make creative use of resources already available in the office?
How did they decide what to buy—by assigning certain people to certain categories,

                                         © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
all together or dividing the money equally among each? Were team members given any

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individual money for discretionary spending?

Search the Internet for more ideas. provides free ideas, an
insightful blog, and an e-newsletter. Also, the book 365 Low or No Cost Workplace
Teambuilding Activities is inexpensive and filled with ideas for implementation and

Making it meaningful
       “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress.
        Working together is success.”
                                    - Henry Ford

Undoubtedly, you will have a few team members who won’t see the value of
teambuilding. They may express their objections outright, roll their eyes during activities
or simply remain disengaged.

Head-off objections ahead of time. Share Dr. Springston’s research and explain that
teambuilding activities are proven to improve performance.

If your team has specific problems that need to be addressed, point these out. Explain that
the company is losing time and profits due to politics, competition, gossip or general lack
of communication.

Help employees feel better about giving up work time
by looking for opportunities to decrease their workload
before training. Outsource a project, hire some
temporary help, or skip a regularly scheduled meeting.

Listen to their concerns, but ask them to commit to
the process with the understanding that productivity
and morale will ultimately improve.

Avoid future complaints by making a long-term commitment to strengthening your team.
One-time teambuilding activities are a great start, but really high-performance teams
come from an investment over time.

“It’s more about the journey than a moment,” said Cody. “The real test is when you’re met
with adversity. That’s when a true team starts to happen.”

                                          © 2008 4imprint, Inc. All rights reserved
Keep team dynamics top-of-mind by incorporating teambuilding into your

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annual calendar...

       •       Host regular company socials
       •       Incorporate a quick teambuilding exercise into the first meeting
               of the month
       •       Plan clean house days once a quarter—employees come in jeans and
               spend half the day cleaning files and half in teambuilding activities

… and into your reward programs:

       •       Create incentives for team success, rather than highlighting individual stars
       •       Distribute windbreakers to everyone when you meet a quarterly sales goal
       •       Gift a project team with BBQ tools or a garden set for completing a
               special assignment
       •       Recognize outstanding teams with an annual award
       •       Highlight positive team activity in the company newsletter or blog

Teambuilding is a dynamic, ongoing process that will require constant attention as
employees come and go and as market demands change. A strong team is an invaluable
asset, boosting productivity and innovation. Incorporate teambuilding (and team
recognition) into your everyday business practices, and see the difference a high-
functioning team can make.

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