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A managers’ guide to teambuilding


The path to teambuilding nirvana can be littered with obstacles. John Pope outlines his no-nonsense guide for managers.

We have teams so that people get better results by working together rather than separately. Members stay together for quite a time, even when it is a temporary team to work on a project – though that can sometimes last for years.  However, the first questions on teambuilding are simple:
Q     Whose team is it? 
A     The Manager’s
Q     Whose job is it to build and develop the team? 
A     The Manager’s
Q     Why do so many managers fail to build a strong team? 
A     Because they don’t think it’s necessary or don’t know how to go about it.

Healthy Teams

Healthy teams are strong: Members share problems and get support from their colleagues; they share ideas, know how and when to use each-other’s knowledge. They don’t usually start off that way, given time and enough success they either become strong or they break up. They can be helped to develop better or faster.


Permanent Teams

Those who work together regularly under the guidance of a manager long enough eventually discover how best to divide up the work and responsibilities. However they don’t always work as effectively as they should. Spectators see more of the game than players: Good managers can and should see and understand even more, especially how well the members work together. If the manager of an office or any business team can tear himself away from ‘his own work’ there are opportunities to develop both team and individuals:
Get the team to analyse how well they work and what they could do to improve it. You should be aware of the likely issues; you should make your own gentle enquiries. You may have to set some limits, you should ask them to prepare beforehand. The discussion will need to be moderated – not necessarily by you. You will have to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to make a contribution and everyone has something to do. After you have done this a couple of times you can give the job of facilitator to someone else, sit back and watch.
Your role is facilitator and observer of hidden talents. It is not to be a skeet-shooter and bring two ideas down with one barrel. It can reveal things about the way you manage and be unpleasant.
So, what can you get from it? It gives you some ideas; it can tell you something about the abilities of your people; it helps you understand what goes on; it can improve your team’s commitment; it may help the team understand the difficulties you face.
  • Rotate some jobs. Do it carefully, and with the purpose of improving members’ understanding of each-others jobs, and don’t make too many exchanges at the same time. There may be some resistance – some members get their strength from being ‘the only one who understands...' You can’t afford that position but you have to tackle it carefully.
  • Set up a small team to tackle some persistent and sufficiently important problem as a project. You may need to give the team some guidance on running projects. Be close to the project, but not too close. It’s their project; what you need to know is how well they can work together without you and what guidance you can give without seeming to be interfering. They need your observations on how they have worked together, they also need their own analysis of how they can work better next time.
  • Arrange some training on working in informal groups, perhaps along the lines of the Coverdale approach which was popular about 25 years ago. It is based on the principle that members of an informal group should first define their separate roles – recorder, timekeeper, presenter or spokesman, and so on, and then threshing out the issue, summarising and deciding on the answer or solution. Those who have once been ‘Coverdaled’ swear by it and are good to have when you are around and an unexpected problem comes up. They are also useful to have on committees.
  • You find out about hidden talents, suppressed attitudes, inhibitions, from ‘away-days’ or events if they are sufficiently challenging; you find out who the really competitive people are if you take them karting, or abseiling. Expensive and not currently fashionable.
  • You know when you have built a strong team: you return after being away and find that not only has the routine work been done well, some unexpected jobs have been handled better than you could have expected. Don’t take it for granted; recognize their achievement as a team effort.

Special Teams

You have special teams for projects, launch of new products or so on. Team members may need training in new techniques but some will be put in the position of being leaders of their own groups – perhaps for the first time. Some will need specific training in managing change, or in implementing new systems and procedures. Some will need training as team leaders when it comes to the implementation of new systems. In a major systems change there may be teams at different levels. All may need some development whether at local, regional or specialist level. Key people and regional team leaders may need development at national level. 
I was heavily involved guiding such teams in one of the biggest innovative changes in retailing some years ago. That national retailer took immense trouble to ensure continuing general team training and special individual training. I consider that the undoubted success of that innovative project which ran over several years was largely due to the very substantial effort put into the selection of the teams and its training and development. Those who performed outstandingly progressed very rapidly in the business when the job was done. And that is of course one of the costs of developing your team – you may lose key members if you can’t justify keeping them.


Teams are strengthened from the contributions of individual members. It can be easy administratively to bring in some ‘outsider’ to train them in new skills or techniques, and it can be quicker. However, the essence of teamwork is that everyone has something important to contribute to the success of the team. What could be better than getting the team members to take a substantial part in their team’s training and development?   It develops the individual as well as the team.

So where does L&D fit in?

The spectator sees more than the players. Does getting managers to take the lead in developing their own team keep spectators off the field? L and D can help in several ways:
  • By helping a manager assess the strengths and weaknesses of their team
  • Advising them on training and development needs, and solutions for individuals as part of the regular performance reviews
  • Advising them on ways of resolving specific problems.
John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of managers and management teams at all levels for most of his career. To know more about John’s work and service please visit the website:  His book ‘Winning Consultancy Business’ was published in July and is now available through his website.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

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