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Team Development and the Trainer


Mike Taylor, director of Interaction Learning and Development, explores the possibilities and the boundaries, of the trainer's role in team development.

Team building doesn't exist.

It's a bold statement and one that you may take issue with, and I concede that it's not strictly true.

However, in the context of the trainer, when you hear the term, “team building”, you would do well to check that what the manager in fact means is not in fact “team development”.

So, what’s the difference?

Team building
Team building tends to be a one-off event, designed to help people get to know each other, and a little about themselves as a team.

It can be great way to launch a new team, or as a reward for a tired and justly deserving team.

Often with a focus on doing things together, normally with a degree of success or satisfaction at the end, and often with a little bit of theory thrown in, it is a way of helping individuals to get to know each other, and feel acknowledged.

Overall, teambuilding gives quite a lot, and asks relatively little. In terms of whether it delivers tangible business benefits, I’m not sure. The questions are: can you quantify it, and do you need to?

If you, the manager, or any members of the team are expecting more than that - well, then we’re getting into team development.

Team Development
Team development is not an event - it is an ongoing process.

Developing a team is primarily an issue of performance management.

This will probably be a multi-pronged approach of goal setting, process improvement, role clarification, individual performance management, etc - good old management stuff.

I know the terms “vision”, “empowerment” and so on exist, and I wouldn’t ignore them, but most of the managers I work with live a far more gritty existence.

The Trainer's Versus Manager's Role
We as trainers would do well to constantly remind ourselves, and our clients, that team development is the responsibility of the leader of the team.

More importantly, when trainers become involved we need to make sure there is an understanding that we can only do our job in the context of the manager doing all the things mentioned above that make team development happen – basic, good management.

The Challenge
It may well be that as part of a manager’s team development agenda, there is a place for an event of some kind, perhaps involving some of the activities above – helping the manager with aspects of team development.

Not a small topic, but relatively easy compared to the real challenge.

The real challenge – the bit where we add real value, is in ensuring a proper context for the event exists, and that it is clear.

It’s about asking a lot of questions, and making really sure the manager is taking actions that put the event in the right framework.

Try this presupposition – it’s not necessarily true, but it’s useful nonetheless:
“We don't change unless something around us changes. A team development event will come to nothing unless something changes in the way the business functions around the team.”

It’s the manager’s job to change something that will drive home in people’s minds that nothing is going to be the same again. It is our job to make sure this is going on.

Teams Exist to Meet Performance Goals
A team can only develop in the context of its performance goals.

As an example, let’s take one of the classic dreams of a team development event, that people who don’t get on will get on better after the event.

If these people need to get on, it will be because it is affecting performance.

If it is affecting performance, the manager of the team should be managing this performance problem anyway.

Yes, our event may help – but without the manager taking the bull by the horns and making people accountable, not much more will change.

To summarise: performance needs managing; managers manage performance; we help.

To know your input will add value, you’ve got to know what good management is, you’ve got to be able to communicate, and you’ve got to be able to help managers do things differently.


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