Saturday, October 3, 2015

'Team Building' is not a Cure-All

As a performance consultant, clients expect me to be able to help them improve performance and increase results.
Team building is good for many things:  create alignment, build relationships, communicate goals, and (obviously) energize.
But it can't do everything.
One recent client, let’s call him Rick, was an executive VP at a company in the Medical Device Industry.
Rick wanted me to come in and work with his marketing team.  He said they needed to do some “team building”.
As is part of my process, I did a discovery interview with him over the phone to find out more of what this meant.
Rick talked about the fact he had recently hired Paul from the outside as the manager of the marketing team.  Paul’s entry to the team coincided with a company restructuring, so two smaller teams were being integrated to become one larger marketing team.    Paul was brought in because of his expertise in consumer research.   Rick wanted to ensure that there was a smooth transition, and was bringing me in to help as they were going through “growing pains”.
As I probed deeper about Paul and his role, I noticed a hesitancy in Rick’s voice, and got the sense that I wasn’t getting the full story.  It seemed that Rick was glossing over some important details, but he wasn’t wanting to share.
My instincts were bang-on.   It turned out that “team-building” wasn’t the issue.   A few of the of the marketing group hated Paul, and thought he was brought in to fire half of them.  
In addition, there was one team member, Roberta, who everyone hated more than Paul.  She had been seen as “dead weight”, complaining and mainly being a thorn in the side of the team, sabotaging their ability to move forward.
It became clear that the issues with Roberta were performance-related, and no amount of “team building” would do anything to change that.
Paul and Rick were in denial–they kept hoping that if everyone just talked some more, the problems with Roberta would go away, and morale would generally improve.   They also couldn’t come out and be truthful about what was going on.
Conflict avoiding cultures will do incredible workarounds keep out of the heat of the kitchen.  The costs (in time, money, morale, and effectiveness) can be huge.
Where have you seen "team building" used to avoid dealing with the elephant in the room?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.