Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success


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Team Building, The Skill That Everyone Needs

Q: What do collaboration, culture, agility and transformation all have in common other than being overused business buzzwords?

A: They all require staff who have the ability to build teams and ensure that they remain vibrant, regardless of the situation. 

Every organisation needs teams where the members know what it means to be the best version of themselves. Teams who feel connected to a vision or purpose that is achievable, that have agreed how to work together to solve a problem, exploit an opportunity, or deliver a product/service and who feel supported in everything that they do. It doesn’t matter whether there are 5 or 5000 staff. Whether they are building software or selling underwear. Whether they are based in India or Indiana. Teams are culture and culture is made of teams.

Despite this, most executives ignore the obvious development need and invest in perceived quick-fix solutions instead. Things like:

  • Accreditation courses
  • Off-site Meetings
  • Tools
  • Restructures
  • Process redesign
  • Open plan offices.

Don’t get me wrong, these things can all be effective (apart from that last one - that definitely doesn’t work). However, if you don’t have people who understand how to build and maintain great teams then these things are all worthless. And unfortunately, most organisations don’t have enough people who know how to build great teams.

Instead, they assume that everyone in a position of responsibility (sometimes appointed without asking the question ‘How do you build a great team?’) has these skills. They don’t. When I talk to managers about this in meetings or at conferences, they’ll say things like ‘It’s not a priority for us right now’ or similar excuses, when in reality it should be the biggest priority. 

Of course, it’s entirely possible that someone is appointed who knows what they’re doing and makes an immediate difference. Someone who is high in emotional intelligence and puts themselves in service of others to co-create something that’s high-performing in application, not in aspiration. Someone who has learned from others they’ve worked with. Who’s read books, blogs and studied other teams to see how they tick and how they remain focused when there is a problem.

For everyone else, there just isn’t currently the investment - or forward-thinking leadership - to provide people with these skills, even though it could fundamentally change the dynamic between people and give the company  the results they’re looking for.

When was the last time you encouraged a group of people to get together and agree on a vision for whatever it is they’re working towards? Encouraged them to take the time to collectively agree ‘how’ you’ll work together to achieve it? A week ago? A month, a year…never?

If you don’t believe your people have the skills to do it, then you need to upskill them, quickly.

The statistics show us how important these skills are.

In Salesforce’s ‘Is poor collaboration killing your company?’ survey, 86% of respondents cited poor collaboration or ineffective communication as the reason for workplace failure.

Last year’s AI - The Future of Teamwork survey from Atlassian found that:

  • Increases in productivity are the lowest in 30 years
  • 59% say that communication is the biggest obstacle to success
  • 78% don't fully trust their teammates
  • 86% don't fully trust their teammates to adapt to changing situations

Gartner found that culture and people are the biggest barriers to digital transformation.

In the Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey earlier this year, 94% say that 'agility and collaboration' are critical to their organisation's success, yet only 6% say that they are 'highly agile today'. Indeed the number one human capital trend identified for 2018 was the ability to redesign an organization ‘to be more digital and responsive’ (with 59% of companies rating it as “urgent”).

Building teams is a skill that everyone needs. Even if there are some people who aren’t intent on building a team of their own, they need to know how to be a good team member and be empathetic towards those taking the lead.

As we become more geographically dispersed and people embrace the gig economy, it’s more important now than ever that everyone understands how to build connection in a way that is purpose-driven, productive and personable.

Team building skills will never go out of fashion as, despite the rise of AI, human beings are still best suited to spurring on people or leading change. If investing in team building skills isn’t a priority for you or your organisation, then you need to show some courage and insist that it is.