Ten Key Questions to Ask When Evaluating Team Building Programs

The importance of cultivating cohesion, communication, and cooperation amongst teams of knowledge workers has never been more critical for igniting breakthrough, sustainable success.  Geologists have named our age the Anthropocene, meaning we are now living in a world of our own making.  It struck me how this applied to the business community as well.  We certainly are living in a world of our own making.  Gallup reports that 71% of employees are disengaged with their employers.  Slightly more than one out of four associates shows up with enthusiasm or passion for their work.  Maritz Research recently reported only one in ten employees trusts in management and 14% of associates feel that their company shares their own personal beliefs and values.  RogenSi just released their Global Mindset Survey in which they found only 12% of employees are optimistic about their future and 91% of employees are experiencing unstable motivation.  They also found that fear is a significant motivating factor in many companies today.

When we consider that the commercialization of creative ideas, so-called intellectual property, is now the driving force in value creation, we must take a fresh look at how we’re cultivating the human element.  Human creativity is the raw material in value creation today.  Based upon the current research, there’s plenty of room for improving how we engage, motivate, and lead teams of knowledge workers.  Here are ten key questions you may wish to ask when evaluating team building programs for 2012:

1.) Is the program evidence-based?  Building creative, highly adaptable teams is not a game.  It is serious business.  When evaluating competing programs, ask the vendor why they conduct their programs the way they do?  What is their driving imperative and what independent, scientifically-based evidence do they have to support their approach?

2.) Does the program integrate real-world business objectives and constraints?  For any professional development program, how it relates to actual business objectives and challenges is critical for ongoing application and effectiveness.  Are the team building activities designed around business needs?  Is it a stretch to draw business metaphors and analogies to the surface during the program?  Establishing the proper context optimizes value and your return on investment.

3.) Does the program address different learning styles?  Remarkably, this is often missed in team building programs.  During his tenure at M.I.T., Dr. David Kolb conducted research on adult learning styles and discovered that we learn using two or three of four primary learning styles.  Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory includes Experiential Learning, Reflective Learning, Modeling & Correlation, and Trial & Error.  Look for programs that incorporate all four learning styles, preferably in each exercise they conduct.  Many programs are painfully one dimensional, meaning they will only speak to a small proportion of participants.

4.) Can the vendor clearly articulate how and why their approach delivers positive shifts in behavior?  Superficial activities produce superficial results.  Ask for an explanation as to how the vendor’s approach builds emotional competencies that cultivate awareness, empathy, and compassion for teammates.  Behavior modification can only occur once a participant becomes aware of their own behavior, perspective, and the conditioning factors that affect us all.  Activities that do not address this typically produce marginal results.

5.) Is the team building activity inclusive?  The importance of this cannot be overstated.  Team building activities need to bring the entire team together in a shared experience that challenges their basic operating assumptions.  Activities like ropes courses, war games, and the like favor young, athletic participants.  But what about the fifty-two year old that has some physical limitations?  Does the program pull them into the team dynamic or push them to the periphery?

6.) Does the program address individual competencies as well as team competencies?  We’re all unique and have evolved over the course of our lives from different places resulting in different perspectives.  Highly effective team building programs understand this and leverage it fully to drive positive results.  By deconstructing the team to address individual developmental opportunities, and then reconstructing the team once these have been addressed creates a quantum shift in team efficacy.

7.) Does the program baseline key, individual competencies?  In order to fully leverage the sixth point, the vendor should conduct baseline measurements in key competencies that relate to professional performance.  Establishing a baseline enables program effectiveness and professional development to be measured.

8.) Does the program baseline key, business performance metrics?  Can you directly correlate key performance gates of the business to the team building program?  Identify gaps in performance that are critical to success and ensure the program incorporates these tangibles and put metrics in place.  This is the only way you can measure true return on investment.

9.) Does the program align with your leadership, strategy, and culture?  Is the program a good fit for your culture?  Does it support your strategy?  Most importantly, is it supported by leadership?  If a program is a marginal fit, it will most likely produce marginal results.  Close alignment helps engrain lessons-learned and the long-term, ongoing value of your investment.

10.) Is the program event-driven or process-driven?  Professional growth is not event-driven.  It is process-driven and must be reinforced over time for optimal results.  An event, if well designed and relatable to your business environment, can produce a shift in perspective…moving participants to the edge of their comfort zones so new ideas can be embraced.  That’s the foundation; the beginning of substantive change.  Programs that offer follow up coaching or additional support are measurably more successful.

The challenges of our day require innovative thinking and fresh approaches to business as usual.  To paraphrase Albert Einstein, problems cannot be solved by the same level of consciousness that created them.  Taking a critical approach when evaluating team building programs will help ensure you’re not purchasing the same level of consciousness.

© 2011, Terry Murray

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Filed under Experiential Learning, Team Building

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