The answer is, “Yes, if you have the right tools”
Activities that are designed to strengthen team working have been under the cosh over the past 18 months. Covid restrictions and precautions have meant that without the ability to gather team members together in a physical space, most team development has been put on hold. It’s understandable but not sustainable. Teams need to focus on how they operate, work on their strengths and eradicate their weaknesses. And they need to do this regularly.
I’m sure that many of us have experienced those team-based outward-bound activities. For some people, the idea of them fills them with horror, whilst others get a major thrill from throwing themselves into icy water or leaping into the air sixty feet up to grab a swinging branch. The programmes are designed to be fun and to bond teams together. But they aren’t always fun, and there is little evidence that they do much to improve team performance. Yes, they create shared memories for team members to reminisce or grimace over; they give team members an opportunity to discover what they are made of outside of the normal working environment; and they definitely push people out of their comfort zone; but as most teams aren’t required to leap off tall trees or build rafts as part of their daily activities, what is the effect of the experience?
I’m being harsh, I know. There are some great instructors who can weave together a wonderful learning experience whereby teams come to understand the value and power of team working. But recognising that teamworking is a powerful and desirable thing isn’t the same as knowing what you need to do to create a high performing business team. One that can handle its tasks, relationships, stakeholders, and processes with aplomb; and deliver strong results time and time again.
I started out heavily involved in outward bound team training. I personally have wonderful memories of it, despite a few hairy moments on wobbly platforms way up in the forest canopy high above the ground. But it isn’t walking backwards off a rock face, or orienteering, or pushing yourself to overcome your fear of heights that makes the difference to how a team subsequently performs. A one-off team jolly in the woods followed by a hearty pub meal might do wonders for your adrenaline, but probably won’t make you a better performing team. The difference comes from the regular coaching support that follows, and the structures that are put in place.
So as my consultancy career has developed, I have embraced all forms of activity that stimulates self-reflection and group awareness (whether inside or outside, at height or on the ground), and used this as the springboard for deliberate and controlled action. I’ve incorporated all sorts of playful and interesting activities from herding ducks to creating a catwalk fashion show, from cooking to creating cocktails; as rewards, to create relaxed social interaction, to test problem solving and communication skills, and to demonstrate what happens when teams work effectively. And until recently, I did this face-to-face.
It has been hard to imagine how the experiences and processes described above could happen any way other than face to face. Without physically leaping into the air, how can you experience the thrill? And team coaching is a nuanced activity that benefits from an experienced coach working closely with a team in a dynamic situation. The existing online solutions (webinars and videoconferences) just don’t seem to cut it.
The Economic Imperative to Challenge the Status Quo
The absence of a viable alternative to face-to-face team training is a problem. And it is a problem that, with Covid, has really started to hurt us. Without an effective substitute; one that can generate the same level of engagement, excitement, and learning; teams have been left with few options other than to park their team development entirely.
This matters because it has significant economic implications. With productivity around the world being woefully low, especially in the UK, we need teams to be performing at their optimal level. It is repeatedly estimated in various studies conducted by reputable agencies that teams can become up to 25% more productive with the right focus and support. We have seen this ourselves with the teams we have supported. And what about mental health, employee engagement, a sense of belonging? These too are casualties when teams put team development on the back burner.
The bottom line is that we cannot afford to scrimp on team development. It isn’t a nice to have. It is one of the cornerstones of economic stability and industrial growth. And that means we MUST find a way to provide it that doesn’t require people schlepping all over the country or the world to meet up in outward bound centres, hotels, or company meeting rooms.
There is a New Solution
Fortunately, Kay-Lambert Associates have developed an online solution they call Muster™. It is a team facilitation toolkit which incorporates multi-player games and activities that stimulate great team working, help create effective team processes and practices, and guide teams through a journey of improvement. Drawing upon gamification techniques and utilising strong visuals and animation, it is a networked, web-enabled application that Team members can log into remotely from anywhere in the world. There is no need to download anything, and the application will load on standard PC and Mac devices, assuming you have an internet connection.
What does this new way of experiencing team development mean for teams?
The benefits are enormous.
No need to jump in a car, hop on a train, or board a plane which is also great for the planet
No need to hire a training room or catering facilities
No physical consumables, which is also great for the environment
Ability to host team development events regularly, ensuring momentum is maintained
Access professional team development without the need for an external facilitator
Host sessions of any length
Muster is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Here are just some of its features:
· Comprehensive functionality in one toolkit with one sign in
Content-rich, enabling a variety of activities lasting from 30 minutes to a full day (activities, games, diagnostic tools, surveys, videos, articles, etc)
Surveys and assessments with automated and instant calculations
Templates to record team inputs and outputs
Secure cloud storage of team outputs which can be retrieved in subsequent team sessions
Performance monitoring tools
Built-in guidance for internal facilitators and team leaders
Face-to-face interaction will always be a human need, but we need to be realistic. There are so many reasons why people can’t get together, which is why solutions like Muster will become more and more important.
In the absence of face-to-face training options, Muster provides a great alternative: one that ensures that when it comes to team development