How to Exercise Your Team to Promote Peak Performance

After you’ve assembled a team to work on a project, there’s still a lot of team-building that needs to take place before it becomes a productive and efficient unit. A team is much more than a bunch a people thrown into a cramped room to work on a fairly daunting task. A team needs time and space to transform itself into a cohesive and sleek group of people who become more than the sum of their parts. It’s the responsibility of the team leader to help this metamorphosis take place as quickly and easily as possible.

Frankensteins Monster

Frankenstein's Monster

It might help to pretend your team is like a newly-formed Frankensteinian monster (without the nasty part that makes little girls cry or tears off the limbs of pitchfork-toting villagers). You have a brand-spanking-new creature assembled from the talents, skills, strengths, and weaknesses of very diverse people. Now your monster needs to learn how to do something besides sitting around looking pretty. It needs to improve its coordination and build up its muscle mass so that it can accomplish the Herculean feats you have in mind. Therefore, to get your team into shape you need to dust off the metaphorical elliptical machine or free-weight bench and start exercising your team on a regular basis. In fact, it needs to start happening at the very first team meeting.

What Happens At Your First Team Meeting?

So, you are at the first team meeting. Most likely you are sitting with a group of people who have been chosen based on some criteria. The group may or may not be aware of the selection process and their personality styles. You all know that you are being asked to complete a task (or project). You know it’s time to get started because “time is money.” So the natural first step is to jump in and get started, right? Wrong.

090406-team-building-handsBefore any significant work begins, it is important to take some time to solidify the team by building trust and setting goals. The goals we are talking about here are not necessarily project goals and outcomes. They are the social goals of the team, such as professionalism, expressive freedom, and the like. Without this component, the team is likely to end up functioning as individual parts rather than a cohesive whole.

So What Kind of Exercises Do Teams Need?

There are many team building activities that will get the ball rolling. Some managers opt to take the team off-site for a day of team building activities. Some opt to set aside a segment of each meeting. These decisions are often based on the size of the team, the length of the project, and yes, budget.

Whatever course you choose, keep in mind that the social aspect of team building is as vital as, if not more than, the skill set that helped define the makeup of the team.

Below is one example of a simple, 15-minute team-building exercise.

  • Gather a long, thick cotton rope, two long ropes tied together, or a garden hose with the ends screwed together. Have team members sit on the floor and form a circle. Lay a rope with connected ends inside the circle. Tell team members they are to grab the rope and pull outward at the same time until everyone is able to stand up without letting go of the rope. Give a signal. Let the team try the feat until they are able to accomplish it. Debrief with questions such as:
    • Would the activity have been any fun or have been possible if you had done it alone? Have them explain their answers.
    • Why is teamwork important? Answers may include: (1) Many ideas and viewpoints from a team can produce invention. (2) Teamwork builds loyalty. (3) Teamwork teaches people to work together toward common goals. (4) Teamwork teaches people cooperation. (5) Teams solve problems more effectively because there is a lot of input. (6) Many hands make light work. In other words, a job can be done faster and with greater ease when many people are contributing.

Using small exercises like this in addition to valuing the strengths and preferences of each member will help the group move from simply working side-by-side to synergistic teamwork!

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