Joanne has a team of 12 employees reporting to her; she hired most of them in the last six months. One day, she realizes that recruiting and training them wasn’t enough. The team operates far too slowly and lacks any sense of flexibility—they don’t have any fun, she thinks. And then it dawns on her: There’s very little conversation or camaraderie; everyone is immersed in his or her own world, rather than engaging with each other. The team’s not in sync.
So Joanne does what every team leader is expected to do: She organizes a team-building event, complete with the usual icebreakers, games and a barbecue at a sunny destination far from the office. The team has a blast, sharing a few laughs and offering feedback in the circle. Joanne is overjoyed with the positive results and happy to leave the past behind. But—then what?
Everyone is hyped up for a couple of days, but eventually everything returns to normal. After a while, Joanne realizes her well-thought-out team-building event has proven to be a waste of time and company money.
But does it have to end there?
Be S.M.A.R.T. about it
For most companies these days, organizing a team-building event isn’t really a matter of resources. It’s about getting it right, and, hopefully doing so from the beginning. What most unsuccessful coordinators of such events fail to realize is that team building shouldn’t be just an opportunity to have fun and enjoy an afternoon away from the office. Rather, it should be viewed as an ongoing project, with set goals and deadlines.
Team-building activities are simply steps to help your team reach the goal of greater cohesion. To achieve that goal, it’s a matter of choosing the right tools. In short, team building is really just another strategic decision—like any other you might make for your organization.
As in other areas of business, it’s a good idea to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for your team-building projects. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
- Specific: clearly defined and easily understandable for everyone involved
- Measurable: can be assessed, compared, used for prediction or evaluation, etc.
- Achievable: challenging but realistic
- Relevant: consistent with your other goals, without sidetracking you in the long run
- Time-bound: have a deadline
Identifying and setting goals for your team
Part of Joanne’s problem was that she failed to identify specific problems and set goals to achieve them prior to her team’s networking event. “Fixing a communication issue” is not really a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Instead, Joanne should have worked to define the expected behavior for her team. What can be defined as good communication?
Let’s say that Joanne leads an agile team that works in weekly sprints. Almost everyone is a specialist in his or her field, while Joanne and some others provide interdisciplinary connections. Every member gets into situations where input is needed from someone else—and fast. Employees are expected to
- find the relevant team member,
- ask a specific question and
- provide a clear answer if asked.
This is the ideal scenario, but not the current one. To get the group to a place where the above is standard practice, what specific goals should be set? Let’s say we want to
- inform each team member about one another’s specialties and
- make space and time for such interactions (to discuss and collaborate but avoid disturbing others).
Are these goals achievable? Yes, they are. Relevant? Sure, for an agile team that’s expected to collaborate. Time-bound? If we have a measurement, we can define deadlines.
But how can you measure the time spent on these goals? It’s possible to clock the time spent on communication, but that doesn’t provide any real insight since part of the meetings may be taken up by idle chat. We also can’t simply tally the number of questions asked. So how do we evaluate the time spent on these interactions?
Common pitfalls in evaluating teamwork
When it comes to teamwork, it can be difficult to know exactly what to measure and how. The obvious choice is to use some sort of generic online survey tool. These surveys tend to use Likert Scale-type items—e.g. completely disagree, somewhat disagree, agree, etc. These are useful tools for certain types of questionnaires, which creates the illusion that anyone can harness their power. But that’s not really true.
Likert surveys ask for your opinion on a scale, resulting in what professionals call attitudinal data. Data of this type is easy to get but hard to use, because attitudinal data does not relate well to behaviors. For example, your team might give you the attitudinal feedback that everyone enjoyed your team building events. However, after a couple of days it becomes apparent that this satisfaction did not translate to altered behavior, and everything is back how it was prior to the training.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid using attitudinal data, since better behavioral sources are available.
Breaking the ice—and tracking the results
Let’s return to our example. Joanne realizes the core of her team’s problem is a lack of communication. She wants to use icebreakers as a team-building tool, but she’s not sure if this will be another waste of money and time.
She decides to create a map of communication. She asks everyone to name the members of the team with whom they communicate on a daily basis, and she draws a map with circles as people and lines to represent communication among them. This is what’s known as a sociogram, and it’s the most basic form of network analysis.
By asking her team members to name other people they communicate with daily, she gathers behavioral data. So, what now? After the training, Joanne waits a couple of days, and again she maps the communication with a new sociogram to compare the two. If the second sociogram looks better, with more lines among the circles, then the icebreaker game did its job.
The sociogram works well for small groups, but it can be less helpful for teams larger than four or five people. There are many mistakes that can be made and many pitfalls involved in simply drawing the map—not to mention the difficulty in evaluating the results. Network science is an interdisciplinary field, drawing insights from sociology, psychology and mathematics; it’s not easy to understand the results without a scientific background.
A new way to measure group activities
Joanne likes the way the sociogram helps her measure the effectiveness of the group exercises. What she doesn’t like are the long nights spent drawing the charts, along with the feeling that the process could be more efficient. Is there a faster way?
CX-Ray solutions aim to fill this hole with automated network analysis tools. We have three standardized questions—chosen from a wealth of scientific experience and business intelligence—that take only two to three minutes to answer online. The visualizations and a handful of easily digestible scores get created automatically.
Built-in reports can help you on both the team and the personal level. Measurement-based insights provide you with personalized steps to get your team in shape. The upcoming network evolution feature lets you compare different timeframes interactively and intuitively. It’s as easy as sliding through a timeline or choosing dates—making it simple to compare results from surveys taken before and after training sessions.
By using CX-Ray tools to measure the effectiveness of her team’s training, Joanne gets back not only the time she was spending on creating the charts, but also tips for the next training. She instantly receives an easy-to-understand overview of her team. She also gets the useful feedback that she might be overburdened with tasks, while some other members are struggling to keep busy. As such, she learns that she’s part of the communication problem herself.
Being part of the problem prevents Joanne from being able to correct the situation on her own. Armed with this information, she hires a professional trainer and provides her with data collected via the tools of CX-Ray Inc. The experienced veteran solves the problem easily by helping Joanne delegate some of her tasks among members of the team. Having enough work to do and feeling empowered by delegation motivates the team, while Joanne gets more time to answer questions and mentor her peers.