A make or break factor of all startups and small businesses is the cohesiveness of the teams being built. Whether the organization is starting with just a few or ramping quickly, getting new hires to work together efficiently and effectively is top of mind for leaders. If the team doesn’t jell, the road to success could be a difficult one.
When the teams are small, even the slightest hiccup caused by employees not working well together can create a much larger ripple effect. This can cause time spent on employee relations that could be used getting a product to market. For this reason, it is crucial that leaders are very deliberate, in both the pre- and post-hire process, to create an environment where new team members can get to know one another and begin to work together in a productive way.
In the last 6 years we have facilitated numerous activities geared towards helping teams establish rapport and find the path that helps them work together better. There are activities that we believe are crucial from day one and regardless of team size. These activities work whether you have 10 employees or 10,000.
Culture: I realize it seems like a buzz word at this point, but the reality is, leaders have to think about the kind of culture they are trying to build and be deliberate about hiring people that can thrive in that environment. I ask all founders questions around culture in our first meeting. It is likely they have great vision for their product or service, but we need to understand their vision for the work environment as well. Knowing the vision, helps us hire to it.
Pre-Hire Assessments*: The best hiring decisions are ones who take both skill set and intrinsic characteristics into consideration. That is, hiring processes that look as much at personality fit as they do experience. I talked in a recent post about how we use these with clients. This extra step in the interview process can greatly increase the probability that a new hire will be a great all around fit.
Peer Interviews: As much as possible, I encourage clients to include peer interviews as part of the interview process. This means that a candidate will sit with someone who would be their peer should they be hired. While this could be one more formal interview in the process, we find that making it an informal discussion often works better. As we are structuring interview processes for clients, we encourage them to include a meal with peers, typically lunch, that either breaks up the day for all day interviews or follows a more formal session with a leader. This time together gives both parties a chance to determine if there is any initial chemistry and identify any concerns they may have in working together.
Post-hire I believe there are two crucial components to team building, getting to know you and how do we move forward together. I’ll break both of those down now.
Getting to Know You Typically called Ice Breakers, getting to know you activities are focused on helping new teams get to know one another faster than might typically happen. There is often a lot of talk about these activities and their effectiveness. We have found that when the activities are targeted and not superficial, meaning we go beyond just finding out someones name and title, they can be extremely effective in starting to build camaraderie and find common ground. These activities should be customized to the team and what it is they need to know about one another in order to work together. A few we like are:
Introduce a Partner: partners ask each other five basic questions and then introduce their partner to the group answering those five questions.
Common Ground: a quick activity that starts to find commonalities. Groups of 5-10 are created and given a short window of time to come up with 10 things they all have in common. These should not be generic things (like we all have arms), but specific.
Getting to Know Communication Preferences: a personal favorite of mine since communication, or lack thereof, can make or break a team, this activity asks questions targeted to help team members understand how one communicate and how they like to be communicated to. Answers are then shared.
Myers Briggs*: people resonate with Myers Briggs. Understanding their personality type and the type of those around them is an eye opening experience. It is an amazing getting to know you exercise that dives deeply into the why and how of people. Understanding type and working with people based on their preferences improves team communication and productivity.
Moving Forward Together
After time getting to know one another it is always important to have some activity that gets people thinking about how they will take all of this knowledge, coupled with the mission of the team and work together. Often for us, it means these activities are customized. Understanding what the leader is trying to achieve with the team, coupled with the personalities on the team we customize an activity (ies) that start to build towards that end. Every team is unique and because these activities must have impact, it’s hard to throw a blanket solution out there that works for everyone. I can tell you a few components that all of our activities have.
Tie In…. it may be a tie in to the key values that have just been shared or the mission that was just rolled out or the culture that the leader is building. Whatever it is, the activity has to have a tie in. Doing trust falls are great if you have trust issues (not really but just go with me), if not, they are a waste of time. Team building activity for the sake of having an activity does no one any good. There must be a purpose.
Facilitation great activities are facilitated by individuals who know not only how to administer the activity, but know how to bring it all together, to combat push back and ensure the activity lands the message it is intended to land. The right facilitator can make or break these activities.
A Visual Reminder after the activity people will be energized for a few days. Over time, work and life happens and people will forget the important lessons learned during your time together. For that reason, our activities always provide a visual that can be hung up in the office or kept on an intranet as a constant reminder of the time spent and the outcomes that decided how we were all going to work together going forward.
We often hear from leaders who say they have conducted team building activities and they didn’t work. They are an easy thing to get wrong. The steps and ideas we have outlined here are all part of a very thorough process that ensures the best teams are hired and become productive. In startup and small business life, the alternative can be costly.
Getting this right means less time doing it over. It means that teams are productive faster. It means quickly building a team bond that in startup life, which can be chaotic and uncertain, will be the glue that holds it all together. Small businesses can not afford to not do this. Throwing teams together and hoping for the best rarely works for long. Being deliberate in these areas is a long term strategy for small businesses who think big.
*We are certified in Hogan Assessments and in administering the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
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