Pre- and Post-Hire Team Building Ideas for Startups and Small Businesses

Team Building Ideas for Small Businesses and Start Ups

Uncover team building ideas for small businesses and start ups at

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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How Recent LGBT Activity Affects Your Business

how LGBT activity affects business

A few weeks ago I shared my thoughts around recent LGBT activities and how it will affect businesses with my email subscribers. I had several of them respond that they really hadn’t thought about any effects as they assumed the issues really didn’t affect the workplace.

They really do.

Between the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage, the mostly positive attention showered on Caitlyn Jenner and the push to ensure anti-discrimination laws are updated to include many of these issues, there is actually something very important for workplaces to consider.

From a tactical standpoint, there is likely very little that employers will have to do. Since benefit plans already cover married spouses, and homosexuals unions are now recognized as marriage, no change in policies needs to be made. The only consideration would be if companies had more employees now taking advantage of benefits and the costs that could be associated with that.

Where the recent flurry of activity has the opportunity to greatly impact the workforce is in diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, this is still an emotional hot button for people. Some agree and some don’t and when they get together arguments, or worse, break out. Regardless of what side the employer’s leadership is on, one thing is evident. Discriminating against sexual orientation and/or identity will not be tolerated by the courts.

While we would all like to believe that the individuals under our employment are adults and can work with someone even if that person lives their life in a way that they disagree with, the reality of the world we live in is very different. Simply stating to managers and employees that discrimination will not be tolerated is not enough.

In fact, I’m not even sure discrimination is the thing that employers have to worry about.

It’s harassing,
name calling,
and all of the other things that we “adults” resort to when we so strongly disagree.

In the area of training, I contend, that diversity and inclusion training is one of the areas where companies fall the shortest. Put simply, we do not do enough in American businesses to ensure diversity is a priority and inclusion is part of the culture. We say lots of nice things about it, but our words fall very flat.

My hope is that businesses will take this opportunity they have right now and incorporate true diversity and inclusion training and activities into their everyday culture. Take the time now to make this a priority and try to avoid the issues that can arise from not taking it seriously.

I’m certainly not advocating training or activities that isolate or draw attention to one group of people, but just using this time in our country’s history to focus more on employees as a whole and how we can help them work better together.

For a true expert on the subject of diversity and inclusion and to read more on the subject, check out my friend Joe.

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Training May Be The Answer to Open Positions

employee training

No Luck Filling Open Positions? Look Internally?

Earlier in my career the company I worked for was having a difficult time filling an open position. We had tried every recruiting method available to us at the time. This was a very conservative company, so when I say available to us, I mean all methods they would allow (this was before social media anyway, but they would have never gone for that). We had reviewed pay and benefits to see if that was the issue. It wasn’t. We reviewed the job description to see if what we were asking for was unattainable. It wasn’t.

We had conducted a few interviews so we knew the skill set existed. Yet, we just couldn’t come across someone with the background we were looking for.

One piece of credit I will give this company is that they were very open to promoting from within. Initially when the role had been developed we looked long and hard for someone internal ready to step into the role. There just wasn’t anyone with the background the role required. My boss at the time suggested a few people that she thought would be great in the role, but would need a little training to get there. The hiring manager’s response was that she didn’t have time to train and needed someone now.

Except nearly four months later we had no one.

We had to sit back down and explain that we could keep going down this path and looking for people who aren’t there or we could reconsider training some of those people who were already with us and would love the opportunity to step into this role.

Being a typical leader who likes to make things complicated explore all avenues, she asked us to keep looking, but she would temporarily move someone into the role, train them and then see how that worked out.

One month later she told us to stop looking.

I realize training can sometimes take a while, but so can recruiting a purple squirrel. If open roles are taking too long to fill, training someone to do the job may be your best option.

Of course long term workforce and succession planning where you always have a plan of movement from one role to the next is the best answer, but while you are working towards that, training will do!

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Why Your Managers Need Interview Training Now!

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Interview Techniques to Uncover True Potential

It is a common misconception that leaders who need to fill open positions know how to interview for those positions. Surely, if they have worked there way up to that position, they know how to interview. I mean, how hard can it be?

That depends.

If you are expecting interviews to sift out the absolute best candidate then they can be difficult.

If you just need a warm body, then they are a piece of cake.

Beyond the legal ramifications of letting someone lose interviewing who doesn’t know what can and can’t be asked, there are cultural and financial risks as well. According to Inc, employee turnover costs employers 150% of that individuals annual salary. While not all turnover can be attributed to poor interview techniques, much of it can.

Interviewing is like an investigation. Proper interview techniques uncover several different things about an individual in order to determine if they are the right person for the job. Such as not can they do the job, but do they fit in with the work environment. How will their personality blend with other team members? Can the company provide the type of environment the individual needs to really thrive? Can the individual provide the level of communication and innovation necessary to excel in this role?

The ability to uncover what is needed in an interview is not innate in most people. It is a skill. An art form. It requires training.

Interview training.

Training hiring managers on proper interview techniques helps them know how to ask the right questions in order to really understand a person’s skill set. It will help them realize when to probe further and how to do that properly. Finally, proper interview techniques help managers listen more than talk and make proper hiring decisions after the interview.

Not interviewing properly can cost a company untold amounts of money in the form of high turnover. Few things are worse in business then going through a very lengthy hiring process only to find that the candidate you thought was the perfect fit is not going to work out only after a few months. What that does, not only to the bottom line, but also to current employee morale and workload is difficult to overcome.

If your managers have not been trained in proper interviewing techniques recently – or ever – then now may be the time to consider adding it to your leadership training.

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Do Leadership Retreats Really Work?

leadership team development

When the Leadership Team Needs Development – What Really Works?

While working with a client last week, she was discussing how she felt like the executive team needed some kind of leadership team development to help them be able to work better together. I asked her if she was talking about a few hours one afternoon or a weekend retreat.

“Do those retreats really work?”

It’s a fair question. Certainly with all of the press in recent years about companies going under but able to afford sending their executives to pricey weekends in Vegas one can see why executive retreats have gotten a bad wrap.

I think they can be valuable. Just like anything though, the success of leadership team development, especially if you chose to use a retreat to do it, depends on a few things.

If it is determined that a 2-3 day offsite is necessary for intense leadership team development, I suggest getting it facilitated by a trained practitioner. My friends at HALF FULL does this and my clients who have used them love them. The facilitator should be diligent about understanding your needs, what you want to accomplish and then how you want to accomplish it. What I love about what Rebecca and her team do is that she has time for meaningful discussion sprinkled in with fun activities. Many retreats are all about activities but then allow no time to discuss how to practically apply what you learned in the activities about each other and the team.

Communicating the goals of any team development activity should be done thoroughly. The attending parties need to know exactly what is expected to be accomplished. Ideally, they would even have input in to what the key objectives should be. The objectives should be very specific as well. Setting out expectations that we will “work better together” is not nearly as measurable as we will “identify three areas where we can work more effectively with one another and what we are going to do about them.”

In addition to the participating members knowing why the retreat is necessary, every other employee should know as well. That’s right. I believe that in order for the retreat to be effective, all employees need to know why it’s taking place, when, who is in charge while everyone is gone, what the learning objectives are and how employees will know it was effective.

If this step is skipped, employees will assume the execs are off golfing all day while they are slaving away. Even if you communicate effectively, they may still think that which is why the last step is so crucial.

Whatever those goals were before you went, post them in a public place. Upon your return and for weeks/months after, update your progress. Have each executive talk to their employees about what they did on the retreat and what they feel was accomplished. Have them talk about how the retreat is going to help them be more effective and what key changes they may be making as a result. Giving as much information as possible to make employees feel they were there will help ease any ideas they have about this being an executive vacation.

Leadership team development can be expensive and take away time from the office, but I do think they add value when done properly. An executive team that takes them seriously and works better together as a result is never a waste of time.

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Turning Business Core Values into Employee Behaviors

core values

Core Values are Just Words if You Can’t Turn Them Into Action

You are a small business owner. You have this amazing product or service. You have poured your blood, sweat and tears, quite literally into building a business you are extremely proud of. You have vision, you know your mission and you operate your business based on a set of core values that are very important to you.

Now it’s time to hire.

How do you ensure that your employees will share your passion? How do you instill your core values so deeply that they translate into employee behavior?

It might seem like a tall order but the process is actually very simple. That’s what I like to do on this blog. Take what seems to be a tough situation and give a very practical, easy solution. What I can’t do through the blog is implement. You have to do that.

(Actually you could hire me to implement, but you would still have work to do.)

Sidebar: if you are a leader who is unsure of your core values then this article is not going to help you. Try this.

Core values let people know what you are about. They emphasize what you hold close and what is important to you. Words like character, competence, committment, innovation, empowerment, diversity and ownership all describe core values.

In my presentation on leadership theories, I talked about the three E’s and they are relevant here as well. Educate, Emulate and Enforce. I’m also going to add one more: empower.

Educate – not a single employee is likely to embrace your core values if you do not tell them what they are. From recruitment to on-boading to performance reviews, every training and educational opportunity must educate and remind employees of the core values.

Emulate – The old adage “actions speak louder than words” fits here. It’s one thing to say what your core values are, it’s another to constantly emulate them. For example, if one of your core values is quality and you let a product out the door that is not up to standards, you are not emulating your core values. They then loose all of their power.

Empower – Working from Panera the other day I overheard a phone conversation between an employee and who I assume was his boss. The boss was clearly telling him he could not do something he wanted to do – it was too risky. When the employee hung up he looked at me and said, “I work for a company who claims innovation is a core value but apparently that’s only if you are at a certain level.” How frustrating. Make sure all of your employees are empowered to demonstrate your core values to the best of their ability.

Enforce – Employees who can not grasp the core values or who continually choose to work outside of them need to go. Period. There can be no debate about this. I don’t care if they are your brother. If they are not onboard and willing to demonstrate the values you set forth in your business, they need to go.

Easy right?!? With just a little determination and prioritizing, it can be.

So here’s your homework. Look at your recruitment process, your on-boarding, your performance management process and your daily actions (YOUR daily actions). Do they all educate, emulate, empower and enforce your core values? If not, you have a little work to do.

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Teaching Time Management – A Case Study

time management

Can Time Management Skills Be Taught?

I love a good case study. I enjoy reading through a problem and then seeing the solution with actual results. Case studies actually happened. They are not theoretical. Events took place, challenges were presented and were overcome. Fun stuff.

Ok I’m a nerd who spends any tv time she has watching real life crime dramas (ID channel is my favorite). I like the real stuff, really real, not Kardashian real.

But I digress.

I have a case study for you today from my own career. In 2008 I was the Director of People Services (HR) for a call center company. Anytime we opened a new center I was the HR liaison. This year we opened a call center in Kingston Jamaica. While this was not our first international call center, this one was different than any others. First, it was the first that the company owned rather than outsourcing. Second, it is the first built from the ground up on international soil. Everyone except the General Manager was hired in Jamaica. Third, it was the first where we owned ingraining American culture in an environment that was very different.

I spent a ton of time in Jamaica and learned to love the culture and people. That experience taught me more than possibly any other experience in my career. Not only did I learn about conducting international business, but I learned about diversity, stretching boundaries and perceptions that others have of Americans. It was eye opening.

One of the major challenges that presented itself initially with the center in Jamaica was time management. The story you hear about Jamaicans being so relaxed is partially true. They are a hard working culture that does not indulge in daily naps as is often told, but they do enjoy a more relaxed nature when it comes to managing their time.

Being an American company with American clients and a call center at that, time management is essential to success. It was a challenge to overcome and quickly.

Click on presentation below to read a quick case study on how we overcame the time management crisis and was able to actually teach it as a skill.

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The Value of On-The-Job Training

on the job training

On-The-Job Training Creates Experience

When I ran this Do Certifications Matter post, I received a ton of feedback about people who have education or certifications coming out of their ears but can not actually do the job at hand to save their lives. On Friday, I will be answering the question, “How do I get job experience if no one will give me a chance?”

This is quite the conundrum isn’t it?

Employers want experience. Employees need employers to give them the opportunity to get the experience. Sounds like a chicken and egg thing right? I don’t want to give away Friday’s answer which will be geared towards what the job seeker can do so I’m going to focus this post to employers.

Do not underestimate the value of on-the-job training.

Somewhere along the way we decided that we should be able to write out a perfect list of desired qualifications and experience and that candidates should have to fit every one. We decided that individuals who came to us with the need for little to no training was better than the candidate who came to us with the willingness (and eagerness) to learn.

Somewhere we decided that we didn’t have time to offer training and that if people wanted to keep up they would need to hit the ground running. Literally.

Somewhere we decided that if we could give people the bare minimum amount of information that they needed to do their job and then expected them to figure out the rest that they would indeed figure it out and then take that experience elsewhere.

Oh wait, maybe we haven’t figured that last one out yet.

I am fully convinced that we have the recruitment process all wrong. We look for experience over characteristics. We value years in a job over willingness to learn new things. We hold titles in high esteem with little regard to how the title was achieved. Rather than looking for the person who fits in best to our culture, even if that means we have to train them, we look for the person whose resume reads like our job description. Even if they are jerks.

Creating and providing meaningful on-the-job training programs creates engagement from both current and potential employees. In areas where I live heavy in manufacturing, experience is hard to come by and companies who offer on-the-job training are never short of candidates. Those that don’t, send me pictures of purple squirrels and say “go find this”.

If your talent pool is shallow is it maybe because you are asking for too much up front and not willing to give anything once they are hired? Could some of that experience you so desperately want in candidates but can never seem to find become part of a comprehensive on-the-job training program? Think hard. The answer might surprise you.

PS: Keep in mind that many states have programs for on-the-job training which may reimburse the employer a portion of an individual’s salary. Here is the info for IL, but if you search your specific state, you can find info fairly easily.

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Teamwork Skills Lacking? 3 Simple Solutions!

teamwork skills

When Teamwork Skills Are Lacking, What Do You Do?

I received a call from a potential client who was looking for some facilitated activities around teamwork. His goal was to enhance the teamwork skills of several team members who seemed to prefer working alone. When I asked him why he thought they preferred this and he said, “well they are introverted and you know how introverts are.”

Yes. Yes I do.

Blaming introversion or shyness for teamwork skills that seem to be lacking is an easy route. It’s often wrong, but easy. Introversion, and I’m speaking from authority here as an introvert, is typically not what keeps people from working well in a team environment.

In actuality, when individuals appear to lack teamwork skills, often the problem lies in the environment not the individual. Not always, but often.

Before you start looking at how to enhance teamwork skills in individuals, make sure you are fostering the right teamwork environment. If any of the following things are lacking, you may have found your issue.

Clearly Defined Roles
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that 99% of the time, this is the problem. In a team environment where work has the opportunity to overlap, individuals are not sure how they are supposed to contribute. If individuals do not have clear expectations around how they will contribute they often just stop contributing. Make sure roles are clearly defined and understood by everyone.

Create a Safe Environment
Want people to shut down quickly? Make them feel as though their voice is not heard. That will shut them up. Anytime team members feel their opinion or thoughts are not considered, their participation decline immensely. Ensure that every team member feels they have a safe environment to share ideas or voice concerns. The minute they feel they will be ignored or chastised for voicing their opinion is the minute you lose them as a team member.

Mediate Disagreements
Disagreements are bound to happen in a team environment. Ideally all team members would have the ability to work through problems with one another without the need for outside help, but that isn’t always the case. Once disagreements go too far and it is clear that the team members are not going to be able to work through it on their own, intervention must be swift. Letting problems linger hoping they will go away only serves to halt any progress the group could hope of having towards their goal. Leaders must mediate disagreements and ensure everyone can get back on track appropriately.

Creating the right setting for teamwork skills to flourish means more efficiency and effectiveness. It also means even larger tasks can be accomplished. Ensuring the three items above are happening consistently opens the door for better teamwork….even with introverts!

teamwork skills

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Gamification and Corporate Training. Making Learning Fun.


Can Candy Crush Help Corporate Trainers?

The popular Facebook and smart phone game, Candy Crush, earns a reported $633,000 per day in the US app store alone. It has more than 6.7 million active users who have crushed over 1 trillion pieces of candy.

For free.

Well not free money for those who are paying for extra lives, but free time.

They are not being paid to play or given special time. They do this for fun.

King, the creator of Candy Crush, are obviously not pioneers in gamification, games have been around for years. What they did seem to capitalize on is human impulse. People spend money on Candy Crush because they are hooked and so unbelievably engaged that the impulse to keep going when they run out of lives or moves is strong. The reality is, we love games. They help us escape and focus on something else for a while.

I’ve heard a couple of different speakers talk about how they are using this in their business. The CEO of Sears talked about how they use gamification in their store environment. Playing off of Facebook’s mood status (where you can chose how you are feeling at the moment), they instituted a quick multiple choice question that employees answer when they clock in and out for the day.

The question is simply how they are feeling and has a few selections such as stressed or happy. They answer the question when they come in and when they leave. Sears HR analyst then jump all over the data to better understand employee engagement. For example, if 99% of employees come in happy and leave stressed on a busy Saturday then maybe staffing is an issue. If 99% of employees come in happy and leave pissed off on the same day a big corporate announcement went out, maybe their communication is off.

Deloitte called in Badgeville to help them add a points and badge system to their online corporate training. They then publish a leader board and just having employees see their name on (or not) on the board has increased the level of interaction in the online training.

Gamification on a Smaller Scale

gamificationObviously these are large companies with big budgets, but there are ways smaller companies can use this as well. Such as mailing puzzle pieces to an upcoming class around a theme that will be taught. I’ve been in classes before where the facilitator used those peg board games you see at Cracker Barrel stores where you try to only leave one piece to discuss what happens when you “jump over” people or try to find “work arounds” – you are left standing alone. May seem silly, but it drove the point home.

Gamification is not a new topic but one that does seem to be gaining more and more momentum. For facilitators, finding ways to make learning fun, whether that be in a complex online game or by playing checkers to drive a point can go a long way in increasing the saturation level of the training. In an environment where everyone is thinking of 10 million different things at once, doing anything possible to get people to retain what you are saying is golden.

Have you used or been in an environment that used gamification? Tell us about it.

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