Building and maintaining a solid, functional, professional team is a straight-forward process when you start from the right premise. The actions of the team must meet the personal and professional needs of the team members.
There are some practical team-building activities that will work well in most well run organizations because they help the team quickly focus on the task at hand while turning to one another for solutions.
The 30-Second Update
In a meeting with less than a dozen people, start the meeting with a 30-second update. Tell everyone to review the best professional moment they had in the last week and the best personal moment they had in the last week. This allows team members to see that the team is being successful, and it gives team members an opportunity to connect on personal issues. It takes less than 5 minutes to complete, and it ensures that everyone at the meeting is paying attention before you get into the reason you brought everyone together.
The Crash and Burn
This is a great exercise for a team that seems to be falling apart. It works best for a team with fewer than 12 members, though it can work with up to as many as 20. Pass out sheets of paper and have everyone describe what went wrong in the last day, week or relevant time period. Give them 1 minute to be as blunt as they want. Assure them you will be the only one reading the notes. Tell them the notes will be destroyed right after they are read. Tell them to leave the notes unsigned and to hand them to you folded.
Collect the folded notes and quickly look through them. Do not read them out loud, but do look for patterns in what they have to say. When you are done, take a moment to reflect then summarize what you read. Describe the problems, not in terms of people or departments, but in terms of important needs that may not have been met by the team as a whole. For example, you might say "Some of us feel our team didn't meet the customer's service requirements for this sale, while others feel the wrong solution was sold in the first place."
By describing problems in terms of business processes and the team as a whole, you identify them as team problems.
Take a match and burn the notes in a waste basket. This effectively ensures everyone that their privacy requirements have been met. They were permitted to be honest and to be heard, and now they can feel certain they won't be punished for stating what they believe to be the truth.
You should find the rest of your meeting goes smoothly. Everyone feels they have been heard, and everyone knows the problems have been identified.
The 5-Minute Brainstorm
This is a great exercise for helping companies in a crisis. It works best for teams with 20 or fewer members.
Gather team members into a room and review a particular company challenge. It may be something as simple as revenues are too low to something complex: Our rocket engines seem to be exploding on the tarmac.
Give everyone a sheet of paper and have them list, as quickly as possible, seven ways to solve this problem. It doesn't matter if the answers are ridiculous or brilliant. The key thing is to come up with more than 50 ideas in 5 minutes. Just taking the time to come up with seven solutions reminds the team that solutions to a problem exist, and they aren't working alone.
You can take time at the meeting to sort through the notes, or you can decide to look through them later while you use the rest of the meeting to make some immediate decisions about how to cope with the problem at hand. Make sure everyone at the meeting knows the notes will be read immediately after the meeting.
Team Building is a Continuous Process
Teams, like any other organic organization, need to be maintained. Team-building exercises have to accomplish real work and meet real needs efficiently in order to be of any use to the team or the company it supports. Use these techniques, and develop others, to make it easier for your team to communicate quickly, effectively and in a functional fashion.