Ten Team-Building Essentials for Leaders
Bill Cottringer

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” ~Ryunosuke Satoro.

There is a sure prescription for effective team-building for leaders to be successful in their efforts. Here are the ten essential ingredients of team-building I have learned over the last 5+ decades from my eight careers in the military, law enforcement, mental health, sport psychology, corrections, building maintenance, college teaching and private security. In essence, successful team building is a practical exercise in applying basic principles of psychology.

1. The blueprints.

The blueprints of team-building come from the earlier group development process from the mental health field in psychotherapy groups. Here there are 4 definitive stages of development which all groups, or teams go through in order to become most productive and successful. These progressive stages are:

• Initial friendly warming up with cocktail chit-chat.
• Emergence of negativity from individual member’s
adopted roles, issues, personal value differences and
group concerns.
• Conflict and resolution with assertiveness and
supportive communication.
• Arriving at peak communication that builds on agreement
by integrating differences.

The only stage that usually doesn’t repeat itself during the evolution of the team is the first one. The other three stages are likened to tightening lug nuts on a wheel over and over again until they get a tight as they need to be.

2. The Foundation.

The foundation that effective teams are built upon is an earlier psychology principle called The Gestalt Principle, where the whole is always greater than the mere sum of its parts. Successful team-building outcomes always reveal that the team can accomplish much more than any of the individual members can alone. The Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors represent two NBA teams living the Gestalt Principle to make individual superstars into a superstar team.

There is another part of the foundation that is critical, and this has to do with the selection process of team members. This process obviously involves prospective team members being in alignment with all these other essentials. But, the single best predictor of a successful team member is the person’s degree of coachability. Knowing the answers to all the questions, even from a wealth of past experience, is never conducive to the team pulling together under this fundamental Gestalt Principle.

3. The cement.

The cement that holds the foundation together is the needed trust of members for each other in alignment with the right journey and destination of the team. Trust is necessary for the needed interdependency to flourish and avoid the disruption from the extremes of independence and dependence, which impede productivity and continuous forward progress.

Trust can only be built with consistently honest and trustworthy behaviors of the leader and team members. Without trust both the journey and the destination of the team is jeopardized. Extreme care must be taken to avoid even subtle erosion of trust within the team members and between the team and organization. Once gone, it may never return.

4. The Floor.

The floor of team-building is the five basic questions all team members need to ask and have answered:

• Why am I here?
• What am I supposed to be doing?
• How do I know if I am doing it right?
• Where do I go for help?
• What’s in it for me.

More trust comes with team members being sure that they are getting the correct and complete answers to these five questions.

5. The Walls.

The third developmental stage of the team-building process involves the inevitable conflicts that arise between the team and the organization, between team members and even within a team member. These conflicts aren’t something to avoid just because they are uncomfortable, because they afford the needed opportunity for valuable growth of the team.

Team conflicts can only be resolved with assertiveness and two-way, supportive communication. Effective conflict resolution is facilitated by the identification of a viable compromise where everybody wins something valuable, while not losing anything too important. This outcome occurs when compromise is not seen as a weakness or giving in, but rather as a creative strength, and where there is a consensus outcome based on each member’s mutual investment.

6. The Hammer and Nails.

The essential tools of effective team-building include two-way communication and a supportive communication climate. Two-way communication occurs when there is a healthy balance of quality talking and active listening for all team members with high clarity, impact and understanding, while misunderstanding is always clarified, A supportive climate of communication, which enhances two-way communication, is brought about by the intentional conveyance of the qualities of freedom, acceptance, empathy, spontaneity, equality and tentativeness.

On the other hand, a defensive climate of communication, which always shuts down two-way communication and team-building progress, comes about when things like control, judgment, insensitivity, manipulation, superiority and certainty are conveyed, intentionally or unintentionally.

7. The Saws and Plyers.

Sharp saws and vice-grip pliers are necessary to deal with the inevitable team-building ghosts that get in the way of forward progress in team-building. We all have a dark side with a terrible twin within, needing to be managed because of the capability of destructive behavior. The natural roles team-members play in team building—such as referee, gate-keeper, encourager, harmonizer and peace-keeper—collectively help keep the ghosts in check. These negative behaviors include fears, anger, aggression, jealousy, cynicism and egoism.

The important thing is for members to be encouraged to practice likeability which includes the attributes of honesty, humility, positivism, good listening, humor, agreeability, and empathy. These qualities enhance good communication between team members.

8. The Sandpaper.

An important reality in team-building is that good intentions don’t always get the desired results. Furthermore, it seems that we usually learn more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes.

Course corrections may be needed for failure recovery and this is where team-members must maintain open minds and mental flexibility with their resilience to bounding back from a loss, learning a success clue or two from the failure. Afterall, failure is rarely fatal, and it often allows you to start over again with better information to succeed the next time.

9. The Paint.

Painting in team-building requires a major paradigm shift with which the Information Age has challenged us all—a marked transition from the established win-lose competitive model to the newer win-win cooperative model. The good news here is that genetic research is siding with the “cooperative gene” in assuring survival of the fittest in the big evolutionary picture, as opposed to the competitive one.

Simply put, painting with a handle brush encourages competition while using a roller brush spreads cooperation. Competition delays team-building progress, whereas cooperation speeds it up.

10. The Roof.

The roof represents the team-building destination. This is the resulting winning work culture that helps the organization to perform at its best, and more importantly, sustain that success by keeping the rain away.

A winning work culture created by effective team-building includes these important elements: Starting right, selecting smartly, living core values, communicating effectively, celebrating diversity, practicing ethics, embracing change, working hard, and finishing right.

“Teamwork: Simply stated, it is less me and more we.” ~Unknown author.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D., Certified Homeland Security (CHS) level III, is Executive Vice-president for Employee Relations for Cascade Security Corporation., in Bellevue, Washington, sport psychologist, and adjunct professor in criminal justice at Northwest University. He is author of several business and self-development books, including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, ‘P’ Point Management, Reality Repair, Reality Repair RX, Thoughts on Happiness, Pearls of Wisdom: A Smart Dog’s Tale. He can be reached at 425-652-8067 or ckuretdoc.comcast.net