The importance and advantages of team building in a retail environment far exceed the time and effort required to build strength, trust, reliability and accountability. Sue Tinnish, PhD and Dean of The School of Hospitality and Management at Kendall College in Chicago, Illinois, believes team building and collaboration are more important today than ever before.
Tinnish and the other deans at Kendall all believe that collaboration possesses enough importance in today’s business world that they’re in talks about adding it to the college’s core curriculum. “As middle layers of management have been reduced, people in a work environment have become increasingly called upon to function more as ‘self-led’ teams,” Tinnish says. “So there is much more focus on teamwork in the workplace.”
Team building means different things to different people in different situations. Do your employees bicker with each other? Does staff go about their individual tasks in silence without regard to their workmates and colleagues? “Defining what you want is really important,” Tinnish says “It could mean we need to build trust. It could mean I need to develop more leadership skill(s). It could mean we need to solve problems better.”
Human nature dictates that we all get along easiest with other people who are like us. It’s easier for us to agree with others who hold the same interests, backgrounds, beliefs, etc., but that’s not necessarily a recipe for a great problem solving team. “The best decisions are made by groups of very diverse individuals,” Tinnish says. “The more perspective, the more different values, the more experiences people have, the better the quality of the decision.” Team builders can overcome this paradox, and they should because it’s worth it.
What to Do
Building a solid and long lasting team might seem difficult and time consuming, and depending on your employees and their difference probably will require some time and effort. The easiest way to get team members onto the same page and create some understanding and empathy is to have team members walk in each other’s shoes for a while. Whether you do it solely for team building or for times that someone calls in sick or has a day off—which isn’t a bad idea in and of itself—this exercise allows employees to get a better feel for what the others do.
“So many times, the reason we don’t have a lot of respect for people is that we don’t necessarily see how difficult their job is, or how taxing or we don’t understand their challenges,” Tinnish says. “That kind of very experiential awareness can really help people understand other team members.”
Use the internet to find a number of “strength finder” type tools that will help you identify members’ strengths and weaknesses. Do this in a team building environment so each team member can see what the other members’ strengths and weaknesses are. “That’s another way to facilitate more awareness,” Tinnish says. Someone who makes quick decisions might get frustrated with another more deliberate decision maker. Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different. By allowing team members to see this and emphasizing an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each style, team members will understand one another better and cultivate patience with each other, she adds.
Exercise and Debrief
While owners and managers can spend large amounts of money to bring third party team builders into their shop to facilitate team building activities, a wealth of resources exist on the internet at no cost. Use these resources to your advantage through group discussions about personality and communication differences to give team members a better understanding of the individuals that make up the team. But you don’t have to stop there.
“You actually use different activities or simulations to try and help people work on things like problem solving skills, communications and trust,” Tinnish says. “My only piece of advice is that you don’t just do the activity and say, ‘okay, we’re done.’” The group needs to talk about what happened during the activity or simulation and discover the parallels to the work environment, she adds.
Continue to Progress
Building a strong team isn’t a task that you can complete and forget about. People, businesses and work environments change. New problems spring up all the time. Leaders need to monitor teams, revisit the dynamic and tweak them regularly. “Regardless of how you do it, it’s a constant and evolving process,” Tinnish says.