Everyday Teambuilding

One of the most common scenarios I am asked about by team leaders is how to help geographically dispersed team members become more cohesive and operate with a strong sense of team unity. Sound familiar to you too?

As they say, there is no substitute for face time; and I would agree. I am big fan of face time. For most organizations with virtual teams however, face time is not a frequently occurring situation (especially in a down economy). And building a cohesive team requires frequent, intentional interactions. It is important to regularly look for and talk about the things the team does well and to engage in retrospective dialogue around setbacks and “failures” to learn as much as you can and keep the team moving forward.  Below are three suggestions to get you started.

  1. The foundational step in creating a cohesive team is building trust. Towards trust building, it is useful for people to spend time getting to know each other and exploring their similarities and uniqueness. Prepare 2 or 3 “self-disclosure” questions prior to each meeting and have every team member take a turn responding, round robin fashion. Questions can progress from fun trivia type questions to more meaningful or work-related questions as the trust builds. For example, “What is your favorite vacation spot?” is a risk-free question, while, “Who in your life has most influenced your career? What did he/she do?” may feel more risky to some. The purpose is to allow for discovery of the things people have in common and to gain greater insight into what makes each other tick.  Team members might rotate the job of coming up with the questions and facilitating the discussion.
  2. Another important step towards trust building is providing the space for team members to discuss individual expectations and the values that are important to them as a member of the group. Ask team members to think about what they value most in relationships and come prepared to each share their top 3 values. After each team member shares his/her list, explore commonalities and themes. Build this into the team’s Guiding Principles or Operating Agreement and have each team member verbally agree to uphold. This leads nicely into an opportunity to proactively talk about the area where most teams have trouble: accountability. Explore questions like: “How will we know that we’re doing/upholding ‘abc value’? What will be different or enhanced?” “What will we do when someone violates a guiding principle?” “How will we handle accountability?”  This could all be done in one long meeting or divided into segments to be facilitated over a few team meetings.
  3. As trust builds and the Team Guiding Principles take shape, plan 10-15min at the beginning of each team meeting for a “team process check-in.” This is the time, before the team begins discussing the tasks at hand, to focus on the process of being a cohesive team. At each meeting, pose a question for the team to explore together. Examples include:
  • What’s good about the way we’ve been making decisions together? What’s working well for us?
  • What would you (each team member) like to see more of regarding our communication about “abc”?
  • Let’s reflect on Project X (just concluded). Name 1 or 2 things we did really well and how it contributed to the project’s success.
  • What wins or successes are we celebrating today (remember to include the small everyday ones)?

Consider what might be possible when your team engages in this level of Everyday Teambuilding throughout the year. What results could you expect to see that you are not seeing today?


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It Takes Courage

Experts agree, trust is a necessity if you want a high performing and cohesive team (I decided against listing dozens of citations to support that. You’ve probably seen many of them already; they’re everywhere). When you think about what’s needed to build a solid foundation of trust, you may think of ideas such as:

  • being honest with one another (admitting mistakes, asking for help when needed),
  • authenticity (say what you mean and mean what you say)
  • integrity (walk your talk)
  • reliability (do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re doing to do it)
  • accountability (calling one another one behaviors that hurt the team; addressing poor performance)

I would agree; and certainly not an all-inclusive list. One key element in building trust, is actually a prerequisite to all those listed above: COURAGE. It’s a courageous person who can readily admit his/her mistakes to teammates, or who can open up the dialogue around the controversial issue that has become the “elephant in the room.” And I have never, not once, witnessed a team member [respectfully] calling another on an unproductive behavior without a second or two of nearly tangible courage-mustering.

How courageous are you? Your response will undoubtedly vary based on the context. What makes it difficult (or easy) to be courageous in certain situations? How can we intentionally build our “courage” muscles, developing a stronger collective backbone for our team, our organization, our world?

Patrick Lencioni (author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Death by Meeting, and many other leadership texts) recently wrote about heroism (a result of acting courageously) in today’s society, communities, and workplaces. Here is a thought (from Lencioni) to leave you with: “The next time we witness someone taking a difficult stand for what is right, whether it is in the workplace, at school, in your church or little league, let’s take the time to tell them that we admire them for what they did. And better yet, let’s tell them that we wish we could be more like them, and that they’ve inspired us to try. Not only will that reinforce their heroic behavior, it will also increase the likelihood that the next time we are faced with a moment of truth, no matter how small it may seem, we choose to be a hero, too.”

Click on the image below to download our Courage Card. Keep it in front of you and support yourself to lead courageously!

All good wishes,
De Yarrison, CPCC


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Becoming a sherpa

Sherpa in Nepal

Sherpa in Nepal

In 1997, I named my new company, Sherpa Higher Performance. It came about as the result of a really fun, multi-day brainstorming session with a few trusted colleagues, who graciously gave me their time. Our brainstorming process took us through discussions about our values, what impact I wanted to make on the world (or at least my little corner of it), and a listing of about 100 adjectives describing the people I anticipated would become my clients. We threw all those words, concepts, beliefs, and meanings into the air and somehow, “Sherpa” landed right in front of us. When it happened, it was clear as day.  And I have referred to myself as a sherpa, personally and professionally, for over a decade now.

What is a Sherpa? The Sherpa, according to Wikipedia, are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalaya. In Tibetan shar means East; pa is a suffix meaning ‘people’: hence the word sharpa or Sherpa. Sherpas are world renowned for their hardiness, guidance, and expertise on mountaineering expeditions up the high peaks of the Himalaya Mountains. When capitalized, Sherpa means the ethnic group. When written uncapitalized, sherpa generally means “guide.”

The metaphor of myself as sherpa has become my “true north,” the standard I use to make decisions regarding direction, purpose, new services, new clients, etc. The metaphor continues for me as I share some personal beliefs and values with the Sherpa people: humility, perseverance, importance of belonging to and contributing to one’s community, to name a few.

As a sherpa, I serve my clients by guiding them to a higher level and helping them reach heights they would otherwise not have reached on their own.

Who is a sherpa (or possibly, Sherpa) in your life? How does this person come alongside of you and encourage you to reach higher, to keep going?


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