Accidental Team BuildingFeb 05, 2022
What is "Team Building?" But, really, what is it? If you ask twenty different business executives for their definition of team building, you will most likely hear twenty versions full of vague platitudes. A typical description might sound like the process of user interaction, activities, and exercises to organize a group of people into a cooperative and cohesive group.
This is a story about accidental team building that resulted from a STORYSeekers workshop whose purpose was to teach customer-facing employees to emotionally connect and build trust with customers and prospects.
STORYSeekers® workshops coach participants to build, tell and tend various stories that help them connect and build trust with others professionally and personally. Our workshops rely on small group experiential exercises with expert coaching. We typically impose a limit of 32 participants in our STORYSeekers workshops. We find the learning seems to diminish when we go over 32. Even 32 participants are a challenge because we need an expert coach for every 4 participants. In the following story, we detail 6 out of 7 breakout exercises over three days. Our coaching cadre comprises 5 experienced STORYSeekers staff and 4 experienced client coaches who got STORYSeekers certified in prior US workshops.
Background – In late 2015, a multi-billion dollar US telecommunications company, growing rapidly via mergers and acquisition, hired the Story Seekers team to travel to London. Our mission was to teach their recently acquired European operations to build trust and connect emotionally with their customers and prospects, using the power of story. All participants and coaches were housed in a lovely conference center in the boonies. All meals for the entire three days were in the conference dining hall.
Challenge – We reluctantly agreed ahead of time to 36 participants in this workshop since we were traveling so far, and that's the number of people they wanted to be trained. As we began the workshop, we went around the table for quick introductions. We discovered people from nine different countries, only one where English was the primary spoken language. European audiences were typically demanding for us because they hate taking training from Americans, And speaking of hate, many of the countries in the room also hate each other. Adding to the difficulty, the 36 attendees all came from four recent acquisitions, where they competed and hated each other. Our objective was to mix the groups up for each breakout session. We wanted to allow them to work with as many of their peers as possible. Coaches would rotate each time we did small group role-playing as well. We did not factor in which countries stereotypically did not get along in the group assignments.
Experiential learning – highlights of the Experiential Breakout Sessions (EBS):
EBS #1: Each of the four participants builds and tells a one-minute story about a single event in their life that caused them to change their point of view. The coaches 'tended' these stories because we teach story tending on Day two. They build and tell their stories according to the STORYSeekers framework of story elements – Setting (green card); Complication (white card); Turning Point (blue card); Resolution (red card); Moral (yellow card). Surprising vulnerability and sincere compliments in the debrief are amazingly plentiful.
EBS #2: In this breakout, we coach participants to build (using the SS framework) their "Who I Represent and Why" story. This is a new story for all 36 participants. They have never told a prospect or customer the story of their new organization. The "Why" asks them to say something personal about why they are committed to their new parent company. It becomes an iterative process – each story got better. When we did the 'main tent' debrief of this exercise, the unity and mood of the group have now transformed.
EBS #3: Usually, this session has the participants tell a "Customer Hero Story" about how one of their customers was able to solve a specific problem using their product. We realized our US HQ client did not want them sharing stories about their pre-acquisition customers. So, we assigned each of the nine breakout groups one person from each of the four acquisitions. Our breakthrough real-time idea was for each group to build a 'future story' one year in the future, where they have a new client who can use a product that is a 'fantasy integration' of the four acquired companies. All nine groups built future client scenarios based on real-world expertise and experience within their groups. For example, one of the groups imagined a vastly improved way for passport offices to serve their public better. Our four client coaches from the US were 'blown away' by the product ideas that came out of this one!
EBS #4: In this exercise, they build and tell their own "Who Am I" stories. These stories lead customers and prospects to the emotional conclusion that they are persons of character. They also learn to actively tend the stories of their peers. They use the Story Seekers elements for connected listening – Setting (green card); Complication (white card); Turning Point (blue card); Resolution (red card); Moral (yellow card). Many Kleenex tissues are used in this one!
EBS #5: Our usual Day 2 homework assignment is to call a person you love on your mobile device that evening and actively tend a story for 30 minutes. The tending session concludes when our participants summarize what they heard in 60 seconds or less and then ask: "Did I get you?" This group was all housed in a conference center in the "boonies.' We modified the story tending homework assignment timing. We ended the workshop at 5 pm and were scheduled for dinner at 8 pm. We asked all the participants to do their story tending assignment before dinner.
EBS #6: For dinner, the conference room staff set the room with nine tables, five places at each table. We then assigned them tables with the same group and coach they worked with earlier on their future customer hero stories. Their dinnertime assignment was to share their experiences tending their loved one's stories with their small groups. Dinnertime was team building magic. The conference staff finally had to kick us all out at 10:45 pm.
After event conclusions & quotes
Among our 4 client coaches from the US, one was their CMO and their head of PR. The head of PR stated the following day that it felt like "a cocktail party nobody wanted to leave." On the other hand, the CMO said, "that is the best team-building experience in my 20+ years in the industry." We asked them both the question, "What if we would have tried to sell you the 'best team building experience you have ever seen?' They both admitted they would have never bought a team-building workshop. This is the problem many HR executives face – they cannot figure out a way to sell 'team building' to their CFOs.
Team building is best in small groups with expert coaching & feedback.
Team building has to be experiential & collaborative
Team building should facilitate opportunities to be authentic and vulnerable Team building should facilitate opportunities to share personal experiences and stories Team building should facilitate opportunities to share professional experiences and stories Team building should facilitate opportunities to tend and reflect the stories of others
The best dinner parties I have experienced in my adult life were maximum of six people. The best larger gatherings I have experienced in my adult life (like (weddings/bar mitzvahs, for instance), the people around me at my table were put there on purpose. Thoughtful hosts carefully think about emotional chemistry – who they believe would enjoy whom. Authenticity and vulnerability require small group discussion.
If you are planning a team-building event, put careful consideration into your team assignments and experiential exercises. Fortunately for all of us, the pandemic has taught us how to do small group experiential learning with expert coaching in Zoom rooms.
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