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Assemble a dream workforce

Break down fiefdoms by focusing on team-building and collaboration. By Steve Adams

Large organisations all too often wind up internally with numerous fiefdoms focused around the ego and self-centred needs of someone who should be a team leader but is something closer to an autocrat.

Such groups tend to be uncreative, inefficient, claustrophobic to work in, irritating to do business with and usually amount to something close to the kiss of death for the provision of good customer service.

Great teamwork requires a spirit of delight in being in the team. It is an attitude that can’t be forged or dissembled; one that not only delights in being in the team but also takes a personal pleasure, even joy, in making customers happy.

The challenge of building, sustaining, continually enhancing and improving great teams is fundamental to the economic wellbeing of any country and also to the happiness that people gain from work. If a large firm could increase the effectiveness of its teams, it would achieve a large improvement in its bottom line.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for people to make assumptions about the agenda of others rather than actually taking the trouble to find out what these agendas actually are. This problem goes hand in hand with distrust, uncreative working, lack of collaboration and even resentment of people with whom one is supposed to be working.

Sailing by

If people collaborate well with each other, the results can be glorious. In the age of sail, it was impossible for many of the larger ships to be operated by just one person.

It is also true of today’s more complex organisational vessels.

Teamwork can lead to achievement, creativity and energy levels that someone working alone – or perhaps with just one other person – could hardly imagine.

So, how can real teamwork be achieved? Many organisations try to confront this question every day.

If senior management are sensible, they involve themselves with solving this problem rather than delegating it to their human resources department.

One approach is an out-of-office team-building event. You might even find that during the event you’ll get on with the people more than you ever imagined you would before.

But team-building away days don’t last forever. The day will come when you return to the office and encounter sombre reality.

Too many team-building events – indeed most of them – are really just a great day out, or however many days have been allocated to them.

Back in the office the old problems of communication, trust and collaboration almost inevitably resurface.

You and your colleagues will doubtless retain happy memories of the event but it probably won’t have changed the conditions of your corporate life sufficiently for a team to be galvanised into existence when merely a group existed before.

Ideally there will be four stages in a good team-building event:

  1. Firstly, a meeting between the organisers and the prospective team in question is essential. This will allow the setting of objectives and prepare the ground for the actual teambuilding event itself.

  2. The second stage is the team building challenge itself, ideally no more than a month after the initial meeting has taken place. The challenge will shed significant light on the team’s issues that were discussed in the initial stage of the process.

  3. A proper and concerted debriefing for the team, including what those taking part learn about themselves, what factors tended to promote or prevent good teamwork, what was relevant to the working environment, how what was learnt can be best applied at work, what the plan is from now on and what outcomes are expected.

  4. Ideally, the debriefing should be followed by a further discussion which looks at progress that has been made since the first debriefing and identifies what further progress can be made.

Steve Adams is managing director of team-building firm Go Beyond

‘We relied on each other totally’

The Polar Challenge is a 420-mile race to the Magnetic North Pole and is regarded as the toughest endurance race in the world, in temperatures as low as -52 deg C.

This year nine international teams entered. Mike Woolliscroft, a project manager from Berkeley Homes, and Richard Wall-Morris, a project manager from Taylor Woodrow entered the race with their friend Connie Potter, who unfortunately had to pull out with frostbite the day before reaching the start line.

“This was a serious blow to morale and a major change to the team dynamic,” says Mr Woolliscroft. “We started the race in a very different scenario to that which we had trained for and we had to redistribute all of the team’s kit between us.”

The team spent 21 days on the ice, leading the race for four days in the most closely fought first leg in the race’s history. The first leg is 120 miles and includes an island crossing, polar bear pass and a sea inlet. Each team navigates itself, chooses its own locations to camp and has no contact with other teams.

Mr Wooliscroft says: “It would be hard not to come away from such an experience without learning more about teamwork and motivating others. We relied on each other totally for our own safety and had to work together in many respects. Luckily we knew we got along well before the race.

“The conditions of the Polar Challenge stressed any differences in strength, speed, ability and attitude. I’m sure it would be thought by most of our friends that being compassionate doesn’t come naturally but that and the resulting motivation became possibly the most important element of our teamwork.

Understanding another person’s situation makes it a lot easier to motivate them.”