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Miles to Go: Offsites – The cure for struggling teams • The key to making good teams great

There is good news and bad news around team performance. The bad news: You can have the smartest, most talented individuals with high-achieving backgrounds on a team, and that team can still fail; superstar individuals grouped together do not on their own make a great team (whether in the NBA or on the NYSE).

But here’s the good news: great teamwork can be taught. Just as individual executives can be coached and trained and developed to tap their highest potential, teams can, too. Investing in teams – just like investing in individual executive development – can have a significant payoff for an organization, and is essentially required in today’s highly matrixed organizations.

Cultivating functional teams takes work. Most important, it requires in-person, real face time (not FaceTime®) among team members in order to set up the “rules of engagement” and set the team on the right course from the start. And, if the team is already underway and is beginning to struggle with some issues – such as alignment – this kind of face time may be required to course-correct and get the group back on track.

In our experience working with some of the world’s top companies and their teams (ranging from C-suite to upper manager-level), the single most valuable tool for creating high-performance teams today is the offsite. The offsite meeting – where team members can come together away from the distractions of the office – can result in a true transformation in team alignment, accountability, communication, and trust.

Offsites are needed most critically at key turning points:

  • Leadership transitions: Adding a new leader to a team means a shift in team dynamics. A different leadership style can upset the current team decision-making process, stifle dissent, or create unproductive conflict.
  • Any changes in team make-up: New member really equates to new team. New members need to be part of the formation process to ensure alignment around team responsibilities, accountability, deliverables, commitments, and overall team mechanics.
  • Strategic shift: A shift in a company’s strategic priorities, or a similar type of transformational change, has significant repercussions across the organization and the respective structures and missions of its teams. Teams often need a complete recalibration around the changed organizational mission to identify where they fit into the picture in achieving company-wide goals.

During these transitions, teams can undertake a day-long offsite, allowing them to come together with the *team* as their goal. Facilitators can do the “due diligence” with individual team members beforehand, through phone calls and questionnaires, allowing the offsite session to be customized to the particular needs and styles of the team members, the team itself, and the company as a whole. Having a facilitator also allows the team leader to participate more fully as a *member* of the team and how he or she can contribute content/ideas, and not just “steer the ship.”

Moving toward alignment
The offsite develops clarity and alignment around the team’s mission, vision, and values – both in itself and as the team relates to the overall company mission and culture. If there is a new team leader or new team members, the offsite accelerates their onboarding, bypassing some of the speedbumps that happen in even basic initial team interactions and communications. And, most significantly, the team can use the offsite to develop its “team charter” – the operational framework the team will use to govern their interactions, how they will work together, and how to “leave” the team meetings with clear and concrete next steps and goals.

Ultimately, the offsite makes the entire team more effective right out of the gate. This focused day together establishes a baseline of trust and communication among all team members. Using these forums, companies can construct a series of high-functioning teams that magnify the impact of each team member, foster a powerful and accountable corporate culture, and create institutional models for success that go beyond a single individual’s contribution.

Why team development matters

1. The challenge of “specialist” superstars.

    So many people reach a high level in a company because they do *one* thing well – whether it’s finance or sales or technology or something else. They come into an EVP or C-suite role, having never had to work across the organization, and are now with an entire group of peer leaders they have to work with as a team. While individually high-performing, these are the executives that gain the most in team-building sessions that can model optimal interactions and team functionality.

2. Style clashes under new leadership.

    When new leaders come into a team, longstanding team dynamics can be disrupted. Often, the very objectives and responsibilities of the team can change (which is why a new leader may have been brought in in the first place), sometimes with little explanation or discussion among the full team. These situations demand a “regrouping” to set a new course, if needed, or get the team re-aligned with their leader and each other.

3. New member = new team.

    Even having a new peer (vs. new leader) join a team can have a disruptive influence on team relationships and expectations. If a new division or department is brought into the mix, a different scope of responsibilities may be added, putting pressure on the rest of the team. Effectively onboarding a new team member minimizes the negative impact of the addition, and allows the team to learn how to adapt to the inevitable shifts in workplace roles.

4. Dispersed (and distracted) workforce.

    With 50% of any given team on a flight, at a client, or in some other meeting, physically gathering the full team in one place is often impossible. And when the team is present, how many people in the room are on their devices? Often, it is only by bringing the full team offsite, in a forum dedicated to the team itself, that team members can think beyond “getting the work done.” These are times for the team to take a step back and assess the more fundamental issues of making sure everyone is on the same page as far as goals, operating principles, and ways to foster creative problem-solving as a group. The teams we work with crave these opportunities for a “team deep dive,” as it provides one of the few times where they can address issues they are struggling with that are holding them back from optimal performance.