AHU Coach’s Corner – Guest Column: Is it feasible to keep spending cash on team building?
We discussed last issue how most corporate team building is a waste of time and money and how collaboration was perceived as messy and diluted accountability and offered few tangible rewards.
Based on that insight, we developed a framework to make collaboration clear, specific, and compelling – to make collaboration something to be achieved. At the core of this framework are two questions to pose to any team. The first: Why is their collaboration essential to achieving their business results? And second: What work, which specific tasks, would require collaboration to deliver those results?
We had a chance to test our framework in early 2012 with the Mars Petcare China leadership team. Over two days, we posed our questions and hashed out specifics. We spent the entire first day wrestling with the answers to our two questions. Initial reactions were bemusement and frustration: What did I mean by “essential to business results?” We restated the question as this: Why is your working together, as a team, more valuable than just the sum of your individual efforts? That got the conversation going, and we spent three hours discussing and debating what we called their “team purpose.” They finally agreed that their purpose would center on people development and deployment of their new strategy throughout the business.
The second question, the one about which specific pieces of work required collaboration, was more contentious. One leader in particular felt that he needed to be left alone, that none of the work he was responsible for should include any of his peers. The debate became heated, but eventually his peers won him over. Eventually we were able to sort our list of projects into those that could be handled by individuals and those that really would be improved by collaboration.
Our second day focused on accountability. They agreed to build their collaborative commitments into their individual performance objectives. Then they cocreated a list of the behaviors they expected of each other in support of those commitments and agreed on how they would hold themselves accountable for them. (At one point, we compared and discussed their Myers-Briggs types. That discussion about relationships lasted 15 minutes before they urged me to take them back to discussions about how they were going to work together. I thought that was remarkably telling.) We ended by creating a plan for how they would sustain the progress we had made during our two days together.
I spoke with the general manager of Mars Petcare China a few times over the next year. During our final conversation I learned that their growth had rocketed up 33 percent – a stunning achievement. Their primary dog food brand alone was up 60 percent. It was the first time in eight years that they had met their financial commitments to the larger corporation. How much did our work together contribute to those outcomes? “Massively,” the general manager told me. Their team purpose had focused their collaboration on the things that mattered most to the results they planned for. The sense of accountability for their work together, based on the agreements they forged, made their working relationships far more productive than they had been.
At Mars, we learned that to get people to work together, we had to let them figure out how that would actually improve results.
We officially deployed our fully developed and tested framework later in 2012, embedding it in a single management development program. Within two years, the Mars High Performance Collaboration Framework had gone viral throughout the company.
Strong relationships and trust do matter to collaboration, but they are not the starting point. They are the outcomes of dedicated people striving together. Connecting collaboration to the motives of success-minded team members is what unlocks productive.
Carlos Valdes-Dapena is managing principal and founder of Corporate Collaboration Resources, LLC, an organization and group effectiveness consulting firm. More information can be found at www.carlosvdapena.com.
(Dec. 5, 2019)