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Teambuilding: Finding a Fix That Ticks

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In March, when NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission delivery vehicle let go of the lander just prior to descent a voice came over NASA's control room loudspeaker informing workers that "Your mission is completed." The team of scientists and coordinators looked relieved and elated – their hard work had paid off. But if the later landing phase had not succeeded, these workers would have been profoundly disappointed in the total mission's failure. This illustrates a fundamental lesson about teams – in a truly collaborative, team-oriented environment, workers are contributing to the overall success of the organization. A team must have a specific focus, but they should know they are part of a bigger picture.

Building teams involves combining differing personalities, giving groups the resources they need to succeed, and keeping lines of communication open. The type of teambuilding we're examining isn't offsite company field trips where employees workshop and bond. We're discussing the kind of teambuilding you do day in and day out. Here are tips for managers who are assembling teams for projects or trying to develop their existing teams into more productive units.

Empower First
Like delegating – empowering a team to carry out its objectives with autonomy, is essential. A healthy system of reporting progress is one thing, but constant monitoring and micromanaging will only foster resentment and mistrust. "People need to know where they stand, but once they are moving forward, get out of their way," says corporate consultant Jody McConnel. Managers must offer guidance, but should resist the urge to form predetermined ideas about how teams should operate. Teams require freedom to work through setbacks in their own way and discover creative solutions.

Promote Relationships
Everyone on a team has goals and looming project deadlines, but it's good to be flexible when it comes to people interacting. If team members need to occasionally gather out of work to unwind, encourage it. If it's within your company's budget, finance team "getaways." Studies show that interaction outside of the work environment has benefits including improving communication and enhancing existing work relationships.

Reward Rapidly
One easy way to build a team's morale is to recognize their contributions as soon as they happen. Timing is a critical component when you are recognizing exceptional work, and you never want your team to feel overdue and slighted. When you've challenged them to accomplish something great and they do, don't hesitate to reward team members. Rewarding in a group setting in front of peers reinforces your company's sense of community and can spur others to higher accomplishments. Try to tailor rewards to a team's orientation. For example, if your team has been putting in a lot of overtime on a project, consider granting them a day or days off.

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