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Corporate Team Building

5 Ways To Get Pessimists To Participate In Team Building

Team building exercises can accomplish a tremendous amount in a very short period of time. They can energize employees, improve communication, and transform a disconnected workforce into a unified team. The goal of a team building event is to build quality connections, enhance communications and establish trust, but this mission can easily be waylaid by pessimists within the group who make it clear that they think little of the exercise.

There is little more frustrating then investing your time and resources into planning an activity that is built on optimism and then having it met by negativity from the pessimists in your group. Though it may be tempting to simply ignore the griping and attempt to work around it, as a leader it’s important that you remember that those pessimists are on your team for a reason. If encouraged, they can bring their own particular strengths and skills to the team’s goal, or draw attention to resentments and dysfunctions that you are not aware of.

Here are five tips for turning pessimists into willing (and maybe eager) team-building participants. 

Embrace the Dissent

Every team is made up of a variety of personalities that bring different talents to the project. Though the pessimist may be viewed strictly in terms of their skepticism and negativity, it is important to remember that their views may be based on knowledge or insight that can be of use. According to Jon Katzenbach, author of Wisdom of Teams, “An irritating member adds a dimension to teaming. As long as he or she is not strong enough to derail progress, he or she may offer thoughts that otherwise wouldn’t come in.” Encourage the pessimist to provide input but that part of their responsibility is also to offer alternative solutions. This makes the team member feel that they are being heard and valued, and once they offer detours instead of simply putting up roadblocks they may be more accepted and positively viewed by the group as a whole.

Give Hard Evidence of the Power of Team-building

Pessimists are known for expressing their skepticism, and there is no doubt that they are unlikely to dive right into something that they are unfamiliar with and give you or the team-building exercise the benefit of the doubt. Instead of nagging, cajoling or dragging them along, show them that you have respect for their opinion by providing them with evidence of past success. Though some pessimists simply respond with knee-jerk negativity, many have developed their point of view as a response to previous disappointments. Show them the worth of what you’re doing – just the fact that your opinion matters will likely make them more willing to engage.

Explain how the exercise will address their perceived needs.

Far too often, pessimistic employees will view a team-building exercise as something that is being done for the benefit of management, or because somebody read an article saying that it was a good thing to do. The exercise must be presented as a way of showing concerns about their needs and an effort to improve their environment – and being specific about what those needs are will make it clear that you are not as disconnected and disengaged as they thought. If somebody believes that something is truly being done for them, they are more likely to get on board.

Make them accountable for their action, or inaction

People often express their disapproval or skepticism for team-building by hanging back and not providing full or enthusiastic participation, and sometimes you just need to call them out on it — albeit in a positive and upbeat way. Make it clear that you expect every team member to be accountable and that there will be consequences for failure to participate in the form of a consequence bowl. Give each team member three note cards and ask them to write down their name and some small item ($5 to $10 limit is suggested) that they would enjoy – maybe a Starbucks card or a box of donuts for the team. Nothing embarrassing can be included, nor can one assign one of their actual work tasks to a colleague. All the cards get put into a bowl, and if a team member fails to participate in the team building exercise, they have to pick a card and perform the task. The message is plain – if you fail to participate, you affect the entire team and thus you have to make it up to them. Delivering on the content of the card may actually encourage more communication between team members.

Build the team in a non-traditional way.

Sometimes the problem for the pessimist is less about the effort to build the team then wishing that their time was being better spent. There are plenty of ways to encourage teamwork without having to engage in relay races or trust and communication games. Offering an alternative, such as participating as a group in a community fundraising event, is something that everybody can get behind, and if you really want to engage a particular pessimist, ask them what their favorite charity is and put them in charge of the team. Whether the goal is raising money, building a house for the homeless, cooking meals or raising awareness, you can grow your team’s engagement, communication and respect for each other while at the same time doing good.


5 Inexpensive Ways To Improve Your Company’s Culture

A lot of managers and business leaders make the mistake of underestimating the importance of their company’s culture. They believe that if the work is getting done then everything is fine, regardless of the negative impact of morale or office politics. They could not be more mistaken. To understand the importance of a good culture, simply understand this equation:

A good culture = success

If that sounds overly simplistic, think about this. Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus James L. Heskitt recently published a book called, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance. In it he explains that almost half of operating profit can be attributed to the working environment that employees operate within.

“Organization culture is not a soft concept. Its impact on profit can be measured and quantified. We know, for example, that engaged managers and employees are much more likely to remain in an organization, leading directly to fewer hires from outside the organization,” he writes. “This, in turn, results in lower wage costs for talent; lower recruiting, hiring and training costs; and higher productivity (fewer lost sales and higher sales per employee). Higher employee continuity leads to better customer relationships that contribute to greater customer loyalty, lower marketing costs, and enhanced sales.”

That’s pretty straightforward, and provides food for thought. Everything in that list — lower recruiting, hiring and training; higher productivity; better customer relationships and loyalty; enhanced sales — is exactly what every organization is working towards. So how can you influence your company’s culture? First, understand what culture really is. It’s not a question of whether you’re giving your employees free coffee in the morning or letting them work from home as much as it is creating an understanding that everybody is working together in order to be successful. That means that you need to create an office culture that fosters stronger relationships between all team members and makes each person understand that they have value, that they are appreciated and that they are an important part of the team.

Much of this comes from the priorities and every day processes that are observed by your employees: the rewards, whether formal or informal, that are given for the behavior that you want internalized within the company’s day-to-day operations. The key to managing employees towards a positive company culture is not different from the way you run your family. You provide positive feedback for the behaviors that you want until an overall value set is internalized. David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard) famously established 11 simple rules for creating a positive business culture that I’ve summarized below:

  • Think of the other person first
  • Make the other person feel important
  • Respect the other person’s differences
  • Show sincere appreciation
  • Eliminate negativity
  • Stop reforming and correcting; instead suggest a better way
  • Be empathetic
  • Don’t let first impressions mislead you
  • Pay attention to the nuances of your own behaviors and responses
  • Be genuinely interested in your staff
  • Constantly practice these rules

These types of values and behaviors come from within and filter down within an organization, and if your current office culture does not reflect this kind of mindset, then making change can take time. Communicating the importance of a positive culture to those responsible for managing employees is a start, but it is essential that there is consistency in how it is enforced. Writing new guidelines for has nowhere near the impact that true leadership will, and there are a number of inexpensive ways that you can create change that will immediately get the message across and build stronger relationships and trust within your organization. Here are several of our top suggestions for small changes that can make a big difference in your office culture:

Shake up your seating arrangement

If your office’s physical structure allows it, establish a regular schedule of relocating where staff members sit every few months. Keeping the same people grouped together over an extended period of time limits interaction and the exchange of ideas and reinforces the establishment of cliques that can create negativity. When you force people to sit with one another they open their minds to each other and new perspectives and understanding can form.

Take teamwork to a whole new level

No matter where you are or what you do, your staff can find a 5K charity run, a “cook for a friend” program, a local gym offering a “get in shape” program that you can get on board with. Even something as simple as organizing a softball team and encouraging the rest of the staff to attend games and cheer the competitors on is a great way to have staff and management let down their guard and start working with each other towards an entirely different common goal. Doing so will work wonders within your organization and build cameraderie, as people begin to see each other in a different light and respect strengths and abilities that they had not been aware of. It also can give you a great excuse to host celebrations that continue the good feelings all around.

Involve more people in the interview process

It’s traditional to limit the responsibility for interviewing prospective employees to your Human Resources staff and the managers who will be directly involved with a new hire, but consider the benefits that expanding that process holds. Not only will you send a clear message to your staff that you value their opinions, but you’ll also provide yourself with a completely different perspective on how well an applicant may fit into your organization, or will relate to your staff. Does a management candidate respond less respectfully or less seriously when being asked questions by an admin then by a senior manager? Is that type of attitude going to help or hurt your company culture? Taking this step requires some training regarding the questions and answers that can and cannot be provided, but is well worth the effort.

Emphasize the positive

Meetings are a necessary evil, but you can use them to your benefit. Make it a requirement that as each person speaks, they share something positive that has happened to them, whether work-related or otherwise. By insisting on some kind of good news you create an association with positivity that can quickly become a habit. Even if it initially feels forced or corny, it will eventually become something that people will look forward to and may strengthen and personalize work relationships.

Celebrate the wins

Whether it’s a new contract that somebody finally got signed or a successful fund-raiser for the charity that you’ve decided to support, make sure that you take the time to celebrate the wins, both large and small. Maybe it’s as simple as making sure that there is a cake and flowers for somebody’s birthday or getting out of the office for a happy hour to celebrate a big sale, take the time to recognize accomplishments and get everybody involved in the celebrations.