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A select few might approach team building cautiously owing to workload pressures or scheduling conflicts, but these HR leaders are here to vouch for the positive impact their team building interventions have had for staff and company.
Nabilah Ismail explores the advantages employers have acquired from bringing their teams closer together.
Some may be hesitant to embrace team building activities, owing to workload pressures, time or scheduling conflicts, or other business priorities that continue to take precedence. However, a study titled, “The Effectiveness of Teamwork Training”, confirmed that “bringing a group of highly-skilled individuals together is not sufficient for teams to be effective. Rather, team members need to be able to work well together in order for the team to successfully achieve its purposes”.
So, what course of actions do progressive employers around the region undertake to achieve this boost in productivity? We find out through inputs from a number of HR leaders.
Clocking the mileage of co-workers’ bonds
For travel and lifestyle rewards programme provider Asia Miles, the business model is focused on rewarding users on their lifestyle selections. Similarly, there are plenty of rewards to be gained for the workplace when teams are geared towards full efficiency. Affirming this thought is Willie Cheng, head of people, who supports team building on account of it fostering collaboration and breaking down silos.
“With increasing vertical and horizontal differentiation of work, we care more about how we integrate the company better and make our employees work towards the same goal,” he says. Given that teams bond together over time, especially with new leadership and shifts in employee composition, Asia Miles prioritises in moving people towards acceptance of change, and then rewarding the success of the new team.
To this effect, a company-wide engagement programme called “Milers” was launched last year, with the aim to answer: Being in the business to provide a life rewarded experience to our members, how might we provide the same employee engagement experience to our staff?
A number of staff activities have since been organised such as workshops on mindfulness and positive thinking; and an on-site fitness instructor to provide a lunchtime workout session. All are free and the objective is to gel people from different teams together and, to simply, have fun. Additionally, from time to time, the company sponsors tickets for concerts and musicals for employees, as well as movie nights for employees and their family and friends.
Another interesting initiative is called “management serving breakfast”, driven by the philosophy of “serving is caring”. Here, top team leaders roll up their sleeves and make breakfast for employees, thus, reducing the power distance between leaders and the followers.
In doing so, the team has been mindful about the challenges of implementation, that is, understanding the emotional needs of employees. “We believe we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach. We have to understand the demographics of our people and benchmark what the market is offering; we can then bridge the gap and ensure our employees welcome the activities we bring to them,” Cheng says.
In the same vein, sometimes a pulse survey may be conducted to not only check their wants, but also invite them to co-create the programme.
A successful activity has a good chance of being the talk of the town (or the office), and similarly, Cheng says, “positive feedback will spread”, especially when employees have received such activities well.
“For example, we see employees are more willing to put in extra effort to help not only themselves, but others. This is being reflected by the feedback from our leaders who will give a ‘thumb-ups’ to their employees for being helpful.”
He sums up: “Team building takes resources, be it time and attention, and heart to accomplish. Our top team leaders take ‘motivating employees’ as one of our key competencies as reflected in our 360-degree survey conducted last year.”
Piloting your team’s culture-change journey
Team building is not a one-off project – this is the firm belief of Yeoh Sai Yew, group director, people department, at aviation group VietJet Air. “In general, any team building or motivational talk will only leave an impact on participants not more than three months after the event,” he says. As such, these activities need to be followed through regularly for the objectives to be embedded into behaviours.
He expands on his point around how team building can be used for fostering teamwork amid a major cultural change, by talking us through how a company can change from a traditional culture to an open, flat structure.
“In this situation, just team building will not be sufficient. This is because if all else doesn’t change, it will back to square one,” he says.
Thus, what is needed in such a case is to not only change the mindset, but also change the company’s structure. This extends to changing the job title and grade from many to few; simplifying the rewards or benefits policy from hierarchical to a simple one-policy-for-all; and certainly ensuring the commercial product reflects along this line. “Because we can’t expect employees to change their mindset if the product to the consumers is in another direction,” he says.
No doubt this change can be an uphill task in the beginning. However, he believes HR cannot be an effective change agent if top management doesn’t have the same opinion or the political will to change.
“As such, the real change agent should be the CEO and it will then be easier for HR to facilitate this change from top-down.”
In such a case, the best way to measure success is by looking at employees’ behaviour and the attrition profile – knowing there is no one culture that can fit everybody, companies may expect employees who are not agreeable to this new culture may leave, and in fact, this will be good for the company in the long run.
“However, we also have to ensure there’s some continuity in the business process,” he says, which can be done by conducting roadshows and communication to make employees understand why change is needed and what the benefits are for them.
Rounding off, he states that team building is part of the tools to help us achieve our goals, but we shouldn’t look at it as the only tool – cautioning that, “if we do so, it will lead to failure”. It needs to be combined with other components such as career development.
Putting in the time for staff development
One thing that’s clear on team building is there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. We now have a case of an interviewee where, to fulfil the aim of deep-rooted learning capabilities, a more concerted effort has been activated. Presently, with luxury watch retailer The Hour Glass, regional learning and development manager Victor Tng looks at team building through the lens of comprehensive interventions through developmental programmes that focus on solving specific challenges, as well as bringing about long-term advantages.
For example, in his experience, a key focus is the development of competencies such as functional, leadership or technical – or even the entrenchment of qualities such as trust and collaboration – as long as such team building activities are in accordance with the greater organisational strategy. “Such long-term development programmes could last up to three to 12 months or longer,” he says.
Before committing participants to such programmes, he will typically opt for a series of high-impact team building activities for the initial stage. “So we break the ice, get people together and start breaking barriers and building values such as trust and so on.”
Such kick-starters can typically be followed by monthly activities on regular lower-impact sessions to help sustain a sense of continuous learning. Through this, the organisation has the opportunity to ingrain the desired mindset the business is aiming to achieve, he affirms.
In today’s VUCA world, one of the sought-after skills is the ability to innovate. Imbibing this skill through timely and consistent interventions can bring about improvements such as participants being able to contribute impactful solutions to business projects.
It is no surprise that organising a programme as extensive as this will come with its own challenges. “The key challenge one would face is around the level of patience and empathy from the leaders as well as the staff. Objectives have to be clearly communicated in a very transparent manner to align everyone with what we are doing, and why we are doing it,” Tng explains.
“There must be a structured plan and process in place. Without these in place, the whole plan might fail, especially when there are no clear outcomes specified.”
Communication is key, and he emphasises it is critical company leaders are fully aware of the activities that are happening and what the outcomes from these activities will be.
The results for such a developmental intervention speak for themselves. He observes that participants typically show a more unified front and are a lot more predisposed to helping colleagues across departments.
“They will come together to discuss the challenges they are facing in their own department, and at the same time, they brainstorm for new solutions and ideas by sharing best practices among themselves.”
Additionally, he mentions there is greater trust levels between colleagues as “they become more comfortable and open to sharing their own challenges”.
Devoting time to build a meaningful bond among participants sustains the talent pool as it puts in place a healthy support ecosystem in the work environment.
“The most important indication of team building success is the retention of talent. When they have a sense of belonging, we see higher engagement levels and they will stay to also become an advocate for the organisation.”
Advice for your next team building
“When we design the programme, we will try our best to make employees part of the programme and not just recipients of it.
Ask them, involve them and co-create something we all share.”
– Willie Cheng, head of people, Asia Miles
“Team building is part of the tools to help us achieve our goals, but we shouldn’t look at it as the only tool. We need to combine it with other components such as career development and communication.”
– Yeoh Sai Yew, group director, people department, VietJet Air
“Stretch your team building programmes with a longer term purpose. Define your desired behavioural and cognitive outcomes clearly and, along the pathway of learning, encourage and provide plenty of support from the peers and leaders of the participants.”
– Victor Tng, regional learning and development manager, The Hour Glass