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Team Building is a Process, Not an Event

Recently I was invited to meet with an elected Board because, as one member said, they “needed a little team-building.” 

After some preliminary discussions, I arrived at City Hall ready for the first session, which was scheduled for two hours.  I expected this would be a multi-session team-building process.

My contact greeted me and said, in an apologetic tone, “We’ve had an emergency and you have 45 minutes.” 

That’s how much time the Board had allotted for team-building. 

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. 

The session was a flop for several reasons — the same reasons many team-building processes fail.

If you want stronger teams, if you want to disaster-proof your team-building process, here are three principles to embrace: 

Team-building and leadership development is a process, not an event. 

You can’t build a cohesive team by inviting an expert to the room for one 45-minute session. I think some people in the room knew that and didn’t care (see below). Others were genuinely surprised that this would require an ongoing process. 


Get buy-in from all participants.

This was a Board of individuals, not a cohesive team. I think many of them wanted to keep it that way. At least one member believed they needed a little team-building, but clearly the majority of Board members didn’t. If participants don’t see value in the process, they won’t invest in it. Worse yet, they’ll sabotage it. 

A clear agenda sets expectations and prevents surprises.

My bad in this case. I didn’t communicate the agenda in advance with all the stakeholders. So most of us were surprised when they said, “You have 45 minutes” and I said, “We need more time.” I won’t make that mistake again. Before you meet, reach consensus on the broad agenda. If it’s a multi-step process, make sure all involved know that and are OK with that. 

As a business owner, I came to appreciate the benefits of a carefully crafted, strategic approach to team-building. 

I took that approach to Clayton (MO) City Hall where, as Mayor, I helped build a cohesive team. 

Today, I work as a consultant who applies lessons learned to help municipalities, nonprofits and for-profit businesses build stronger teams that accomplish more with less conflict and discord. In all cases, I apply those three principles. 

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