Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why team building is out and team growing is in

The old model of “building” a great team is outdated.

The concept of growing a team instead of building a team has been around a long time. It seems to have started with Frederick P Brooks in his book “The mythical man-month” written over 30 years ago. He believed that:

“The building metaphor has outlived its usefulness. The conceptual structures we construct today are too complicated to be accurately specified in advance and too complex to be built faultlessly, then we must take a radically different approach”.

This concept continues to be reinforced by current day commentators. Sir Ken Robinson, the leading British educationalist, writes in his book “The Element” that:

“Farmers base their livelihoods on raising crops but they don’t make plants grow. They don’t attach the roots, glue on the petals or colour the fruit. The plant itself grows. Farmers and gardeners provide the conditions for growth. Good farmers know what those conditions are, and bad ones don’t”.

Peter Senge the author of “The Learning Organisation” is also quoted as saying:

“The most universal challenge that we face is the transition from seeing our human institutions as machines to seeing them as embodiments of nature. We keep bringing in mechanics when what we need are gardeners”.

The problem
So why do we persist with the term “team building”?

I believe it’s because it’s easier for many technical managers to deal with inanimate objects than it is to deal with people. Building involves taking materials and logically turning them into something productive. You can determine in advance what you want to achieve and, with the right skills and equipment, reproduce an exact replica of a blueprint.

People aren’t like that. Just because someone has the skills to perform a role doesn’t mean they will perform it. Just because a reporting structure should work doesn’t mean it will work. Just because you give someone the title of manager doesn’t mean they can manage. Things get in the way. Things like personalities, past experiences and perceptions.

We have moved on from the industrial age and are now in the information age. People are at the heart of most organisations.  Today, most successful organisations are based on intellectual capital not capital works. So stop treating people like pieces of wood you can build into a structure and start treating them like living beings that will naturally grow if given the right conditions.

Like a good garden, what makes a good team comes down to intangibles and most technical managers aren’t good at dealing with them. They want the black and white, right and wrong, one size fits all solution.

Gardeners know that doesn’t work.

They know you can put five plants in the same garden bed, four will thrive and one will die. Often there is no logic to it, just as with people. You can do all the right things . . . give them good soil, water them, fertiliser them regularly and protect them from pests and they will still die! That’s nature.

You can’t command a plant to grow faster and you can’t command a person to work harder.

So let’s stop talking about team building and start talking about team growing. Let’s look at what we can do to let people naturally develop rather than force them to conform to our plan.

The solution
As a keen gardener and someone who advises organisations on leadership development and employee engagement, I can see that there are many similarities between creating a thriving garden and creating a thriving organisation.  

Whether you have one pot plant sitting on your desk (one employee) or a plot of land that would rival the botanic gardens (many employees) the basic rules are the same. Get it right and your plants will thrive (your people will grow). Get it wrong and you will be left with a dead and dying garden (high turnover or, even worse, high disenagement). 

My workplace gardening philosophy is based on the same principles that successful gardeners follow.

1.     Great teams aren’t built, they grow organically
2.     Work with the nature of your people, not against it
3.     People will grow at their own pace, not yours
4.     You can’t force people to grow, you can only set up the conditions for it to happen
5.     The difference between having a green thumb and a brown thumb isn’t knowledge or skill, it’s attitude

I believe those organisations that will thrive in the future are the ones that embrace the concept of team growing rather than sticking with the outdated model of team building.

Are you going to be one of the leaders who are forging ahead or are you going to be left behind as others around you learn the secrets to growing in changing times? Make an investment now in the future of your people.

Become a workplace gardener and watch your organisation bloom!