Taking a Break to Build the Team

Teams become effective when they build enough internal character as a team to allow conflict and gain group consensus. That conflict must be central to issues and problem facing the team. Team members must feel
free to take any side of an issue.  To create that type of a free standing atmosphere sometimes, well, all the time, existing barriers and prejudices need to be broken down.

I led a Center of Excellence group that had Maintenance Specialist assigned from two different processing plants.  The plants, though belonging to the same company, used different maintenance philosophies and approaches in managing their maintenance activities.  Of course, each felt their approach to plant maintenance was superior.  Within the first day, ribbing, down-talking, and some pretty hefty “shots” were being expressed.

We run into this all the time when teams are thrown together.  You walk into the project room, and suddenly realize there are two camps setup, and folks are verbally lobbing bombs across the room to the other camp.  I wish I could say I’ve only seen this happen once or twice. But no, it’s been more often than that.

The danger is that team members will begin to isolate from each other, since their initial loyalties lie back at their home shop, not in the combined team project room.

One technique that I’ve used often is the work break. Yes, it’s a break for the team members, but a key work time for me. I’ve unabashedly manipulated the team members to get sparing parties outside and on a break together, repeatedly.  And each time I get them away from work, I make sure we don’t talk work.  We talk family, sports, cars, hunting, gas prices, politics, religion, anything and everything.  In a nutshell, I get them to know each other on a personal level.  And it works; not over night, but usually within a week or so.  Though occasional ribbing may never go away, as the team members become truly comfortable with each other, they will begin to listen and to approach issues and problems not from what is best for them, but what they think is best for the team and the project.

So when tensions rise, I have them take a break, and I go to work.


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