Sam is new to the role of CIO at a technology-based company. The company is under massive pressure to re-imagine itself having been punished by a regulatory body for some rather public failures. The executive team has been re-booted and Sam is part of this new blood.
The executive team has been given the remit to claw back reputation and profitability. A new culture and way of doing things is part of the plan.
As Sam talked through with me what their team needed, they realised it was swagger. A cultural reboot of this magnitude is bruising for staff that survive, and confusing for those who come on board. What Sam wanted was for the team to have a sense of purpose about who they are and what they can achieve.
They also wanted the team to realise how capable they were for the task at hand. Sam had hand picked many of their own team. But they realised that getting good players was easy but getting them to play together was the hard part.
There was tension between the old and new in Sam's team. Being of the new school, Sam was very aligned with the approach to getting on with things of the latest recruits. So the question was how to get the team to bond? How could they get them working together greater than the sum of the parts?
The team had suggested competitive cooking and this is what Sam raised with me. Would this work? In my view, no.
Activities such as these are common suggestions to encourage teams to bond. While there is a place for activities, they mostly miss the point. If you are looking for the team to build trust and new ways of working, 'fun' (and it's not everyone's idea of fun) activities don't do the job. If you want better communication within the team, more team synergy and better conflict management, white water rafting is not going to hack it.
What is needed in teams is to build relationship system intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a well-accepted concept, with research to prove that it's EQ and not IQ that differentiates great executives. Similarly, it's relationship systems intelligence that builds flexible, resilient and high performing teams.
Margaret Wheatley points to the power of teams being in the relationships within the team:
"In organisations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions."
The good news is that relationship systems intelligence can be developed. Much like EQ that can be enhanced and grown, teams can learn how to perform more effectively as a high performing team. Team coaching is a new and emergent field targeted at leveraging recent research and work in the area of systems thinking, conflict and mediation, positive psychology and process work.
If you want to let your team blow off some steam or reward them for hard work, then a sushi course, or abseiling may well do the job. When your team is ready to grow beyond the sum of the parts, it's time to hire a team coach.