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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Olympic Calibre Team-Building

A key part to a successful Olympics is having the various teams that need to work together functioning smoothly, and supportive of each other. During my stint with the 2010 Olympics I observed a variety of different team-building approaches, and also brought my own style to the table.
There can be times in the events world - like any other high-paced occupation - where the stress levels get very near or hit the breaking point for people, so the team-building, trust, and communications all being in place BEFORE that time is a crucial element of success.
Team-building should be viewed as a way to build that trust relationship within teams and between teams, as well as learn to understand different communications styles, personalities, motivators, and stressors for each person in that team. Teambuilding should not just be about the fun & game-playing (although that is what will draw people in and keep their interest) but everyone should walk away having learned something. Learned something about themselves & each other in one or more of those categories I described.

Throughout my Olympic experience I was involved in, led, and observed several different styles of team building. It varied from formal workforce (read HR) lead exercises for the management teams to impromptu celebrations and subtly motivational sessions by small groups/teams before and during the Olympics themselves.

One of the leaders who reported to me who I observed being really good at this aspect was my Telecom Manager. I learned a great deal from observing how he interacted with his team of very diverse skills & personalities, and kept everyone functioning to what appeared from a manager's point of view as a well-oiled machine of motivated and focused people. He used a variety of techniques but the number one thing I noticed was how he would always make things seem like they were grass-roots sessions, and the team always wanted to be involved. It never came across as formal or mandatory, yet was always well organised and everyone who participated had fun and knowingly or not, walked away having learned more about each other and how to work successfully together.

Depending on your level of leadership within an organisation, this can be a challenging task to come up with and lead these sessions, and one of the keys to making this easier I have learned is to be open & receptive (and have the team learn that you ARE that way) to ideas for activities to do together. Then take those ideas and find the ways to wrap the subtle learnings around them without making it a formal knowledge transfer situation. The first couple will always be a little tough; especially with a new team, or a team that is having challenges already. But if your motives are transparent & sincere, people will eventually buy in. Few people like to miss out on fun stuff at work.

Also, think about your connections & resources available through your work & personal networks, and how you can leverage those to bring the team together for fun activities. A small example of this from my Olympic experience was having arranged for our Technical Rehearsal Helpdesk Team & officials to get together in an impromptu manner when we had completed the last day's work during our TR2 sessions in December, and get snowmobile rides for a group picture in front of the newly placed Olympic Rings on Cypress Mountain. This was arranged by asking favours from my friends in the Sport Operations team, and made a huge impact on the team. Not everyone can use such a specific example, obviously, but it's the idea behind it that counts. It's the fact that you reward the team for working their butts of for you, but share that experience with others outside of the immediate team to show that you trust & value them, and don't feel that you need to keep them sheltered away from the rest of the organisation.

So build your team Olympic style - think big, be open to and solicit creative suggestions from your team, interact beyond the immediate teams to share the corporate culture, and take risks to have some fun & build trust. That's the key to an open communication.

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