I used to work for Bridge2Aid, a charity that sends teams of volunteers from the UK to East Africa to train local health workers. We started small, and in the days before shipping containers were involved, the very first volunteer team had to bring a lot of equipment and supplies out with them. As they were among the first teams, we were still trying things out. After getting them together for a briefing in London, we then told them to get the Hopper Bus from the venue to Terminal 4. They then had to get through Tanzania customs and onto a second flight to our base in the north-west of the country.
However, as well as 11 people, their own luggage and carry on bags, we’d also given them 8 large boxes of supplies to carry. As you can imagine, it was pretty tough to get done. They immediately had to start working together to make sure all the boxes, and all their bags, arrived at the other end.
Unsurprisingly – they quickly bonded, and arrived 24 hours later as a formed team – people who’d shared an experience.
How teams work
In the 1960s, a researcher with the US Navy first came up with the idea of four stages of team development:
- Forming – where people first get together and start to understand the work to do and their expectations
- Storming – this often involves some conflict among people when individual needs clash with group needs
- Norming – after the resistance comes the norming, where people really connect and..
Speeding it up
This process happens in all teams in a normal working environment. But evidence shows that you can accelerate Form, Storm, Norm, Perform – with shared experiences. Shared experiences do that because they help to shape the values, expectations and ways of working that allow people to get work done more efficiently and effectively. In fact some research points to a double digit increase in productivity in teams where leaders foster shared experiences.
Shared experiences can lead to double-digit increases in productivity
What kind of experiences?
The usual team meals, drinks, and social occasions are all important. But in my experience the most authentic and powerful shared experiences are those that benefit others.
This was reflected to me when I chatted earlier in the year to Nigel Jones from Practice Plan. He talked about a cross departmental team who had done a charitable Tough Mudder together. The team involved someone who had some health challenges and that meant the group team had to pull together to get her through. The result was fantastic – big boost for self esteem for her, stringer relationships and increased collaboration after the event.
Giving a team an authentic shared experience, particularly those that benefit someone else, are a hugely positive thing for the hard work of developing culture and team spirit. Because you’re adding in a purpose.
If you would like help to make authentic shared experiences a consistent part of your team’s year, my CSR Club may well be able to help you. It’s just one of the things that I work with my CSR Club Members on. If you would like to know more, click here.