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Teambuilding Courses: Leading an All-Star Lineup

How a short course or workshop can help you build a successful team
Aug 7, 2012 — M. Filtz

In today's business world, more and more work is being done in teams. From project managers to human resource executives, figuring out how to build and lead a team is integral to success.

“People are doing so much these days in teams, whether it's virtual or face-to-face, that they're really seeking better ways to work through team processes, so they can be more effective, efficient, and impactful in their team,” says Dawn Feldman, executive director of the Center for Executive and Professional Development at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

Managing teams does not come naturally to everyone. That's because working in teams can be much different than flying solo. Everything from allocating responsibilities to setting deadlines and budgeting can prove to be profoundly challenging when working in a team. An executive education program in teambuilding can help managers meet these challenges, and come away with a framework to create and lead a strong and efficient team.

The half-day “Leading Effective Team Processes” executive seminar at ASU - Carey helps team leaders and team members identify common problems that teams encounter – and learn to avoid them.

“The way that I teach teambuilding classes,” says program instructor Jennifer Nahrgang, “is to put [participants] in different situations where they can experience a breakdown in communication, or a lack of trust that's happening among team members.”

This approach lets participants to see how this kind of dynamic plays out, relate it to what happens in the workplace, and then analyze it so that it can be approached in a more productive manner in the future. Through this process, executives can pick up effective teambuilding strategies, such as managing conflict and creating better communication in a group.

Indeed, fostering communication within a group setting is a common trait of many teambuilding programs. According to Olga Sushina, manager of executive education programs at Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, interactivity is an integral component of the two-day “Leading a Team: Unleash Your Leadership Potential” program.

“It's not just 'I talk, you listen,” Sushina says, “it's 'I challenge, you react, and please discuss it.'”

Sushina notes that this type of environment encourages people who wouldn't normally interact to share ideas about teambuilding and leadership – which allows managers to draw on a wider range of viewpoints.

Laura Quinn, who oversees the four-day “Leading Teams for Impact” program at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), says that this course draws participants from a variety of industries, including government, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and manufacturing.

Some participants come from fairly high levels of management, already having some grasp of what it takes to be a good leader in an individual-based setting. They come to develop and improve their leadership skills in a team setting.

Additionally, Quinn says that many people who attend “Leading Teams for Impact” are from organizations that have recently been restructured.

“It's a lot of folks,” she says, “whose organizations have either been re-organized or have gone to a team environment, and they find that they feel a little short-changed on some skills in that respect.”

Some executive courses focus on teambuilding in specific contexts. Stanford, for example, offers a week-long course in “Managing Teams for Innovation and Success,” which helps team leaders foster creative thinking. IIM Bangalore offers a “Managing People in Software Projects” course. The University of Adelaide offers a two-day program in “Leading a Team for Positive Change” for those looking to manage teams focused on organizational change. Meanwhile there are also a number of programs devoted to improving management of sales teams.

A broad audience

W.P. Carey's “Leading Effective Team Processes” draws a variety of participants; not only team managers, but also people who have been recently promoted, team members, and even some small- and medium-sized business owners.

“So much of what people are doing in the workplace these days is team-based, that a team processes workshop is really interesting to a broad audience,” says Dawn Feldman.

Perhaps because of the wide range of participants, executive education programs in teambuilding draw on a variety of learning techniques. For example, Olga Sushina says that to help managers develop better teams, SKOLKOVO's programs leverage insights from sports.

“We've found that the great teachers of leadership are sports people, just because they know how to prepare to win,” she says. “If it's a football game, they have to communicate effectively before they even get to the stadium.”

In W.P. Carey's “Leading Effective Team Processes” participants are introduced to case studies, but many people come into the class with specific issues they'd like to tackle, which can be used as a starting point for discussion.

“Most people that you talk to have examples,” says Jennifer Nahrgang. “They might have experiences of 'this just happened in my work, what could we have done differently?'”

CCL's Laura Quinn agrees, but notes that participants don't always come into “Leading Teams for Impact” looking to remedy negative experiences.

“It's not always 'I can't get my team in line,'” says Quinn. “It's often 'my team is being tapped to do some pretty amazing things in my organization, and I want to make sure we get there.'”

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