Teamwork is about pulling together, especially when one of your members is suffering. It promotes the wellness we need to function optimally. Whether you belong to a sports team, a business or a military unit, you have to form into a cohesive collective in order to get the best results.

A common understanding and common language is vital to a team developing a shared way of working and being together. Any leader who requires this from their team has to deliver this quickly in order to maximise its potential. If this is not achieved, the leader will be left with a group of individuals who create friction rather than cohesion.

It is agreed that the fad for team building events which pitted individuals against each other was short-sighted. As were pre-season tours which saw sports teams go wild in holiday resorts and often resulted in disciplinary action. These crazy and bizarre methods used by sports teams and businesses alike were seen to be more harmful than good. However an alternative is still required if a team is to bond.

Therefore it’s worth looking at the ways that teams develop in order to face shared challenges.

1. Military

Whether you look at a two man machine gun crew or an international peace-keeping force, there has to be a unity of effort and team work in order to achieve the mission, especially in hostile and austere environments. This starts from day one of training with the old adage of ‘breaking someone down in order to rebuild them into a soldier’. The training routine is built around a notion that success can only come from working together. Sure there is competition between units but never within units themselves. There are shared experiences at every point, from polishing boots together to enduring bad weather to drinking beers afterwards. How else can a group of ten soldiers get over a 12 foot wall than help each other. Similarly, how could any soldier be expected to attack an enemy position unless he knew he was supported by other units? He knows there are support weapons, mortars, artillery, aircraft around him, that headquarters are watching him and helicopters are waiting to fly him to an awaiting hospital if he gets injured. Everything is built around mutual support. This only happens due to the shared experiences which he and his comrades share.


2. Sports Teams

Much like the military, sports teams have a rotational structure which starts with youth development, those in their prime and veterans who provide experience and instil the team culture and history on those below. However, the coach of a sports team will potentially be dealing with 30 millionaires with large ego’s so has much different challenges when building team cohesion. The coach has to ruthlessly cut those who try to take them on, for example Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson did with a number of ‘stars’. Once control is established, the coach must ensure that the team shares experiences in order to grow together. Every day these will come on the training ground, in the locker room, on the coach to away games so that by the time they arrive on the pitch for a game, the team is tight, instinctive and acts as one. This can be a major issue for those teams who do not train often together such as national sides. Therefore much emphasis is placed on practice and training so that set-pieces and spatial awareness is second nature by match time.

A great book on Leadership and Teamsports is by Alex Ferguson of Manchester United which can be seen here

3. Businesses

These teams focus much less on the physical and the endurance of hardships in order to bond which is why team bonding weekends became fashionable. They were designed to recreate the techniques used in sports and the military in order to unite a team although were often detrimental as whilst they produced winners, they produced far more losers. In an attempt to instil aggression and competitive spirit, they instead alienated all those who weren’t Alpha males. Instead what would have been better would be to look at the times that soldier’s bond such as on a two day hike with camping or how sportsmen bond such as  when travelling to the game, with nothing to do but chat and get to know each other.

This is the difference with business. Most employee’s will travel to work alone, sit in their small team all day, busy, and then travel home. Whereas in sports teams and the military, there are many boring interludes when the only thing you can do is chat. But that’s when you learn about the others on the team. That’s when experiences are shared. If you have enough time you’ll end up knowing them better than many other ‘friends’ you’ve known for years.

Therefore, trips away are vital for shared experiences and team bonding. The shared experience of catching the train, making your way around a foreign city, trying to order a taxi in a foreign language. As with any other team, relaxing with a few beers will always make a team bond as well as show any potential flaws so forget the crazy team building exercises and plan a trip for your colleagues. Whether it’s hiking across the Brecon Beacons or travelling to Paris to watch England win the Grand Slam, it’ll certainly show a lot about an individual and a team as well as creating a shared experience which will bring the team much closer together.

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