Hartford Business Journal

"One of the main reasons that team building is so successful is that the process a group moves through when presented with an interactive challenge, simulates the critical steps that occur in the work environment when completing a project or other work related task. "

HBJ – Why is there such a huge emphasis on team building in today’s corporate world?

CHARETTE: One of the main reasons that team building is so successful is that the process a group moves through when presented with an interactive challenge, simulates the critical steps that occur in the work environment when completing a project or other work related task. These steps include clear identification of the task - making sure that everyone understands the desired outcomes, brainstorming potential solutions, establishing a shared vision, implementing the plan that they feel has the best potential for success, re-evaluating during the process and incorporating revisions as necessary. A thorough debrief is then conducted to identify and rectify individual and team barriers as it relates to productivity. Another reason that team-building programs are so popular is that there are literally hundreds of activities to choose from varying in difficulty and ranging in length from 15 minutes to several days. With such variety, a catered program can be developed which is designed specifically for the needs of that particular group.

HBL – How do ropes courses and other team building exercises translate to the office environment?

CHARETTE: Ropes courses translate well because we all occasionally face daunting challenges with a large risk - real or perceived - and ropes course events allow individuals to move through the same process. Although a ropes course looks nothing like the corporate environment, the similarity is that you occasionally find yourself in work-related situations that are uncomfortable and yet still require you to move forward and complete the task. Those that are successful in the high stakes corporate environment are usually those that do not shy away from dangling high above the ground so to speak. A properly run ropes course is very safe although it may be tough to convince yourself of that when you’re attached to a rope 20 to 40 feet off of the ground while traversing wires or clinging to poles. Fortunately the risk is not what it seems – primarily because the rope that you’re attached to is tested to 8,000 lbs. and could hold up the vehicle you drove to work in. Ropes course events can even be set up so that the other team members are actually holding the braking mechanism (belaying) that provides the safety for the climber. This promotes team trust and accountability. The physical and verbal support that occurs during and after attempting a high ropes event can be incredibly powerful and impacting for the individual –especially for those whom heights are a real issue. There are also different options for level of difficulty. One example is a ropes course in Bristol, Ct. called Pine Lake that not only has a great mix of easy and difficult elements, but it also has an event that is wheelchair accessible. Individuals that prefer not to take part as active participants in the climbing can still be actively involved and vital to team success in the critical areas of site managers and heading the belay teams. Over the past several years indoor ropes courses and climbing gyms such as Prime Climb in Wallingford, Ct. have become popular and take the outdoor element out of the equation by providing a safe and comfortable rain free environment.

HBL – What kind of businesses benefit the most from strengthening team skills?

CHARETTE: There are many situations where a company could benefit a great deal from team development training. Some of the most popular programs include companies who are looking for further development in employee leadership training and communication skills building. Other popular programs include orientation programs for fast growth companies whose new hires must quickly fit in with an existing core group. Also companies who have downsized and are in need of a shot in the arm for the remaining employees and management teams. Quickly moving up in popularity are competitive programs that pit teams against one another in an effort to simulate the challenges of the marketplace.

HBL – Is there a segment of the corporate world that you’ve found to be more reluctant to this form of training?

CHARETTE: In general the corporate world is very responsive to team development training in large part due to the fact that Fortune 500 companies have had great success with it for many years. The banking industry, insurance companies and the high tech industry are very high on team building trainings. You sometimes find reluctance from individuals who have a pre-conceived notion of what “team building” is based on stories that they’ve heard or perhaps a negative past experience. When they realize that you are not going to do “touchy feely” activities and that you actually have skills development activities designed specifically for their group they tend to bye-in very quickly and thoroughly enjoy the training.

HBL - How can employers help employees with stress management in the workplace?

CHARETTE: Stress is a very complex issue when you take into account the fact that everyone has a different stress tolerance level. Proper stress management starts with the individual. Things such as personal history, exercise, and diet all play a part in determining how much stress is put on our minds and bodies. Things that can be done in our work environments include creating a favorable office environment – good lighting, pictures, plants, soft music. Proper time management is critical to stress management in the workplace. Allow individuals an opportunity to meet with their managers to share the work related things that keep them awake at night. Don’t make assumptions. Offer continued trainings. Leverage your current job responsibilities to allow you and your employees to balance work and home. Allow your employees to donate a few hours of work time per year to a cause or community service. Be more complimentary and celebrate small accomplishments along the way. Thank your employees when they least expect it.

HBL – What are some of the newest, most innovative ways of motivating and training people?

CHARETTE: One training system that is exploding on the scene is the use of improvisational theatre techniques. Improvisation is the art of “performing” without any preparation or planning. Strictly speaking, improvisation is making it up as you go along. By definition, we are all expert improvisers. We go through the vast majority of our lives without a script, responding to our environment. In a workshop setting, individuals are guided through improv techniques that are designed to improve communication skills, team agreement and leadership development. A wonderful upside to this type of training is that it is often incredibly funny. Many of the games and sketches are similar to those in the hit TV show “Whose line is it anyway”. Managers and intact work teams alike are finding tremendous value in this type of training. If incorporated in a graduated series of workshops, groups can even conduct a live comedy performance at a company meeting or outing.