The Best Neglected Team Building Idea You’ve Never Heard Of





Find a good subject, a good teacher, and an hour of blocked time and you have a great team-building idea for a management team.

I’ve seen this work with many different business-related topics. The first time I saw it, I was part of an Apple Computer team listening to marketing guru Lynn Phillips explain value-based marketing. His marketing theory was spellbinding. And it wasn’t just me — I was one of about two dozen. That half day sparked a delightful shower of new ideas and long-term discussions. Whatever Apple paid him was well worth it.

The same Apple executive who did that one also organized similar workshops on channel management, sales, leadership, and business planning. Those workshops contributed to a happy management team that grew its group’s annual sales from $2 million to $40 million over four years. Every hour of expert lecture paid off with the collective satisfaction of the individual managers, first, plus the benefit of a shared language and framework that facilitated discussion and decisions.

Since that first experience, which was three decades ago, I’ve seen that kind of success repeated in several other companies I’ve worked with. I think you’d probably agree that people like to learn. The opportunity for formal learning as part of a job is a really good perk. People appreciate it. And when the people in charge choose good speakers and good topics, the value of learning increases even more.

I rediscovered this idea recently from Learning Is the Most Celebrated Neglected Activity in the Workplace, an article in the Harvard Business Review. Author Gianpiero Petriglieri, professor at the prestigious INSEAD business school, writes:

“Everyone says that learning is essential for companies’ success — and for your own. And yet, on a daily basis, who cares for your learning? No one. People care about what you have learned. They care about your results. Learning is great as long as you do it quietly, in your own time.”

He goes on to cite the popular 70:20:10 “formula” stating that 70 percent of learning happens on the job, 20 percent through coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent takes place in classrooms. He says that’s folklore, not real, but he adds:

“The reason we have turned folklore into a formula, I believe, is because it resonates with the safest, most efficient kind of learning — the incremental kind. We acquire an idea and we practice it with some feedback on the way. That eventually results in mastery. That kind of learning is additive — and addictive.”

Addictive? Good choice of words. That brings me back to my own experience, which is that people like learning, and shared learning is a great boost for teams.

If you want to adopt this idea for your own team, I can offer these fairly obvious tips:

  1. Find somebody who does it well. Check references. Ask for past clients you can talk to.
  2. Choose a topic that brings the group together, general interest. Strategy is the best, hands down, because everybody gets strategy and it generates great discussions. Marketing, branding, strategic alignment, and — my personal favorite — business planning are also good. Avoid topics such as Finance, Google Analytics, or copy writing, that tend to leave people out.

Team Hand Pile Photo via Shutterstock

4 Comments ▼

Tim Berry


Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

4 Reactions

  1. Nice article, Tim. i also liked your suggested topics of discussion.

  2. Aira Bongco

    it is a good thing that we prioritize training in our team. This is because we know that if one person develops, the whole team does as well. This is not to mention that trainings bring people together.

  3. Funny how obvious this is . . . now that you’ve pointed it out. In my experience in the corporate world, I do remember that when a company invested resources into my training and team building in general, it changed my perception of my role there. I felt more like a valued member of a team with a potential shared goal. Thanks for reminding me of this — I’m definitely going to be mindful of it as I continue to build my own business as a database developer.

  4. “Shared learning is a great boost for teams”–

    When I was among the Formerly Corporate, I very much appreciated being offered learning opportunities. I did feel like the company was investing in me, and those in the classes became colleagues, teammates, and sometimes friends, rather than just a name in the directory. It was my experienice of the high-performing teams in those settings that led me to a second career with small business owners.

    Now that I offer business planning, marketing, strategic planning in mastermind teams for small business owners, it’s gratifying to see those topics mentioned in this article. For small business owners, investing in themselves for learning and relationship building can be the end of isolation and the beginning of profitable collaborations. We have to build our own teams.

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