7 Valuable Lessons Leaders Can Learn From Team Building

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In this blog post, we continue our series on Leadership. So far we have discussed what leadership is and what makes a good leader. Last time we looked at how to build a culture of leadership on teams, one that empowers all team members to become leaders. Here we look at some of the lessons that team building provides for leaders, and the ways that team building can teach teams about leadership.

Throughout our years of experience as a team building company, we have been privileged to work with many different companies and teams. Through these experiences, we’ve been able to see first-hand how teams operate, and what makes good leaders.

Since we’ve been discussing leadership a lot recently, we thought it would be a good time to share the lessons that we feel can be gained from team building. Since team building presents teams with challenges that they haven’t faced before, in an interesting and low-stakes environment, it not only tests the mettle of teams, but also their leaders as well. 

So with this in mind, here are the top lessons that leaders can learn from team building…

1. Listening is the most important thing you can do

As we’ve said before, the most important thing leaders can do is listen. In our team building events, it’s the teams whose leaders listen the most who do the best. Why is this? Leaders sometimes have the tendency to dominate conversations. Other times too, team members look up to leaders or don’t want to disagree with them, causing them to remain silent.

But when there are challenging situations, teams need to gather as many opinions as possible (we’ll talk about that more below). They also need to watchout for problems in team dynamics, so that they can step in and offer guidance or support. And to do that, leaders need to learn to sit back for a bit and take in what their team members are feeling and saying.  

2. Collaboration is key

In this same vein, collaboration on teams is key. While leaders provide critical roles in guiding and supporting teams, and in some cases offering more direct coaching and instruction, often what teams need from leaders is simply smoothing out the collaboration process.

When solving challenges in a team building activity, there’s often a lot of voices talking at once. People are excited, and they want to get to the end in the quickest time possible. But we know from experience that the best leaders encourage collaboration–by asking different members about their opinions, or by guiding short decision-making discussions about how to proceed.

This kind of collaboration eases friction on teams, and makes everyone feel included. So even if it feels like it’s taking more time to get everyone to collaborate, it actually ends up pushing these more collaborative teams farther.  

3. Having different options is always better 

We see the following situation a lot. One member of the team (most of the time the official or unofficial leader) gives an opinion about how to solve a challenge, and the rest of the team immediately nods in approval. They try the idea, and then realize it doesn’t work. So they have to start again from the beginning.

This is a natural approach to making decisions. But it’s flawed because only one option is being offered at a time. Now let’s look at another way of doing things. Another team reaches a challenge and a bunch of different team members start offering ideas.There’s a quick brainstorming session, and then one idea is chosen. 

Same as before, the idea doesn’t work. However this time they have other ideas to immediately fall back on. Or they can combine the idea that doesn’t work and a different idea to find the right solution.  

The most successful teams in any given challenge are usually the ones that have the most options about what to do. These are the teams that are really combining their skills and working together. Good leaders should be aware of this, and always be encouraging as many ideas as possible.   

4. Leadership isn’t always about being the loudest

To be clear, there are times when leaders need to fulfill their “coaching” or “selling” function–being out there, motivating the troops and getting everyone on board and excited about the direction the team is moving in. 

But that is not the only role of a leader, and sometimes it can get in the way of other team members and their ideas. Unfortunately, sometimes we see leaders on teams who feel the need to always show that they are in charge, every step of the way. This can come off as unnecessary in the best cases and domineering in the worst. 

Depending on the situation, it might sometimes be better for leaders to take a step back–to work at encouraging team members or guiding from behind. But it’s also a way to let other team members step up and demonstrate their skills and abilities.  

5. Leaders are part of the team

This brings us to a very crucial point, which is that leaders are part of the team. They may have certain roles or influence on the team, but they are ultimately not above everyone else. For the very simple reason that in team building, as in life, a leader’s success rests on the success of the team as a whole.

So leaders have to get dirty, so to speak, and get involved with their teams. In our team building activities, when leaders stand to the side, or simply give orders, they are separating themselves. Leaders that engage with their team, laugh with them, and act just like any other team member are usually on teams that are the most successful in the challenges. Because everyone (and I mean everyone) is taking an active and equal part.  

6. Learn to fail 

One of the best lessons team building can provide is how to fail. Wait a minute, you might think, don’t we want to learn how to win? Isn’t that what leadership is about? As many researchers and philosophers have said, success might be the end goal (whatever that means), but the process to get there requires failing.

Leadership itself inevitably leads to failures. You can’t win every time. But, you can learn how to deal with failure, and how to keep your team going despite it. In team building, teams often can’t solve certain challenges alone, or don’t make it to the end of the game. 

That’s ok, because the lesson is not entirely in the winning itself, but rather in the process. And there are valuable lessons in failure–lessons in humility, vulnerability, resilience, composure– that all team members need to learn and understand in order to become better leaders.

7. Read the situation

In our last blog we mentioned “situational awareness” when it comes to leadership. Basically, good leadership requires taking stock of a situation and adapting the leadership method to it. So sometimes a leader needs to be vocal and give orders more directly (like when training new employees or younger team members), but in other situations might need to be more hands-off and delegate more. 

Being able to shift seamlessly into these different roles is not easy, and it requires some training and practice. Team building is one good way to do this. Each challenge is a little different, and presents a slightly different situation to teams. So leaders cna practice reading these different situations and adapting their leadership methods to them.

For example, some challenges might be too much for teams, and so a leader can step in to take charge, or make the decision to call for help. Other challenges might be easier for teams to accomplish, so leaders can work at smoothing discussions and bringing in as many voices and opinions as possible.   

Conclusion: The benefits of team building for leadership + one extra lesson

As you can see, team building is a great way to test not only how teams are doing, but also how leaders are doing as well. There are numerous lessons that leaders can learn from team building about how to be better leaders, how to guide and nurture teams, and how to react as a leader in different situations. 

The seven lessons here are ones that we have distilled through years of running team building activities and escape games for teams. Of course, there are always more lessons to learn, which is perhaps the ultimate lesson of team building. There will always be things you don’t know as a leader, but it’s important to keep an open mind and an open heart, and always continue to learn.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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