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Team Building: Beyond Hiccups and Howling

Photo by Merakist on Unsplash

I'm often approached either as an executive coach or a business consultant to work with teams to help enhance behaviors and/or develop an appetite for change. For the most part, the motivation for seeking team building assistance tends to fall into one of two categories I affectionately call Hiccups and Howling.


Hiccups are defined as something that has brought a behavior to a leader's or organization's attention. It can be described as an unwanted behavior, flagging team morale, underperformance, or unproductive conflict. Hiccups are emblematic of disruptive behaviors and wishful thinking with the belief that there is some remedy -- a one-shot sure-fire cure, training, or assessment -- that can bring things back into stasis or return to "normal." (Hold your breath, drink water upside down, or a spoonful of sugar.) Working with teams with a "hiccup" mindset is usually short-term and rarely sustainable for the long term. One-time team workshops without an ongoing behavioral framework that everyone is committed to is at best, temporary.


Howling refers to the motivation of wanting to align the team into a pack that collectively howls at the moon, united in purpose. It is a benevolent motivation stemming from the desire to enhance unity, comraderie, and alignment in purpose and actions. Leaders seeking a howling approach are often looking for a conflict-free culture that is internally driven with less external props. Howling is mistaken as an outcome when in fact it is a behavior. It also misses the fact that the strongest teams are diverse with different perspectives, backgrounds and ideas. Rather than aligning to a single goal (or behavior like howling at the moon) strong teams require a complete score of instruments moving in tempo from harmony to dissonance to resolution. Creating a score is not only necessary, but makes performance possible for others on a repetitive basis. Rather than howling in unison at a primal level, teams need to be more like an orchestra, each playing their part in a revolutionary masterpiece that gives equal footing to the major and minor keys.

A more sustainable team-building approach.

With the level of disruption that has defined the last two years and with no real signs that our disruptive environment will settle down, the idea of team building is moving away from one-off band-aid or bonding approaches that were so prevalent in the last decade, to a more purpose-driven, approach that allows teams to self-align based on recognizing individuality (strengths and skills), experience (cultural and career), understanding how behaviors and emotions are linked (emotional intelligence), and building space for divergent thinking that isn't driven by a top down approach but looks more like an energy exchange system between peers and reports. The work I do in this space isn't done in a vacuum. It is part and parcel of the strategic planning process and is aligned to real goals and outcomes. When I am engaged to work with a team, we take a sustainable approach by focusing on the four dimensions of the team through Discovery, Dynamics, Design and Delivery. A team not only consists of people, but it is also a collection of strengths, emotions, momentum, creativity, connections, commitments, and measurements when well managed, assures that the team is not only high-performing but sustainable.

flow chart showing the 4 D's of building sustainable teams

The next time you have the urge to cure a case of the hiccups or convene your team for a howling session under the next full-moon, take a minute to consider the short-term versus long-term benefits. Teams thrive when viewed through a 4D lens.

Break the Tape Leadership helps leaders unleash creativity and potential in themselves and the organizations they lead to generate meaningful momentum. (And we help teams avoid the hiccups and howling at the moon expectations with a 4D approach for building sustainable outcomes.)


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