Teambuilding 101

The month of August was a very busy time for me. With many college teams returning to campus for preseason I found myself crossing times zones as I worked with soccer, rugby, tennis, volleyball, basketball, and field hockey teams. It simply wasn't possible for me to say yes to every preseason invitation but the truth is preseason is not the only option for teambuilding.

I strongly believe there are four key times that coaches should consider bringing in a consultant to help their players develop as people. 

Preseason: Preseason presents a unique challenge in teambuilding. During this phase, everyone is typically on their best behavior. Most players envision themselves in the starting lineup and playing a key role on the team so you could argue that teambuilding is ineffective during this time as the team is operating in a false sense of harmony. However, the work I do is rooted in the Experiential Learning Cycle. This process utilizes activities to replicate a game situation which is followed up by an in-depth debrief. This process is unique and useful during preseason because the activities mimic the challenges a team will face and allows the true colors of a team to surface long before they play their first game.  As a result, coaches are able to see who steps up as a leader, who shuts down during adversity, and how the team communicates when they are struggling. Using teambuilding during preseason can help a coach to understand the underlying issues while the team is still on their best behavior. 

Midseason: Midseason is an opportunity to address the real issues and challenges that may slow down a team. By this point, roles have been established and some players will be thrilled with their role while others will be disappointed. Using this point of the season to bring someone in allows a neutral voice to help reframe the negative perspectives that some role players may be struggling with. The clear benefit of using midseason for teambuilding is that you are able to address your clear weaknesses and team issues in a direct and tangible way. In doing so, you may be able to change the course of the last half of your season. 

End of Season: This is the most overlooked opportunity for teambuilding. I often hear coaches say that this is a waste of time and resources because they are investing in players who in just a few weeks or days will no longer be with the team. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of The Power of Moments, make a compelling argument in favor of this option. They state that when reflecting on an experience people tend to remember two things; 1) The highest or lowest moment & 2) The ending. You may not be able to control the highs and lows of a season but you can influence their memories of the end of the season. By bringing in a consultant to do teambuilding at the end of the season you can directly impact how they feel about the season.

A few years ago I had a coach reach out to me near the end of her season. She asked me if I would come in and do a few teambuilding sessions as they were wrapping up the season. As I learned more about the team it was clear that things had gone south that year and by the time I arrived on campus the players had all but quit. Most coaches would call it a wash and focus on next year but this coach had the awareness to understand that she could directly impact their feelings about the season by investing in teambuilding at the end of the season. I met with the team several times and we were able to wrap things up in a healthy way. This served as the foundation going into the offseason and helped the team move in a positive direction. While they still had memories of their highest and lowest moments they also remembered that they ended the season as a unified team.  

Post Season: I often find that coaches are reluctant to use their postseason for teambuilding because they want to have the entire team in attendance. The Post Season simply doesn't allow the incoming freshmen to participate in the process. However, the clear benefit is that you are able to work with your existing players who are now embracing new roles. I frequently hear from team leaders that they weren't prepared for the abrupt shift they felt when they became a leader. By doing teambuilding in the Post Season players are able to practice their new roles in a structured environment. This helps Juniors to start acting like Seniors and allows them to better understand what will be expected of them in the upcoming season. 

There is no doubt that the bulk of the coaches I work with choose to bring me in during their preseason but for me, there are clear benefits to teambuilding at a variety of times during the year. You may want to use the Preseason to better understand your team, the Midseason to address real issues, the End of Season to create positive final memories, or the Post Season to practice new roles. 

The reality is there is never a wrong time to help your team develop the skills necessary to create a healthy culture. If I can help in that process please reach out.

Molly Grisham,
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Molly Grisham