When thinking about developing a team building meeting or workshop, the timing is important. In this article, we will look at what informs timing design with some tips about where to start for the best opportunity for a team to succeed. Some of the key concepts that underpin this understanding are provided also, to inform your own decision making.
What we know
There is an acceptance in the world of individual change that 50 to 75 minutes is the sweet spot. Therapy and coaching sessions often hover around this period of time, with therapy perhaps having the most robust evidence in terms evaluation – supporting a 50-60 minute session. This is a well-known figure, as many clinical services offer 1-hour sessions and many of us have had experience of these.
In the family therapy world, where groups of people (a family) are supported – there are often two therapists or more and the sessions are typically around 90 minutes. Creating the space for more people to speak, reflect and arrive at some shared growth or ways forwards.
In larger group therapy, where resources allow it, time often flexes around the size of the group. Typical times can be 2 to 3 hours, for larger groups with complex themes. In my own experience, I have worked in 100s of groups / teams where 2 to 2hrs30mins was about the average. In coaching, I’ve seen groups work together for whole days and in some cases, entire weeks (on retreats).
Key considerations in ringfencing the time
It may seem obvious that the time inflates as the number of people increases – but if you ask why, a detailed understanding may be difficult to articulate. This is true for many teams, who may choose to ringfence time together but don’t know how much and don’t know how best to use the time, if they create lots of it.
To develop as adult humans need a safe space to think, we need to know how to think (reflection), we need to know what to think about and how to take this thinking forwards into real change.
In therapy (and in 1 to 1 psychological coaching) we support this process through formulation approaches to problem identification and a collective of methods that support reflection, support individual insight and enable real change. This happens at the individual level, in these spaces.
This need does not change when we move into group spaces, as individuals we continue to need this type of support and space to process the team experiences and grow. Therefore, any team building space needs to have space in it for individual thought, paired conversations, reflective work, sharing reflections and arriving at conclusions.
What changes is the impact of a human system, a group, in the same space.
Social groups have enormous power and impact on us as individuals. We can be supported to grow and succeed or be crushed into a corner, by the social environment we occupy.
When groups are together, there is a well known process often referred to by Gestalt Psychologists which states that, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Put another way, the whole team’s feelings, behaviours, traits, efficiency dwarf that of each individual – or can, if this is the culture of the team or the team are pressured and stressed for a sustained period.
This same statement, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”… also invites us to realise that when the team are brought together and activated in the best ways – the individual problems are also potentially dwarfed by the united intent to solve, the recognition of bigger values and successes and the teams collective ability to take on problems as a whole team. It’s hard to put into words, but when a team feels connected we feel at home, valued and eager to support the group. This is the experience we want, if our teams are to best function.
Why am I providing this brief 101 class in systems psychology?
Well, really to bring home the idea that team building spaces also need time for the group to learn how to play together, share feelings, connect, communicate better and take risks together.
This requires a type of work that is similar to 1 to 1 work, where teams feel brave enough to state issues, learn to explore them together and use reflection to create solutions and plans to change their culture. Culture by design.
A Sample Workshop for Your Team
It is quite amazing how quickly a team can feel differently, when the right types of spaces are created that invite these types of team experiences. Like therapy and coaching, a sense of relief and a joined-up desire to change can be felt quickly.
For teams that wish to start this, here are some timing ideas that have come from 2 decades of this work alongside great amounts of evidence about group work design.
We recommend a 2 x hour team building meeting, ideally once per month. A sample of what this might include:
A check-in process to support the team to feel that they have arrived in a fun and safe space (10 mins)
A positive exercise that supports growth and connections, with individual and team reflection time. (40 mins)
BREAK (10 mins)
A challenging exercise that lets the team practice dealing with the prickly culture issues, again with individual and team reflection. (40 mins)
A summary in which the team arrive at agreed actions to experiment with, to change the team culture. (15 mins)
Rapid check-out to support the team in naming their experience of the process (5 mins).
(we have a free ebook for you that provides detailed approaches to these, for you to try).
This is adequate for teams of 5 to 15 people. Any more and we have seen teams fatigue very quickly, any less and you lose some of the key ingredients. Of course, teams vary and you can follow your instincts. But this is a good place to start and will provide insight into whether your team wants more, less or has arrived at its sweet spot.
In our work, when time is precious and teams are stretched – we prescribe no less than a 2 hour meeting once per month. This is an investment of 30 mins per week into the running of your team as a group who feel good, get a lot done and resonate union.
When struggling team leads tell us, “we don’t have time for this” we don’t compromise, as our evidence shows that any less rarely works. Investing into team functioning is critical for many teams. We’ve written elsewhere about how spending this time buys time through the improved working of teams, but it is a leap of faith for many team leads to take. The question to ask, in all seriousness, is can your business afford not to?
Our work shows improved engagement, retention of staff, confidence, team connections and reduced stress over the team. All at the cost of 2 hours per month.
Free resources to help you get started
If you haven’t before, please consider trying this.
If you want a free teams ebook to get you started, click here.
Or you might prefer a free course that expands more on these ideas and why complex change is difficult for any leader. Click here for more info.
Aim Your Team.
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