Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fishing for a team

In an earlier post, “Group or Team?”, I mentioned that our management team was heading off to go fishing. And so we did.

I didn't know what to expect. Was this going to be a offsite meeting to talk about strategy and planning or just a pleasure trip with a little team building thrown in?

To prepare for the former, my team and I developed several UML diagrams and processes to bring clarity to what we do and how we fit in the organization. My hope was that I would bring back a complete picture of our responsibilities, our relationships with other groups, and an overview of how we fit in the overall organization. We also created a list of perceptions our staff and my management team had of the senior IT management team (this was a very interesting, eye-opening list with candid feedback and detailed information).

With all this in hand, I headed for Wisconsin with the rest of the management team to fish and talk. The fishing trip would begin a full six-hour drive from Minneapolis. We drove in three cars and I spent the first six hours riding with a colleague. During the ride, we had a great conversation about life and technology. At one point, I did pull out my diagrams and started to go over them with this fellow. He was trying to follow along with my conversation, and agreed with me at a high level, but I completely lost him as I was explaining the UML diagrams. It is difficult to talk about UML diagrams while driving!

When we got to our destination, we started with a great dinner at a local restaurant followed by a few drinks, cigars, and tech talk around the campfire. Over the next two days, we went fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan and had great luck. Everyone got at least one fish ranging from 11lbs to 16lbs, but for the most part we enjoyed the host's 36-foot Silverton boat as we drifted across Lake Michigan.

The trip was more of a team-building event than a strategy or planning session. We had fun and got to know each other much better and, as a result I think we are one-step closer to becoming a team.

Here are some of the areas I think have been strengthened due to the trip:

  • Mutual Trust—We did gain understanding and respect for each other during this trip. I think this is the first step towards trust.
  • Mutual Support—I think support will be easier as we have greater appreciation for and understanding of each other.
  • Communication—This definitely is something we need to work a lot on, but the trip is the foundation for better one-on-one conversations and communication in the future.
  • Conflict Resolution—After this trip it will be easier for all of us to pick up the phone and share challenges and issues with each other.
  • Organizational Environment—Respecting individual differences starts with understanding where we all come from and what we stand for. The trip definitely helped drive this to the forefront and as a result I think we will have an easier time supporting each other.
  • Have Fun—We sure had a lot of this!

I want to extend my thanks to the host for putting on this event. This sort of team-building event would not have worked if it had been planned and executed by an outside company. And I would recommend to you, my readers, that you should follow my host's lead and develop your own team building exercises whenever possible. No outside consulting company knows your people or your company culture as well as you do, and you can work wonders in making an event like this more personable and fun than the typical "Outward Bound" team building exercise.


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