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The HR director’s guide to team building



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Implementing team building programmes in today’s fast-paced business environment is easier said than done. Follow these case studies from companies like Singapore Airlines and IKEA for an effective model of team building, revealed in interviews by Jerene Ang.

In today’s globalised economy, the scale of operations in a majority of businesses often makes it necessary for people across different geographies to work together in teams. So much so that one is likely to find it almost impossible to get work done without working with their colleagues.

In fact, according to a workplace study by Dr Michael Housman and colleague Dylan Minor, if productivity and profitability are what businesses are aiming for, merely working together is not good enough. In order for companies to boost productivity, profitability and retain valuable talent, it is necessary that close bonds are fostered among employees.

However, implementing a team building programme where employees may have to leave their work for a day or two can be a challenge, especially when some employees are reluctant to leave their desks even to go for lunch.

Hence, in this team building feature, we have put together a guide for HR leaders to implement their very own team building programmes using real-life success stories from various organisations as well as tips on how to choose a provider to help you in your team building process.

Case 1: foodpanda: The people aspect of 30-minute deliveries

Organisations with people and technology at the core focus of everything they do need to ensure they actively promote a happy, efficient and engaged workforce to remain innovative.

The leaders have to do this by ensuring strong links are being formed between various teams at different levels – which is exactly what foodpanda aimed to achieve when implementing its employee team programme.

“When we focus on our people, it benefits all other aspects of our business. This has played a part in how we have managed to get our average delivery timings down to just 30 minutes, which was a key business goal for us,” says Madeeha Arain, head of people and talent acquisition at foodpanda, Singapore.

To achieve this, foodpanda focuses on these three aspects – mental wellbeing, physical health, and rewards for hard work – and targeted them in different ways through team building activities.

Under wellbeing, it organises a series of regular team activities such as football games and gym passes for employees to encourage a focus on health and wellness.

Beyond this, it has delivery rider barbecues, where IT co-ordinates barbecues at East Coast Park. This helps connect its riders with foodpanda employees, who might not frequently cross paths day-to-day and who could risk feeling disconnected. Often running late into the night, this ensures that everyone is able to enjoy the event, even after a late delivery shift.

With foodpanda’s delivery rider barbecues often running late into the night, this ensures that everyone is able to enjoy the event, even after a late delivery shift.

For rewards, foodpanda holds a weekly Tasty Thursdays event using its new corporate platform, which allows all employees to order from their favourite vendors straight to the office for free. The company also holds a weekly “Beer O’Clock” unwind session on Friday.

“These are softer, unstructured activities, however, they are ingrained in our culture and go a long way in establishing a nurturing and fun environment for our teams to work in,” Arain says.

When it comes to staff’s physical health, foodpanda takes a proactive approach, providing full health assessments as well as robust health insurance programmes for all employees.

All new programmes have their challenges – for foodpanda, the main challenge was measuring the effectiveness of these programmes.

“To ensure we are gaining a solid ROI, we plan to implement more structure into how we organise these activities. Some activities are for fun, but others can play a bigger part in overall performance and identifying issues, obstacles, systems and skills that need to be developed,” Arain says.

Foodpanda plans to use gap analysis to prioritise the objectives of its team building activities, as well as plans to survey employees on the perceived effectiveness of programmes, and alter them from there.

As a result, foodpanda finds its employees committed to the overall business vision.

“We work in a dynamic industry, and by ensuring we cultivate a strong, collaborative culture, we are anecdotally seeing an increasingly high performing team being established,” Arain concludes.

Case 2: Grey Group: Managing a cross-border senior team

Knowing that its mantra to produce “famously effective” work can be done best through teamwork, employees at Grey are always working in teams – whether it is the huddles over Friday breakfasts or the Monday morning new pitch briefings.

Even the company’s breakout areas are specially designed to be conducive to idea sharing.

Employees at Grey are always working in teams – whether it is the huddles over Friday breakfasts or the Monday morning new pitch briefings.

“Being a large, diverse and global organisation, we have a strong need for team building as it encourages open communication among different groups. This improves working relationships and in turn, the quality of work. The sharing of information ignites creativity, fresh ideas and strengthens problem solving skills,” says Rumki Fernandes, regional director of talent and HR at Grey Group Asia Pacific.

Grey has a variety of team building activities that are not just confined to the workplace, but extend to outdoor locales – through formal and informal clubs.

Emerging from a business need of clearer processes, more data accuracy and greater communication, its global identity management tool is a global application that helps to reduce manual intervention, develops clearer processes, facilitates communication and provides an audit trail to ensure greater data accuracy.

This programme will be used as the conduit for the starters and leavers and will reflect any personnel data changes.

The programme was implemented on a global scale, led and owned by Grey’s head office team in New York. It requires a great amount of collaboration from stakeholders such as senior management from across business groups, HR, IT, finance and facilities management and communication is done via video conferencing, face-to-face meetings and conference calls.

“It was a huge team building exercise that involved people from different offices, functions and regions to work collaboratively as a single unit,” Fernandes says.

“Working on the persona (programme) was challenging as it involved inputs from people belonging to diverse functions, geographies and time zones. It also required a great deal of collaboration and communication across different regions. We overcame the barriers through constant dialogue, a disciplined approach to timelines and teamwork.”

Through this programme, the company managed to obtain higher data accuracy, become more cost efficient and reduce time and effort – all while ensuring that its people worked efficiently in teams.

Case 3: IKEA: Building togetherness in a busy retail environment

Togetherness is an integral part of the IKEA culture.

As such, IKEA has several programmes in place to allow staff to interact with each other to build rapport to better understand each other. Using a co-worker welfare budget, the management of each business unit facilitates various activities (both formal and informal) to nurture togetherness.

In order to allow every employee to have a chance to attend the event, IKEA tries to work around the business operations and at times, splits the outings into two sessions.

These activities include department/management outings (up to three times a year), social activities (such as informal get-togethers, social days and family day outings), learning and development activities (trainings and workshops with a certain level of team building activity) as well as business plan kick-off meetings which include a fun activity for employees (local and overseas) to get to know each other.

These programmes fall under the general co-worker welfare framework (which includes budgets and guidelines for team building) which is owned by the rewards team in HR. This framework then becomes the responsibility for the management team of each business unit to integrate into their teams.

“A happy, friendly and cohesive workforce naturally translates to better business results and customer experience on the sales floor. Hence, as far as possible, we take care of our co-workers’ needs and provide a platform or opportunities for building team collaboration and togetherness which reflects our IKEA culture,” says Lydia Song – human resource director for IKEA Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

The most recent addition to the regular team building activities IKEA has is the social day outing. Added by the sustainability team, the activity brings together co-workers across the organisation for a good cause – building furniture for an orphanage, cleaning up coastal areas, planting trees and more.

The programme has been implemented because the organisation is aware its employees are directly impacted by their work environment.

As these activities are generally appreciated and supported by the management, the challenge does not lie in setting up the event or getting employees to attend the event, but rather in getting everyone together at the same time due to the nature of the retail business environment.

In order to allow every employee to have a chance to attend the event, IKEA tries to work around the business operations and at times, splits the outings into two sessions.

As a result of these programmes, staff are happier, operations are smoother and less miscommunication can be seen, along with a positive impact on the business such as better sales, happier customers and lower staff turnover.

To measure and quantify employees’ satisfaction in the organisation, IKEA uses an annual VOICE survey which all its staff participates in. On a more informal level, the organisation measures the success of its team building by the number of smiling faces, the general atmosphere in the office, laughter among the team members and how often staff go for lunch together.

Case 4: SCIEX: Incentivising the value of teamwork

“Team building to us as a company, and to me as a HR professional, is more than just organising an activity or programme. To me, it is an overall look into everything employees do. It should include both activities for team building and things that are built into the employee’s performance and built into the company’s objectives,” says Lim Teng Teng, regional director of HR at SCIEX.

After the team building programmes were implemented, SCIEX’s manufacturing plant in Singapore saw a double-digit improvement in the engagement survey.

As such, as a company wide initiative, once a year, SCIEX holds an annual kick-off meeting by region – China, Japan, India and the rest of Asia which includes Singapore and Malaysia among others – to bring its employees together, share about what the company has done, what is going on and what it will do moving forward as well to set the direction for the year.

“Besides the company providing the direction to the employees, we also hear from the employees about any of the queries they have as well as what they think we should look into,” Lim says.

The organisation also has a number of team building activities during the annual kick-off meeting. Its behavioural competency programme called the leadership anchors was rolled out to the company via the team building activities to further impart the knowledge of what it is about using various team building games and programmes. As such, the focus of each year’s team building programmes depends on what is emphasised for that year.

Other than that, SCIEX holds a quarterly all-hands meeting, which can be in the the form of physical meetings where everyone is present in one location or it can be in the form of virtual meetings via conference calls and video calls. During the meetings, other than the usual business updates, some countries will have half a day of team building exercises either on-site (in the office) or off-site.

To ensure that teamwork continues after these activities, apart from individual objectives, SCIEX sets department objectives as well as company objectives for its employees. Additionally, incentives such as bonuses will also be measured on company goals on top of the staff’s individual goals.

“I feel that all these have to be aligned together before you can build the team,” Lim says.

To avoid the challenges of low participation rates, most of SCIEX activities start off being held during office hours. However, Lim notes that when holding events during office hours, planning in advance is very important and it will notify employees about such events at least a few weeks in advance.

As its employees gradually find the events help them in various ways – understanding the business direction and being able to communicate better – they become more willing to attend.

“Thereafter, even when we have the events out of office hours (for example, our regional service meeting is on Sunday), because of all the positive feedback they have heard about the events, employees are willing to attend them,” Lim says.

To SCIEX, a good way of measuring the success of these events is through employee engagement surveys.

For example, after these programmes were implemented, “in the manufacturing plant in Singapore, we had a double-digit improvement in the engagement survey”.

Case 5: Singapore Airlines: Achieving service excellence as a team

With teamwork embodied as one of its core values – which it defines as working with pride as a worldwide team to achieve success together – for Singapore Airlines, team building is not just a programme or activity.

“The emphasis of teamwork or team building in our company is evident as all employees are encouraged to embrace and exemplify it from the moment they join us,” says Casey Ow Yong, vice-president of talent management and development at Singapore Airlines (SIA).

The company believes that success in service delivery very much depends on the quality of the individual, teamwork and execution and the accolades that SIA earns from customers are, more often than not, the result of effective communication and smooth co-ordination across functional areas.

Hence, SIA has embedded the team building element in many of its learning and development programmes, its flagship programme being FUS3ION.

Singapore Airlines has embedded the team building element in many of its learning and development programmes, its flagship programme being FUS3ION.

FUS3ION is a team building training initiative designed to enhance and promote integrated safety, security and service excellence (denoted by the “3” in FUS3ION) among SIA staff from flight operations, cabin crew, engineering and ground services.

It is managed by SIA’s human resources’ corporate learning centre which works closely with the programme facilitators from each of the four operational units who will roster or schedule staff from their respective areas for each run.

FUS3ION aims to develop participants to be members of high-performing, cross-functional teams who share common goals and accept each other as internal customers deserving of a high level of service. Participants become champions of FUS3ION and propagate the FUS3ION message among colleagues.

“Through FUS3ION, we hope to bridge the invisible barriers that might hamper effective cross-functional co-operation in any situation,” Ow Yong says.

The participants of the programme include staff from the airline’s four key operational areas – technical crew (pilots), cabin crew, ground services and engineering.

The technical and cabin crew are rostered to attend, while staff from the other two operational areas are scheduled to attend as part of their annual training plan. One of the operational areas will also have their senior vice-president participating in the programme through hosting dialogue and interaction sessions with participants to further demonstrate the value and importance the company places on the programme.

No programme is without its challenges. For the FUS3ION programme, the main challenge is to get staff out of their “comfort zones” to share the challenges they face with one another.

To overcome this challenge and encourage staff to contribute in the discussions, SIA places an emphasis on the objective of the programme and the sharing of past success stories as well as some ice-breaker activities and role plays to improve communication and deepen understanding.

As a result of this programme, SIA’s employees have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the roles, responsibilities and challenges faced by their colleagues in other operational areas resulting in employees being able to work as a team better to manage any situation.

At the same time, the programme improves collaboration among teams, ultimately leading to its customers benefiting from the delivery of service excellence.

“We have received consistent high ratings and favourable feedback from the participants of the programme. Success stories and learning points are often used as case studies in the programme itself to enhance learning,” Ow Yong says.

Tips on how to implement your own team building activity/strategy

  1. When introducing new team building activities, hold them during office hours.
    This is especially for organisations that are just starting to roll out team building activities and events. Holding them during office hours will give employees less reasons not to attend, increasing the participation rate of the activity. Once employees get the hang of the activities and see the usefulness of them, activity timing is less likely to be a reason to not attend.
  2. Stretch out the duration of social gatherings such as barbecues and company dinners.
    This is especially for organisations in the retail or service sectors where shift work is common and it is difficult for front line employees to leave their positions without affecting business operations. By stretching out the duration of these events, employees will be able to attend and socialise before and even after their shifts.
  3. Remember to build teamwork into the workplace/company culture.
    One-off events are easily forgotten. Hence, the best way to encourage better teamwork among employees is to build it into their daily activities around the workplace.

Tips on how to choose a good vendor

Many of the team building examples and tips discussed above are implemented in-house, by the organisations themselves. But of course, there’s always the option to outsource the planning and implementing of these events to a team building provider.

For this, Human Resources spoke to Alex Blyth, founder and managing director of Mega Adventure, for some tips on choosing a good team building provider.

Before selecting a team building provider, it is recommended HR leaders have a clear goal of what the organisation is trying to achieve.

“The better you can define and articulate your needs as an organisation, the more likely you are to identify the right supplier,” he says. “The more basic your needs, the easier the task.”

For organisations that are just looking for a half day or day of bonding fun, here are three things to look out for when sourcing a provider:

  1. The resources of the team building company.
    Where does the team builder operate? What activities do they suggest? Who will deliver the programme? Can they accommodate your numbers and needs?
  1. How efficiently is your initial enquiry responded to?
    Are they efficient? Are they personable? Do they respond to your needs in the way that you would like your team to respond to the needs of your clients? Do you feel a good chemistry? Can they adjust their programme to accommodate your specific needs?
  1. The proof is in the experience.
    Before reaching a decision, check out the experience of other organisations who have used the services of that provider. Any team builder worth their salt will have a long list of happy customers who have enjoyed working with them, and they should be keen to share those contact details with you. In addition, ask your friends and contacts in other companies who they used and what they thought of them.

Should the organisation have more complex needs, which focus on specific team needs, such as communication, risk assessment, decision-making and crisis management, the abilities of providers can be quickly assessed by asking them more penetrating questions.

“Your investment in such a programme is likely to be substantial, so ask the provider to visit you. Give them a detailed brief on the issues that your team encounter and need to solve, and ask them how they would approach the problem,” Blyth says.

“Beyond an understanding of your team needs, they will need to know how much time and money you are prepared to invest in the project and most importantly (if they are good provider), what the most accurate and meaningful measure of a successful outcome is for you. You can then map out the project journey and final objectives, with both parties clear on mutual expectations.”

Image: Shutterstock

Now that you have a clearer idea of how to choose a team building provider, feel free to refer to the Human Resources’ special edition – Vendors of the Year 2015 for a list of Asia’s best team building providers.

 

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