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by Dr Cain Hunt
3 June 2022

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Creating a team building experience without the ‘forced fun’

Some of the more familiar team building activities staff are often asked to take part in, such as paintballing, escape rooms or adventure days out can feel irrelevant, and a waste of time. Teams often don’t enjoy them or even feel uncomfortable participating.

So, what can practice managers and GP leaders do to promote good teamwork that will be genuinely useful in helping the workplace function better – and not make people want to run a mile?

  1. 1. Ask the important questions

Set aside time to do this in a focused and organised way, gathering the team together to have a discussion. Some of the questions you might want to ask, include:

  • What do you like around here? What don’t you like? What would you change?
  • What do your leaders do that you want them to carry on doing? What do they do that you would like them to do more of? What new things would you like them to do?
  • What do you think we should do about [insert specific problem]?

Give people time to think about the questions before you get together. During the session, make sure everyone gets heard. Try getting everyone to write down one answer and then reading them out, starting with newest team members. Discuss the ideas and put them on sticky notes, so you can move them around on a wall while talking about them over coffee.

Asking your team meaningful questions helps staff get a sense of ownership of the work they do and lets them know their views are appreciated. It also reminds leaders they don’t always have all the answers themselves and although they have a vision for the future direction of the practice, the whole team is needed to achieve that vision.

2. Then, listen to the answers

The crucial thing is for practice leaders to genuinely want to hear the answers. They also need to appreciate that team members may come up with better ideas or solutions than they could think of. While practice managers and leaders have the ultimate say in decisions, it is important to act on the feedback from your team and make changes they suggest, where appropriate.

3. Share your appreciation

Remind your team that criticism is taken to heart much more than a compliment usually is. Try and encourage them to encourage each other and focus on the positive qualities and attributes people wish to see more of.

For example, ask everyone to complete this sentence for each of their colleagues, ‘You help me do better because…’.

Their answers must be genuine and specific to the person. After the session, you can collate the answers given for each person and print a copy for them.

Alternatively, get everyone to choose a word or phrase that sums up what their colleague means to them and create a personal word cloud for each person using an online word cloud generator (www.wordclouds.com)

People’s confidence is boosted when told what they do well and that can motivate them to do more things that are helpful to the people around them. In addition, being asked to think about and acknowledge the positive qualities of their fellow team members makes them appreciate their co-workers more, improving work relationships.

4. Treat team building as a daily event

Improving teamwork so the organisation can function better isn’t a one-off activity. Practice managers and leaders have to spend time with their team, interact with them, have coffee with them, for example, and get to know the individuals they work with. You should aim to make them feel safe, so they willingly come to you with a problem and feel reassured you have their best interests at heart, and wouldn’t blame them when something goes wrong to protect yourself.

5. What about the fun stuff?

Go Karting, Paintballing, Bollywood dancing, spa days, rock climbing and so forth are all fun things to do, as long as your team actually wants to do them. Socialising together during days out like this can help teams get to know each other and build connections. Equally, you may find that more regular, smaller events like practice lunches may be more effective.

Activities with purpose, such as volunteering, can also help your team bond, especially if they help your local community. But it is important to remember that team building is much more about all the little day-to-day interactions, supporting, encouraging and helping each other.

Dr Cain Hunt is a former GP partner from Cambridge. This article is adapted from an article on Dr Hunt’s blog, GuerillaGP.org

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