When considering how to help unify a team facing significant challenges, team building events are often considered as a vital tool to help. However we discuss the idea that in such cases team building events are not as effective as more in depth Project Kick-Off and Team Charter events; we explore what the differences are and when each approach is best used.

Often when exploring the idea of Project Kick-Off and Team Charter events, one of the things people wonder is; ‘how is this any different from a standard team building event?’. It’s an entirely justified question as on the surface they do seem fairly similar; they both involve the whole team coming together and doing something outside their comfort zone to build a stronger bond going forward.

However, Project Kick-Offs and Team Charter events typically have a much clearer focus and objective than a traditional team building event. It certainly does revolve around establishing a stronger bond and encouraging better collaboration and team co-operation moving forward, but it also tends to focus on a more specific challenge or situation rather than a general desire to increase cohesion and engagement. There are several other ways in which Project Kick-Offs and Team Charters differ from ‘traditional’ team building events. Below we explore some of the key areas of distinction, and highlight why they are important for a successful project kick-off.

Objective

To create a specific behaviour charter for people in the future

In a team building event the objective tends to be fairly undefined, typically addressing a need for the team to re-establish cohesion and a sense of unity. This is certainly still the case in a Project Kick-Off and Team Charters, but there’s also much more to it; it is about defining precisely what is expected of each team member, what behaviours are welcome and not, and what will ultimately lead to greater success for each individual and the team as a whole. It’s also not just about the team; in many instances a Project Kick-Off event will encourage individuals to develop their own self-awareness in order to find ways to contribute to the team and the project more effectively. It is about working towards real clarity and a sense of unity that is shared by all and that enables a more effective working environment going forwards. How this is achieved will differ depending on the event, but this is the typical objective for such an event. What’s also important is that the session is directed by needs of the team and can be flexed to meet these; while a clear objective is needed, the ability to flex around the needs of those involved is paramount.

People Involved

Involving the team, suppliers and customers

During a team building event normally the people involved will comprise of the team in question, and a facilitator to run the event. However in a Project Kick-Off environment the scope of involvement can be considerably wider. In some cases it may well only include the team and a facilitator, but for a project that is being initiated that involves other parties, the ideal scenario is for them to be invited to the kick-off session too. For example should a team be starting a new project for a specific customer, a good rule of thumb is to invite the customer to the kick-off event as well, to help ensure that everyone involved is on the same page, has the same expectations, and understands what needs to occur to move forward. In addition to the customer, a kick-off event may also include key suppliers, or other stakeholders relevant to the project. Having this wider inclusion from the start helps pave the way for a smoother project going forward and enables everyone to feel involved and agree any actions for the future. Focussed approach – focussed on challenges existing in the team

Depending on the intention of a team building event, there is not always a specific focus defined; it may help improve cohesion, communication and collaboration, but this

is not necessarily the remit of the event. However within the Project Kick-Off and Team Charter environment, there is a very specific focus; the team (and anyone else involved) will be charged with addressing existing challenges and planning for the future.

Whether it is an established team embarking on a new project or a newly formed team aiming to establish some ground rules, the focus will always begin with what the current lay of the land is, and will be followed up with some definitive action plans that can

be implemented to prevent future issues. A strong and clear focus is vital for an effective Project Kick-Off as it will help set the tone for the team’s future and will dictate where and how they progress.

Accountability

Everyone is held accountable for getting involved and upholding the agreed values

Another area where Team Charters and team building differ is in the level of accountability afforded to team members following the event. All too often in team building events, once the day draws to a close anything that may have been learnt is quickly forgotten and status quo creeps back in, primarily due to the fact that no one has accountability or responsibility for maintaining the change.

This is the exact opposite of what a Project Kick-Off and Team Charter sets out to do; one of the primary objectives of the event is to not only create greater cohesion, but also establish accountability for everyone within the team. Throughout a Project Kick-Off all team members will be encouraged to participate, and importantly contribute to the Team Charter. After the event, the Team Charter acts as a constant reminder of what everyone agreed to, and individuals are not only responsible for living up to it themselves, but also supporting others to do so too. This may involve highlighting behaviour that is discordant with the charter, or praising behaviour that demonstrates it well; the important element is that everyone is empowered to drive the change independently as well as within the team.

Facilitator

Facilitated by a professional to help keep discussions on track

A key aspect of both team building events and Project Kick-Offs is the presence of

a trained facilitator to make it effective. However the difference is that in team building the facilitator will typically be a specialist in the activity being carried out, while in a Project Kick-Off the facilitator will often be a professional team coach or similar; someone who can help direct the discussion of the group and help them achieve their objectives. The level of input by the facilitator will vary depending on the team and the project, but at the very least they will be on hand to regulate the discussion and help ensure it remains constructive, rather than destructive. They may also offer some form of training during a session or even direct coaching. The facilitator plays a vital role in the success of a Project Kick-Off, enabling a team to have more constructive and productive sessions, and hopefully achieving harmony as a result.

Discussions

Open discussions about serious issues in a supportive and encouraging environment

Discussions are the bread and butter of a Project Kick-Off. They are the absolutely key element of success; without in-depth discussions and the opportunity to air grievances, little progress could be made within a team. Team building on the other hand usually revolves around an activity where individuals are encouraged to demonstrate their existing skills, and embrace the support of their team members to develop new ones. This is not to say there are no activities included within Project Kick-Offs, or even that team building involves no discussion, but the balance tends to be different. The importance of in- depth and open discussions during a Project Kick-Off cannot be overstated. As many people will know from experience, it is often what gets left unsaid that causes issues, so enabling these discussions to take place in a supportive, safe and encouraging environment can ensure the changes that need to happen can do so, and that people genuinely know where they stand and how to contribute most effectively to the team outcomes.

Team building sessions remain a vital tool in the professional development toolkit, especially for teams that already work well together and perhaps need an opportunity to reconnect in an informal environment. However for those teams who may be facing more significant challenges or for teams that are coming together for the first time, Project Kick-Offs and Team Charters are an extremely effective way to set the tone and expectations from the start, and hopefully achieve long term harmony that will ultimately benefit the individual, the team and the business.

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