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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Teamwork and Team-Building


Team Building for Executives:

How the Carolina Hurricanes Became NHL Champions

Norm Olynuk

Case study of a successful team building campaign within a championship winning major sports organization, and applying to businesses.

It's a question that's top of mind for most managing executives: How can I get the most out of my staff? In the hyper-competitive business environment of today, many businesses are becoming aware that a prerequisite of peak performance is a psychological understanding of actual human motivators.

A basic behavioral understanding shows that frequently, things previously thought of as "intangibles" are often at the forefront of an individual's motivating factors. These intangibles relate to the innate desire in human beings to be part of something larger; to extend his or her circle of connectedness outward, past the family/friends sphere; and if possible, to instill a good dose of meaning in one's function at the workplace.

The fact is, as a species the human desire for 'meaning' is at an all-time high. People find meaning most often when they feel they are an integral, even powerful part of something larger. (Remember that to 'empower' does not necessarily require the bestowal of a higher position or title.)

The recognition of this general concept is likely responsible for the growth of team building programs being implemented in companies of all shapes and sizes. But to get to the point, how can you improve your company's team building concept or event to achieve highly positive results?

The Proof: 23rd to Champions in One Season

To have a more detailed at what works and why, let's break down an example. Hockey fans will know that recently the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, the holy grail of the sport. The previous season, 2003-04 (as 2004-05 was nullified because of a lockout), the Hurricanes finished a lowly 23rd in the NHL - 15 points out of the playoffs. How did such a growth in performance happen, and who or what is responsible?

The answer does not lie in the Hurricanes headhunting acumen, as 17 of their 24 players were either returnees from the 2003-04 team, or were unproven greenhorns at the elite level of the NHL. Rather, they developed and integrated a cohesive team concept in a rather interesting way; a way which is relevant to just about any staff manager out there.

To make the Hurricanes successful, Laviolette believed he had to do two things: create an inclusive atmosphere for everyone in the entire organization, and secondly, have every player buy in to his vision. Sometimes the team building included something simple, an impromptu meeting or watching Monday Night Football as a team. But the team admits that they biggest single difference maker came just prior to the start of the season.

It was at an event away from the 'office', in fact in the middle of a forest, with players working together on a rope-climbing obstacle course. On the rope course, players were climbing 30 to 40 feet above the ground on the apparatus and were heavily dependent on each other.

"I come from the minor leagues, and in the minor leagues there is a closeness," Laviolette says. "And I found that there were walls up here that separate players, separate the coaches, separate the management. Those walls are built so high, and I don't think they have to be here. That's just my opinion. I think if you can tear down those walls, you can get people to care about each other. Who do you want to fight the hardest for? It's the people you care about."

Hurricanes' defenseman Glen Wesley recalled the team building event's igniting effect. "It was something that was a lot of fun and there were some great memories from that time of bonding," Wesley said. "It really just started getting us close as a group right from Day 1 and it continued from there."

Duplicating a Winning Model

If every participant in your team building event can come away with a sense of achieving something unique as a team, it goes without saying that the meaning and energy within the group dynamic rises dramatically. Remember this: meaning is synonymous with commitment, and commitment plus energy equals revenue. We've seen this time and time again, but this concept is still not widely accepted by many executives.

Rising Above Fears

In the above example, the fear of heights was confronted and overcome. If together a team can overcome a situation where fear-based emotions were prominent, a natural sense of bonding occurs. Camaraderie and a powerful sense of 'team' are amplified. As far as team building goes, this an area where perhaps the traditional company golf tourney misses out.

Of course, there is a difference between perceived fear and actual danger. The safety of individuals must always be held paramount.

Enlarging the Circle of Trust

An added bonus often presents itself to include customers and associates in team building group events. Further extending and wrapping your feel-good corporate culture around associates in this way can strengthen relationships and increase purchases dramatically. Take advantage of this when available and appropriate.

Norm Olynuk is the Operations Manager for ProFormance Racing Schools and Corporate Events, which provides NASCAR-style racing and team building for groups and individuals at tracks throughout the US and Canada.

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