Team Building for Executives:
How the Carolina Hurricanes Became NHL
Case study of a successful team building campaign within a
championship winning major sports organization, and applying
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
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
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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