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Jul 04 2011

The Mint- Teeming with team spirit


Contrary to the norms of genteel corporate conduct, at IT firm Sapient India’s Gurgaon office, employees are supposed to shed their inhibitions—and their stuffed-shirt look—and narrate their most embarrassing moment during company offsites. A slightly more tricky and, in fact, hazardous game—if the boss is watching—includes forming groups to come up with the best excuse to not come for work. But as former employee and one-time cake-eating competition winner Bhaskar Mazumdar says, only “good can come out of team-building exercises”.

Although Indian companies are still not quite on the same level as many US firms that, in fact, conduct appraisals for the team collectively, team building is an integral part of corporate training (in fact, teamwork is one of the factors all organizations rate employees on). Companies devise strategies to build community, and when their efforts aren’t working, they seek help from consultants, either for a wider range of fun and games or, more critically, for “intervention” when teams/team members aren’t getting along.

Why teamwork

Mazumdar’s most memorable experience has been a particular company offsite at Landsdowne in October where he and a senior with 15 years experience in the profession swapped school stories over a bottle of Old Monk at a ramshackle bus stop. “Having built a personal rapport with him made a huge difference because at a later stage, when I wanted to work in a certain department, it made it all the more easier to approach him. And of course, he moved me,” says the 28-year-old techie, who is currently working with an IT firm in Gurgaon.

Swapping school stories, playing games such as dumb charades, all create a feeling of community and “ensure team spirit”, says Dilip Srivastava, corporate vice-president and global HR head, HCL Technologies, Noida. Teamwork and team spirit, he says, are what help cope with the challenge of “rapidly growing teams and increasing global footprint”. “Through teamwork we can arrive at a diverse and comprehensive mix of solutions to every organizational challenge. We offer our employees, spread across 31 countries, the opportunity to be a part of a global, diverse and inclusive workforce.”

When people from different cultural and professional backgrounds are “required to come together and perform as a team mostly without prior interaction”, promoting teamwork becomes an integral part of business, says Veena Padmanabhan, general manager, talent engagement and development, Wipro Technologies, Bangalore. “It is important that we have a culture where collaboration is the norm and individuals realize that their success depends on the team’s success,” she says.

“While today’s generation is highly achievement-oriented, they also like to have a strong social connect and work together, which translates into excellent teamwork. They are also very comfortable in working in a diverse and multicultural environment, which makes assimilation easier. The nature of our organization and work requires team members to collaborate, which ensures teamworking abilities are developed and enhanced right from the day of joining,” she adds.

Teamwork works at every level of interaction between colleagues, be it breaking the ice between relatively unknown co-workers, or building trust and rapport, and in tough times, building morale in a team. “Through such activities we aspire to improve the way participants collaborate, and not compete, in developing a deeper understanding of their co-workers and how they work,” says Prashant Bhatnagar, director, hiring, Sapient India, Gurgaon. For instance, a personal rapport can help you get an insight into behaviour—even something as simple as understanding whether an employee is actually unwell or is just bunking work.

The fun and games

In 2010, Wipro employees—or Wiproites as they like to call themselves—across 35 cities in 15 countries participated in the Spirit of Wipro mini marathon. The fifth edition of the run, very appropriately, celebrated diversity at Wipro and encouraged employees, their friends and families—and even customers—to put on their running shoes for team Wipro.

Team-building exercises in companies cover the entire spectrum from such fun events to outside-office collaborative efforts.

HCL Technologies, which focuses on collaborative leadership, encourages employees to take up initiatives and manage them. For instance, its Community Service Council generates awareness about the needs of the community that we live in and takes up multiple activities and causes to make a difference; the Grey Cells Council facilitates continuous learning (members organize quizzes, for instance); the Sports Council and the Talent Council organize events to showcase the talent of members; and the Women First Council is designed to focus on the needs of women employees—ways to balance their personal and professional lives, health, career, etc.

“Employees at all levels are assessed on collaboration and working in teams. For senior leaders, ‘Collaborate Working’ is a key leadership competency in the Wipro Leadership Qualities Survey, an annual 360-degree feedback process. Collaborative working encompasses contributing to others’ success, trust inspired by credibility and empowering teams. For junior team members, working in teams is a key competency for development in their appraisals,” says Padmanabhan.

Where companies find themselves stretched, they outsource. A bunch of team-building consultants are working in the area of fostering teamwork: be it for breaking the ice, or intervening when two teams are not working well together. Consulting firm Teamwork and Teambuilding, Mumbai, for instance, has organized everything from film-making workshops to adventure treks, treasure hunts and archery events. Most of these are organized during offsites, just after company conferences. “Another popular, and rather effective, exercise is the storyboard we ask people to do, based on the conference they would have attended. Working in a different, and unusual medium from their usual PowerPoint allows great room for innovation and team-building,” says Mumbai-based Swapnil Kamat, chief trainer with the firm.

Their more serious task is when they have to mend or better relations between two teams that either don’t get along, or can’t find a way to communicate. “Such interventions are usually facilitation-led; instead of one of us giving a lecture on what is wrong, we ask each member of the team what they think the solution should be,” says Kamat.

Despite the fact that the world today seems to be driven by individualism and individual aspiration, it is “surprisingly not difficult” to foster teamwork and team-building among employees, adds Padmanabhan. There is no answer to how these fun and games will affect your profit, in terms of percentage. “But it’ll teach you to have fun together, which is bound to affect the way you work together, and subsequently, your bottom line,” she says.

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