Why Do Some Teams Coalesce and Others Fail Miserably?

December 22, 2015 post by Kelly Mwila


Have you ever noticed that in many companies there are ‘teams’ who have literally worked ‘together’ for years, but have never REALLY become dynamic, loyal, productive groups who collaborate efficiently and supportively to reach a goal? Yes, they may be doing their jobs and making money for the company, but they are far from what we see from some businesses whose team energy is evident in everything they do. Where does your team fall on this scale?

A ‘team’ is by definition a group of people who work together, but why are so many teams actually a group of co-workers who generally work very independently and communicate just enough to get their own tasks accomplished on time? That ideal team that thrives in an environment of collaboration and camaraderie wherein they relish in the satisfaction of their shared accomplishments and individual achievements seems elusive. So what is the missing link? What is the key to forming a new team or transforming an old one into a group that is energized, happy, engaged, inspired and productive?

Authentic connections obviously! Those who follow me regularly know that creating a space for teams or those in leadership roles to make authentic connections is something that I’m extremely passionate about. It makes the difference between a group of low energy just-productive-enough workers and real teams that are ON FIRE! It marks the difference between a draining corporate culture and one that inspires action, ingenuity, and dedication to the company vision. Why? Because we are human. We all need, to some extent, to be seen for who we really are, to connect with those we spend our time with, and to help each other reach our potential.

Co-workers must fully understand though experience that, just like in their non-working hours where deep connections allow us to be ourselves and to thrive, at work they need the same. There is no reason to feel that at work there should be some rigid wall between ourselves and our co-workers. This doesn’t mean that we should throw professionalism out the window. Obviously, at work there are some necessary boundaries, but in the end, we spend the majority of our lives at work and need these authentic connections to maintain balance and growth.

How long does it take? How long must a group be together before these transformative connections take place that can lead a team to unparalleled success at work? Not long at all! In fact, with the right setting and some bigger thinking, these connections can develop in a few days or even a few hours.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a day adventuring in Mexico with a group of complete strangers (save my travel partner). All 12 of us piled into a van followed by 5 other vans and our guide began to introduce himself and the days’ activities. Then he gave us a team name. I, the team building adventure travel expert, did all I could not to roll my eyes! Who did he think we were? We didn’t know each other at all and we were no team. We were people from all over the world and I could already sense some potential discord brewing if we didn’t get started soon. The day began a bit slow…there was a lot of driving and it seemed like we were passing activities that we ‘might’ get to later. Our first big stop was snorkeling. It was pretty nice, not too strenuous, and actually started to bring out the personality of the group. There were the fearless ones who jumped right in and the especially nervous woman who needed to hold onto the guide the entire time. I found myself venturing out to a further reef with the guide and a few others who wanted to see more, while the others waited behind. We saw a good amount of tropical fish before making our way to the highlight of the day: Rappelling!

Within a few hours a solid team began to form. How? The guide became a great leader instructing us on how to rappel safely. This forced many to ask questions to make sure they understood everything and to decide if they were going to actually go through with walking themselves over a 75 foot drop into thin air – a scary prospect for some…a THRILLING prospect for others (I personally had intense feelings both ways!). As I watched everyone decide, most of us started to ascend to the jumping off point without hesitation. When we realized that a few hung back you could see everyone pulling together and trying to encourage the others. Some tried to figure out where the fear was coming from so they could help resolve it (the problem solvers), some just gave words of encouragement (“You can do it!” “Follow me!”). It was great to see the team start to coalesce!

One woman who had also been the one attached to the guide during the snorkeling made her way to the top of the rappelling tower, freaked out, and despite our attempts to help her conquer her fear, began walking back down. I felt a little bit disappointed that we couldn’t help her overcome whatever made her hesitate, but I was proud that she came all the way up. It was, after all, extremely high over the rain forest and not a place for anyone with a fear of heights.

It was my turn soon enough. I’m the kind of person who can encourage anyone else, but when it comes time for me to take a leap I’m extremely focused on myself and the instructor. I know everything will be amazing if I just listen and do what I’m told. After taking the leap and feeling more exhilarated than I had in some time, at least since the class 5 rapids in Zimbabwe, I came and joined the members of the team who had already finished. We were ecstatic warriors! Then we turned our attention back to the tower and watched the last few team members come down. We were cheering them on and whistling their way down to the bottom.  Just as I thought we were finished we looked up and saw our fearful friend return to the top! The cheering didn’t stop until she made it safely to the ground. We were thrilled for her, but I was even more thrilled to see a team form in such a short period of time.

My Turn!

My Turn!

There were a few more activities that day and by the time we loaded ourselves into the van for the trip back to the hotel, we were exhausted but united! The connections we made were undeniable. Had we spent a few more days together I’m confident our team could have accomplished anything. It’s not just that we came to like and help each other, but we WANTED to see each other succeed. We wanted to push our own boundaries and see those unaccustomed to breaking out of their comfort zones to achieve something they never thought possible. It drew us together magnetically and was exhilarating both on a personal and professional level. Usually I’m working with teams who already know each other to some degree and want to make big breakthroughs for their companies, but seeing these strangers transform into an amazing collaborative team before my eyes solidified the value of adventure travel for me to an even greater degree. We made some seriously authentic connections and I’m happy to know and keep in touch them. The lessons learned provide huge takeaways for us all and I’m confident as they each return to their own professional lives they will feel the positive shift to be bold, take on challenges, and think bigger.

A Connected Team...Created in no time at all!

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