, Five Building Blocks of an Integrated Talent Management System, Building Wrestling

What is an integrated talent management?

Integrated talent management (ITM) refers to the management of traditional HR sub- functions (recruitment and selection, workforce planning, performance management, learning and development, reward and recognition and succession planning) in an integrated fashion to strategically leverage talent. An integrated talent management strategy must be aligned with the business strategy of the organisation otherwise it will add no value to the business, regardless of how good the strategy is. The cornerstone of an integrated Talent Management (ITM) System is a robust competency model that guides talent management strategy and tactics.

There are five building blocks that make up an ITM system, i.e. Philosophy of Talent Management, Talent Management Processes, Integrated Talent Management Information System, Governance Structure, and Talent Management Metrics.

1. Talent Management Philosophy

Talent Management Philosophy refers to a collective understanding of what is “talent management” and also the school of thought (pertaining to talent management) the management team has adopted. We learn from organisational psychology that for any organisational change effort to be successful, it must be supported by the top management of the organization. It is therefore important that an acknowledgement of the challenges faced by the organisation from a talent perspective, and how the organization intends to respond to the challenges is expressed in a policy statement of the organisation. The leadership of the organisation must agree on the guiding principles that will be applied to manage talent in the organisation.

2. Talent Management Processes

Processes are used as vehicles to transform something from one form to another form. HR Practitioners should shift their mindsets from a silo based mentality of managing HR sub-functions to a mindset of using these functions as a vehicle to build an organisational capability to attract, engage, and retain competent and committed employees. Each process functions as a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is critical for owners of each process to understand the outputs of these collective processes, otherwise the benefits of an integrated system will not be realised. The following is a brief discussion of how each process contributes to building this organisational capability (strategically leveraging talent).

2.1 Talent acquisition

The Talent Acquisition Process serves as a lever to pull talent from the external and the internal talent pool, but it does not lose sight of the over-arching objectives of the collective processes (talent acquisition, talent engagement, talent development and talent retention). First and foremost, the Talent Acquisition Specialist (TAS) must understand the business strategy and translate it into talent outcomes (the quality and quantity of talent) for the short term (1 year) and the long term (3-5 years). The next step will entail establishing if the required talent will be available (internally or externally) when it is needed. Decisions will be made as to which talent to buy (attract and source externally) and which one to build (develop). The TAS will not be able to make these decisions (buy or build) if he/she does not understand the depth and breadth of internal talent and also what talent is available in the labour market.

If the organisation has the luxury of time and has identified potential talent to be developed, the Training and Development Lever will be engaged to start the process of preparing the identified talent for the future roles. In a case where a decision is made to buy talent for current and future roles, the TAS will embark on a recruitment drive to fill current vacant positions and identify talent earmarked for future roles in the organisation. A talent bank will be established where potential external candidates’ names to fill these future roles are recorded.

The TAS will not be able to discharge their duties if they don’t have a “Workforce Plan” and don’t know what the organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is. These two documents will guide the Talent Acquisition Strategy and the tactics to implement the strategy. The outputs from this process (Talent Acquisition) will flow into the On-boarding, learning and development, and talent engagement processes. The EVP commits the organisation on what value employees will gain from working for the organisation, hence it is incumbent on the TAS and other role players like HR Business Partners, HR administrators, Line Management, Learning and Development Practioners, and Compensation and Benefits Practitioners to make this proposition a reality.

2.2 Talent engagement

Talent engagement is the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organisation and how hard they work and how long they stay as a result of that commitment (Corporate Executive Board, 2005). Employee engagement comes into effect from the point when an employee is on-boarded. The purpose of an on-boarding process is not just about an employee understanding the policies of the organisation and preparing their workstations before they join. The purpose of the onboarding process is to enable the new recruit to add value to the company in a short space of time by coaching and providing them with all the resources they need to feel engaged and valued in the organisation.

Talent Acquisition Specialists have a responsibility to ensure that they recruit the right person for the right job. If the new recruit does not fit the job profile and the culture of the organisation, the talent engagement efforts will not positively influence the new recruit’s engagement level. Learning and Development as a function must also understand the competency gaps identified from the new recruits during the selection process so that opportunities for competency development are immediately created and actioned. Other levers that are used to engage employees include Performance Management, Succession Planning, Recognition and Reward and Leadership Quality.

2.3 Talent development

The talent development strategy must be aligned with the business strategy. The Training and Development Practitioner (TDP) must translate the business strategy into Talent Development outcomes. The TDP should understand what organisational capabilities related to competencies (knowledge, skills, behavioural) must be developed to enable the organisation to execute its strategy. This does not mean that employees who have competency gaps related to their current positions are ignored, they too must be developed. Another source that feeds into the talent development space is the career development needs of employees, which must also be factored into the training and development strategy. The career aspirations of employees must be aligned with the long term plans of the organisation which are reflected in the career paths and the organisational structures of the organisation. You would not want to spend resources developing employees in a particular direction knowing that in the medium/long term, such skills will not be needed in the organisation.

What are the inputs and outputs of this process?

There are three inputs (HR functions) that feed into the Talent Development Process, i.e. performance management, succession planning and workforce planning. At the end of the performance appraisal period, the competency gaps of the relevant employees are collated and fed into the Learning and Development platform. The potential successors’ development needs are also transferred to the Learning and Development platform. The LDP is a critical role player in ensuring that talent is developed for future positions. It is needless to say that the LDP should understand the organisation’s workforce plan so that he/she, in conjunction with line management sets a strategy in place to develop future talent.

2.4 Talent retention

The employee engagement index (a measure of employee engagement levels) serves as a leading indicator for retention. There seems to be an inverse relationship between employee engagement and labour turn over. A decrease in employee engagement scores, results in an increase in labour turnover rate if no action is taken to improve the employee engagement scores. It is important that your employee engagement initiatives are targeting what is most important for the employees you want to retain. Retention risk assessments must be conducted with all employees (those you want to keep) in critical positions and the High Potential Employees (HIPO). If you know what risk you have of losing them, you will develop a strategy to keep them and those that you can’t keep, a backup plan must be put in place so that you have cover when they leave. Talent retention is not a once off intervention; it is an ongoing process that aims to influence how employees feel about their jobs, managers, colleagues, and the organisation. The quality of leadership has the most influence on the commitment level of employees in the organisation, hence, organisations must invest resources to constantly improve the quality of their leaders.

To retain talent, an employer must understand what employees value, and align its practices with the EVP. A culture of “Employee Value ” where everyone in the organisation, from an employee on the shop floor (quality of team members) to the Chief Executive Officer understands and contributes to an environment where the organisation’s EVP becomes a reality.

3. Integrated Talent Management Information System

Different HR sub-functions (recruitment and selection, performance management, succession planning, training and development, reward and recognition) are applied in various processes of talent management and each HR sub-function generates data that are used for managing talent. An integrated Talent Management System enables users to pull all this information (from different HR sub-functions) together to assist decision makers to understand the depth and breadth of talent at their disposal and talent risks that they should mitigate. There are various talent management information systems available in the market. Some are offered as part of the Enterprise Resource Planning, and some are standalone systems.

4. Talent Review Committees

Talent management is the responsibility of line management and HR supports line by making the tools available and also giving them training and guidance on how to apply the tools. Talent management should be a standard agenda item in the Board and Executive Committee (EXCO) meetings. Talent Review Committee’s (TRC) function is to keep the focus on talent management alive, and to understand the talent risks the organisation is facing and develop and implement a risk mitigation strategy. Governance structures take different forms depending on the size and complexity of the organisation. For an example, a global organisation will have a TRC at a corporate level focusing on the senior executive bench strength, a number of TRCs per division, another TRC which comprises divisional representatives that focuses across divisions and functional TRCs. These committees will focus on different levels and different types of critical positions talent pools.

5. Talent Management Metrics

The old management adage popularised by Professor Deming that says “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” also applies to managing talent in organisations. There are a myriad of measures that one can use to measure the impact of talent management initiatives, but before deciding on measures to use, you need to establish from your clients (line management) which measures matter most for them. Internally, you will also want to measure the outputs per process so that you can determine if all the processes are adding value to the ultimate outcome (business performance). There are two types of indicators that must be used when measuring the outcomes of talent management initiatives, i.e. lagging and leading indicators. Leading indicators (e.g. Employee engagement scores) predict the outcome, while lagging indicators are historical in nature (e.g. labour turnover rate). As far as talent management is concerned, the measures must help you answer the following questions:

1. What is the breadth of our talent ( Bench strength/succession cover for critical positions)?

2. What is the depth of our talent ( Readiness levels/ percentage of employees who are ready now, ready in the next year, ready between 1 and 3 years)?

3. What are the retention risks (Percentage of employees in critical positions who may leave in the next year, 2 years, or 3 years; Labour turnover rate of critical talent; employee engagement scores; leadership quality)?

4. Do we attract the right talent (Number of potential candidates per critical vacancy)?

5. Are we developing our own talent (Number of employees with development plans, cross functional moves)?

There are different role players in the whole process of managing talent (from talent acquisition to talent retention) and to make sure that they all function as one team with the same objectives, they must all be measured against the same set of measures.

Conclusion

A framework was presented in this article on how to apply an integrated approach to talent management. There are a lot of frameworks available in literature with varying degrees of complexities. What is important is how you adapt these frameworks to your unique environment.

, 5 Steps To Building A Profitable Home Internet Business In 2017, Building Wrestling

Building as profitable home internet business is not as complicated as you may think. You may be nervous about getting caught up with technical issues that seem impossible to understand. Or you might feel that you’re too old, too young or too inexperienced. Or you may just not know where to start.

As long as you know what you want to sell and who you want to sell it to, you’re ready to get started. Let’s take a look at the 5 steps to building a profitable home internet business.

1. Get Your Website Online

With modern software and technology, building a website is not that difficult. You definitely don’t have to start learning website coding or e-commerce programs. There are many online business systems that can be installed with a few clicks following step-by-step instructions. You can even outsource the whole set up if you feel that it’s too much for you.

2. Get People To Visit Your Website

Your home internet businesses will only make money if you get traffic to your website. Traffic is basically the number of people who visit your website. There are two ways to generate website traffic. You can buy website traffic or you can generate free website traffic. When you buy website traffic, it’s essentially paid advertising. It delivers instant results but the traffic stops as soon as you stop paying for it. So you have to ensure that you spend your money wisely. Free website traffic takes a little longer to generate, but once it starts, it can provide a regular flow of visitor traffic.

3. Provide Valuable Content For Free

It’s highly unlikely that somebody will buy from you the first time that they visit your website. You have gone to a lot of effort to get them to visit your website in the first place and you don’t want that work to go to waste. So, if you can obtain their email address, you can remain in contact with them. To encourage a website visitor to provide you with their email address, offer them something of value for free such a report, a discount or special offer. As long as it is relevant to your business and provides value.

4. Use Emails To Build A Relationship With Your Prospect

Email marketing is considered to be one of the most effective marketing strategies and you will need an email autoresponder. An autoresponder will automatically email your freebie when somebody requests it. It can then continue to send a pre-written series of emails to develop a relationship with your potential buyer.

5. Make Offers Or Recommendations

Email marketing is effective because you are providing regular and meaningful communications. The more value you provide, the more you will be seen as a trusted source of information. Then, when you make offers and recommendations about products and services to buy, your prospects are far more likely to buy from you because they trust your judgement.

, Building Types and Styles of Kenya, Building Wrestling

As the construction industry embraces modern architecture and builders experiment with new styles and plans, there is a growing difference between building types and styles used today than those built even a few decades ago.

Certain styles of buildings are widespread in Kenya and seen as the de facto standard. As a result, most buildings have similar designs and forms that contribute to building limitations in terms of flexibility and ease of use.

Traditional styles of building in Kenya

Until recently, buildings in Kenya have had common characteristics in their construction that are determined by

  • Skills of the labor force
  • Accessibility and affordability of building materials

Developers are beginning to work outside their comfort zones to use varied building plans and construction materials resulting in innovative architectural looks and forms.

Buildings in rural Kenya

Temporary and semi-permanent structures

The building types and styles in rural Kenya are significantly influenced by the region and traditional culture of the people living in a specific rural area. For instance:

  • The Maasai and Samburu tribes construct temporary huts called ‘Manyattas’ to match their pastoralist lifestyle. These are made from twigs tied together by dried tree-bark or strings to make walls with thatched roofs.
  • The Kalenjin tribe construct semi-permanent huts using twigs and posts joined together using nails. Mud or clay is plastered on the twigs to make walls and the floor while the roof is made of long grass or reeds.
  • Coastal people such as the Mijikenda make houses from coconut leaves popularly known as Makuti houses
  • The Kikuyu, on the other hand, use timber for the walls and iron sheets for the roof.

Permanent structures

Temporary structures are dying off and being replaced by permanent houses made of stones and mortar.

For those who cannot afford stones and mortar, bricks are made by mixing clay with sand, straw, stone, concrete and lime, and then shaped into blocks that are either air-dried with fire or dried in a kiln. The bricks are used for walls and pavements.

Interestingly, bricks are finding their way into urban areas as developers seek to construct affordable housing for urban dwellers.

The few permanent buildings in rural areas have similar styles owing to the construction materials used and lack of sufficient skills by local workforce. Most of these homes have:

  • L, T, U and I shaped designs
  • Several bedrooms and a living room (sitting room)
  • Bathrooms and kitchen often built in separate locations from the main house

Commercial buildings are simply built as plain empty halls with no design and style taken into account.

Customary styles and types of building in urban Kenya

The styles, designs, architecture and types of buildings in urban Kenya are more expressive with most built using stones and mortar for walls, cemented or tiled floors and iron sheets or roofing tiles for roof covering.

1. Flats and apartments

They are the most common building type among urban dwellers.

  • Accommodate high numbers of tenants and are relatively affordable
  • Less sophisticated in terms of design and style
  • Range from single rooms, bedsitters and self-contained one-bed houses to self-contained two and three-bed houses.

It is rare to find apartments and flats with more than 3 bedrooms.

2. Maisonettes

More sophisticated in design and based on the personal style of the owner, there is growing demand for maisonettes in Kenya to accommodate the increasing middle class. As a result, companies are developing large-scale projects of maisonettes in a bid to capitalize on the new housing market.

3. Bungalows

  • Mostly built by upper middle class and class A and AB
  • Highly sophisticated in terms of design, style and type

Commercial complexes

They are the most versatile in terms of design, type and space, and materials used range from glass and metal to stones and mortar, plastic, bricks and combination of timber and stones, etc.

  • They include sky scrapers and storied buildings
  • Their designs and use of space is determined by the function of the building with shopping malls and entertainment spots being more open in terms of architecture and design.

, Building a New House – Initial Steps in Developing Plans in Florida and Other Areas, Building Wrestling

Building in Miami or any area of South Florida is completely different from building in any other area of the country. While most of the eastern seaboard of the United States, and much of the rest of the country, builds houses with wood framing and a finish of brick or wood siding, South Florida builds with concrete block and concrete.

Quality vs. price

Because of hurricane winds the structures in this area must be very strong. Where the rest of the country looks down on us because they only use concrete block in their basements, for my money, I really like concrete and block construction. Concrete blocks do not get termites and will not rot. Therefore, a concrete block structure will last for 100 years or more with almost no maintenance. Unfortunately, the vast majority of houses in Miami have wood trusses with plywood sheathing for the roof, then roofing paper and either shingles or concrete tiles on top. This type of construction is not particularly good at resisting hurricane wind conditions. Although the Florida Building Code has tried its best at improving the requirements for installing the roof sheathing and the roof finish, it cannot begin to compare to the strength that the roof would have if a concrete slab were used for the roof structure.

So why, if we know this, don’t we build with concrete slab roofs? Cost – the only reason is cost. It is much more expensive both to design and to install a concrete slab roof, especially on a slope to take a concrete tile finish.

So one of the first things the homeowner needs to establish at the beginning of the design process for a new house is how much the owner wants to spend on the construction. There is the cheap way to build a home and the expensive way. This is an issue that will come up many times during the design and construction process.

The program

But in order to determine a budget, the homeowner first needs to establish the square footage of the new house. To establish the total square footage, he will have to generate a program for the house. The program is a list of rooms with their corresponding sizes.

See the sample list as follows:


Living Room 240 square feet
Dining Room 120 square feet
Kitchen 170 square feet
Family Room 240 square feet
Master Bedroom 240 square feet
Master Bath 64 square feet
Bedroom No. 2 216 square feet
Bedroom No. 3 192 square feet
Bath No. 2 36 square feet
Laundry Room 100 square feet
Linen closet 9 square feet
A/C Closet 9 square feet

Total square feet = 1,636

Circulation and walls at 20% = 1,634 square feet = 327 square feet

Total = 1,634 + 327 = 1,961 square feet

So now we have a basic idea of the major spaces of the house and approximately how many square feet total homeowner will need for the house.

Also, this is a good time to decide whether there will be any outdoor spaces, such as covered terraces or pergolas. In Florida these are particularly good additions to the interior spaces. With wonderful temperatures during the winter there is no reason to spend all the time in air-conditioned interior spaces.

The budget

So what will a house that is just under 2000 square feet cost in South Florida? There is no magic formula to determine this. The cost of the house depends on many things that have to do with the design, such as: the type of roof, the ceiling height(s), the complexity of the design, the finishes, whether it is going to be on a septic tank or sewer, and the type of foundations. Then, there are those costs that have nothing to do with the design, like the location of the house, how busy are the contractors in the area, how well-known and reliable the contractor is, etc. Although the price of a house can vary wildly because of all the items discussed above, at this time a range of $150 to $250 per square foot could be used for a house that is not too elaborate with standard construction. So if we go back to the example. A 2,000 square foot house would cost between $300,000 and $500,000 excluding the land.

The design team

The Miami-Dade County Building Department does not require plans for a single-family residence to be signed and sealed by an architect or engineer. This is not true for all municipalities in the area. For example, Coral Gables does require all plans to be signed and sealed by an architect. But for all practical purposes the volume of information that has to be included in a set of plans in any municipality within Miami-Dade County, most of the time, there is a need to hire several professionals: an architect, an MEP engineer, and a structural engineer. MEP stands for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. The mechanical engineer designs the air-conditioning, the electrical engineer designs the electrical, including the lighting, and the plumbing engineer designs the plumbing. The structural engineer designs the structure and provides the required structural calculations for the building envelope. The architect designs the entire house and coordinates everybody’s work. The coordination of all the disciplines is probably the architect’s most important role as without coordination there could be real conflicts in the construction phase. Although it is legal to produce plans on his own in some parts of the county, it will be an insurmountable task to produce construction drawings for permitting (unless the homeowner has a background in construction with actual experience and the knowledge of the Florida Building Code and the local zoning codes).

What do these design services cost the homeowner? They also vary greatly but there is also a range among good, established professionals. This range would be from 6% to 10% of construction cost for the permit plans for all the disciplines. The services during the construction phase are usually charged separately on an hourly basis or in a separate package.

Style of the house

Another important decision to be made early on is the style of the house. There are basically three styles popular for home design in South Florida – modern, Mediterranean, and Key West.

Once the homeowner decides what styles he wants, it is important to convey the style and the details to the architect. The best way to explain to an architect what he wants is through either images from magazines or actual photographs of other houses.

Choosing an architect

Now that you have the basic items together, the next step is to pick your architect. This is very important as this is the person with whom you will work very closely during the next year.

Take the survey from the existing land from the time you closed on your mortgage. If you have lost it or it’s too old or inaccurate, the architect will arrange for you to get it updated or have a new one done.

Ask to see photos of his/her work. Ask for references. Ask questions. Ask him/her how he would approach the project. Start to sense if this is someone you could work with. Do you like the predominant style of the architect’s work? Does his/her work appeal to you? Ask about the process. Ask what you should expect in the way of his/her services. Ask him to show you the plans for a similar project.

People are individuals and everyone is unique. I remember how many people have hired me because they liked my “Mediterranean” or “Spanish” style or my modern or post-modern style. One person told me that she hired me because I returned her phone calls promptly. Chemistry between people is meaningful. Do not discount your initial impressions.

The construction documents

Normally, construction documents entail several parts: the drawings, the specifications, the instructions to bidders, and the addenda. Normally, when the architect handles the construction bid phase for the owner, he selects the type of contract the owner will have with the contractor. This document is also part of the construction documents.

The drawings are the major part of the work, which along the specifications act as a step-by-step guide for the contractor to use during the construction. Sometimes on large jobs, the specifications are placed in a separate book and called the Project Manual. On most residential projects, the specifications are normally covered as notes right in the drawings. For elaborate interiors a separate package is done by the architect and charged separately.

The construction documents are generated in phases from the general to the detailed. I like to divide my projects into 4 phases: Preliminary design, design development, 50% construction documents, and 100% construction documents. Each phase builds on the previous phase until the architect feels that the drawings are all coordinated among the different disciplines and are ready to submit for permitting.

With careful planning and communication with your architect, his good drawings and coordination and the careful selection of a reputable contractor, your new house project should flow without major problems. Although there are often change orders due to unforeseen conditions or changes the owner wants to implement, most issues should be resolved prior to construction.

For more information on the role of the architect during construction, see my other article on the role of the architect during the construction process posted here.

, Why Basket Building Is Vital to Retail Management Success, Building Wrestling

How big is the shopping basket in your retail business? Not shopping baskets you may have for customers but the virtual basket containing what each customer purchases in a single sale.

So, how big is the average shopping basket in your store? If you do not know, you need to find out. This needs to be measured and tracked in terms of number of items and total value.

Retail managers rely on good data to make quality business decisions. Basket size and basket value, tracked over time and compared between trading periods are two vital pieces of business data which will drive better business decisions.

You can probably find out benchmark numbers for average basket size and average basket value for your particular retail niche. This information is helpful in assessing the performance of your business compared to others in your field.

Once you know your numbers and have a process in place, ideally Point of Sale software specific to the needs of your business, to track the numbers you can set about driving growth in basket size. This is the first step, understanding where you are at today and the trend for these metrics of the business.

Here are tips for growing basket size:

  1. Know what the top selling items on your shop floor are. Often you will have around ten items accounting for more than half of all of your sales.
  2. Use the space either side and around the top selling items to promote other produces which customers buying the top selling items are likely to want. Change these up sell items weekly.
  3. Use your POS software to report on what is selling with want. This can help you understand what products go with what products.
  4. De clutter your sales counter and ensure that easily selected items are placed there for customer purchase. Change these weekly. The best counter offers are those which are quickly and easily understood and which appear to be discounted.
  5. Promote upsell items inside the entrance to your store. Change these weekly.
  6. Promote items at key traffic congregation points in your store. Change these weekly.
  7. Educate your employees about basket size, where the business is at today and where you want to take it. Give them the information necessary to making good business decisions with and for you.
  8. Run regular employee incentives to encourage your team to offer upsell opportunities to customers. As burger chains found out many years ago, you can often get the add-on sail by asking for it.
  9. Talk to your suppliers, seeking out products which could work as up-sell opportunities. Again, focus on products which are easily and quickly understood.

Obsess about basket size as attracting add-on business from existing customer traffic is easier than attracting new customers. If they are in your shop they are shopping, sell them something. That is the mindset you need to bring to the basket building opportunity.

Change is key to your basket building strategy too. Regular change helps you combat store blindness from you and your customers.

Keep measuring and reporting. Respond to what your measurements tell you. Basket building is a relentless yet valuable process for any retail store.

, Leave the Games Behind – Team Building 101, Building Wrestling

Call it a bad, real-life version of The Office. The boss decides that productivity and morale are down, so there needs to be team building. So on a chilly Wednesday morning, rather than being at work, the whole staff finds themselves at the base of a high ropes course. The morning starts with some reaffirming words about trust and positive thinking and keeping an open mind from the facilitator, followed by some activities to aid in communication and trust, such as a trust fall and the human knot game. Soon, after some rudimentary safety training, the staff begins to tackle the high roped elements of the course; some are not so wild about heights, so they elect to stay on the ground and help with the safety ropes. As the sun sets that evening, the facilitators congratulate everyone on a job well done and for participating, and hope that the staff is able to take the lessons learned that day back into the office.

Come Thursday morning, with the exception of maybe some sore muscles, its back to business as usual. The boss cannot figure out why his team is not any better, and retreats back to the confines of his office to ponder what to do next.

This is actually an all-too-common scenario. Too often when a team is not performing up to expectations, the powers-that-be elect for a “team building” day, such as the one described above or something similar. And while a day scrambling up an artificial wall may be fun, there is one major caveat to engaging in the above activities: none of it is team building.

Simply put, team building is not an activity, but an ongoing process. There are certainly activities and initiatives that can be of use as tools in this process, but they are not an end unto themselves, and if used as such or not properly facilitated, they can potentially create more harm than good.

In understanding team building, it is important to determine what it is not.

Avoid the Clichés

First, there must be a distinction made between bonding and building. Bonding is merely an act of sticking two or more objects together; in terms of people, it is two or more people getting along and caring for each other at some level. This can be done very quickly, such as a child using paste to attach the eyes onto their Halloween jack ‘o lantern project in school: effective, though temporary. A more permanent bond is possible, but requires greater time and effort.

Building, on the other hand, is an organized and planned effort to construct a solid structure to serve a purpose. There are many individual activities and transactions required to achieve this goal, and once the initial structure is complete, constant maintenance is required to keep it functional. It is a continual process.

As such, team building is not building camaraderie. While in an ideal environment the team will bond and genuinely care for each other’s well-being, it is more realistic that there are people on every team who wish nothing more than to come in, do their job, and go home. Even more realistic a view is that there are people on the team who may actively despise another member. These are obstacles, to be sure, but ultimately the success of the team is not dependent on everyone liking each other, so this is not a goal of team building.

Additionally, team building is not an activity. Putting a team through team building “initiatives”, such as the aforementioned human knot and ropes courses and the like in an attempt to demonstrate examples of core team behaviors does little at building the team, as these activities 1) do not always translate well to the work environment, and 2) do nothing to secure continual support of the potential lessons learned.

Team building is an ongoing, multifaceted process encompassing several disciplines that, when done properly and given the due attention it deserves in any organization, plays an important role in an organization’s success. Ultimately, it is getting a group of people to work together towards a common goal in such a way that the results of their efforts are greater than the sum of their parts. This requires constant attention and is achieved over time, and must be maintained through continual efforts. As mentioned before, there are additional activities that can help boost or accelerate team building, but these tools are only an additional support option for what should be a daily function of the workplace and the team leader. Moreover, the activities that qualify as team building tools are very specific in scope and how they are applied; in other words, not just any activity provided by a book or facilitator can necessarily fulfill this purpose.

The Myths

There are several myths that have unfortunately been tied into team building, that have created unrealistic expectations in regards to the potential outcomes. The two most prevalent relate to team building’s scope of effectiveness and which activities are most effective.

Myth #1: Team building will cure what ails ya’.

FACT: Team building is not a cure-all. There are many possible contributing factors to why an organization is not performing up to expectations, team building being but one. While some quality team building may create a short-term stopgap for overall poor performance, it cannot heal a sick corporate culture. While team building should be a constant endeavor at any organization, regardless of performance, the deeper, underlying issues need to be addressed if team building is going to have the desired impact on success.

The truth is that while a team’s lackluster performance can hurt an organization’s success, it also may be a symptom of a larger problem. It will still do well to treat the cough, but this will do little good unless the cause of the cough is treated as well.

Additionally, team building may not even be the issue at hand. For example, is there truly a team that needs to be built? High school teachers, for instance, all strive for a common goal: educating their students and playing a role in shaping them into productive citizens. However, the Spanish teacher’s job performance is not dependent on the Algebra teacher; ergo, there is no need to spend time and resources trying to “build” this team.

Another example: is the team’s goal mission critical? If the office’s Sunshine Club is not getting along and it is interfering with the plans for the end of year Christmas party, is it worth the money and lost productivity to send them on a daylong team building crash course? Is it worth spending more than an hour’s worth of conversation?

In both of these cases, there is no need for team building. If issues are arising between the parties mentioned in the examples above, other approaches would be more appropriate.

Myth #2: Activities outside of the office can help highlight key behaviors.

FACT: Stripping away all of the excess baggage and eliminating distractions are excellent ways of drilling down to core issues, but most activities do not support this end in a practical, sustainable way. While on paper, the high-ropes course or weekly “team building” initiatives at the morning meeting may seem like excellent ways of demonstrating the core values of team building, there are major reasons why they prove to be ineffective.

One-shot deal. It is the equivalent of brushing your teeth once a week. It may act as a temporary booster, but eventually decay sets in and undoes whatever few benefits gained. In addition, not everyone in the group may get the same take-away value from the activity, thus leading to uneven results at best from engaging in such activities and reducing the return on investment. For them to even begin to approach being effective, the activities need to be engaged in on a regular basis.

Lack of interest. If employees are not interested in the activities, they will not be keeping an open mind to the potential learnings. True, this may stem from a lack of proper facilitation or preparation on the team leader’s part, but it provides for a difficult obstacle: if one employee is acting indignant, the attitude can spread virally and keep more members of the team from engaging.

For instance, if someone is terrified of heights and is generally not an outdoors kind of person, they will not be willing to engage fully in a high-ropes course. Additionally, if they are not participating in the full initiative and are left on the ground working the ropes, they are not going to get the same take-away value as those who completed the course (harkening back to a previous obstacle in engaging these activities). Is it worth the time and resources to attempt to convince these one or two employees to engage fully in the initiative? If not, is it worth engaging in the initiative if the whole team will not be getting something of value out of it?

Statement of the blatantly obvious. Most initiatives will attempt to highlight the building blocks of team building. These “truths” are often patently obvious and the staff already knows and understands them.

Most productive members of an organization understand that they are part of a larger whole, and what they do can either contribute or take away from the overall success of the team. It is during this debrief, with everyone sitting in the circle and each holding a piece of string in a web that symbolizes their responsibility to the team that the facilitator begins to highlight the requirements of team work and the employees’ eyes begin to glaze over.

Same quota, less time. Most employees will see the time spent on team building initiatives better utilized in completing their work responsibilities. The perception often is that there is still the same amount of work to accomplish, but less time to accomplish it in. At a 3-day in-house team building initiative at one company, employees were told that the sessions were mandatory and would last from Wednesday through Friday. At each break, rather than using the downtime to eat something and relax, the majority of the staff were running back to their desks and answering urgent emails, completing reports and making necessary phone calls. Rather than look for the benefits of the session, most employees saw it as a waste of time that prevented them from completing their work.

No follow-through. Once the initiative has been completed, the staff are turned loose back in the office and expected to perform at a higher level with this newfound enlightenment concerning their role to the team. If there is any positive energy generated, and there very well may be, it will often fizzle out after a few days when it becomes clear that nothing has really changed. Managers do not spend the time following up with their teams properly because they become too distracted with other, more important responsibilities. Lessons are not reinforced. Staff members begin to slip into old habits. The facilitator, if an outside one is used, is nowhere to be found to check on progress.

“We do the bonding.” As mentioned at the beginning of the article, many of these activities tend to generate bonding more so than building. They act as a common challenge that people have had to face, much like pledging a fraternity. And while fun, it if bonding is the overreaching goal (and in some cases, it may be as the job requires it), it would probably show a greater return on investment to go bowling or hit the pub for a few pints after work.

Getting on the right track

So what is a leader to do? Is team building relevant, or even useful?

Yes. They key is to readjust the point of view on what team building is and how to enact the process. It boils down to assessing and addressing the team’s needs.

In the initial stage of assessment, a team leader must ask a question that may not have a clear-cut answer: is team building necessary? Prima fascia this seems an ambiguous question at best with an answer that falls somewhere in the gray scale between black and white, but the answer can be simplified by breaking the question down into its core components.

First, is there actually a team? This is a bit of a trick question. Are the people that are working in the department or office dependent on each other’s performance for their own success? Take for example the previously mentioned high school teachers. They are not dependent on each other’s performance for success within their own classroom. True, if all of the teachers are enforcing the rules equally and pushing all of the students to maintain a high standard of performance, then everyone’s job gets a little easier, but because they are not immediately dependent on each other to complete their job every day they do not qualify as a “team”.

However, if there is direct dependency there, then there is a “team”. For instance, if the staff is responsible for achieving a common goal, such as a sales target or a project objective, and each play a role in seeing this goal met, then they are a team.

Who to include on this team can be a slippery slope. Who gets included? How involved in the process must a staff member be to be included as a team member? Does the receptionist who funnels incoming phone calls to the appropriate parties count? How about the administrative assistant who coordinates all of the filing and required meetings?

The team leader ultimately has to make a decision in this case, but to guide this decision, the leader need only ask a question: if this person vanished tomorrow, how much impact would that have on the rest of the team? The administrative assistant would more than likely sorely be missed, as their contribution allows the rest of the team to concentrate on their areas of responsibility, and having team members rotate in to do that job could prove to be counter-productive. The receptionist (as described above) provides a helpful service, but with some adjustments could have their responsibilities taken care of by the rest of the staff with little impact on productivity. The team leader has to make a decision as to who needs to be included, and what the return on that investment must be.

Once the nature and members of the team have been established, the leader can then move on to addressing the team’s needs. To answer the question posed at the beginning of this section, “Is team building necessary,” the answer is if there is a team, then unequivocally “yes”. As has been mentioned several times before, team building is a constant and ongoing process, so if there is a team, the team leader must always be taking action to keep the team moving smoothly.

Meeting their needs

Every team has the following needs that must be met to keep the team functioning smoothly:

  • A purpose or goal: a unifying reason for the team’s existence

    Communication between members and stakeholders: established channels and methods, and protocols, including who is responsible for what types of communication, timetables, contact people for key issues, etc
  • Accountability: clearly defined accountabilities; who is responsible for what, and who is responsible for control and evaluation
  • Support: backing by management at the highest appropriate level, including access to resources and information
  • Real team building lies in addressing these needs. To be effective, a team leader must constantly be assessing and evaluating how the team’s needs are being met. Where are the problem areas? Has there been a break down in communication between two members? Are the appropriate managers supporting the team’s efforts? Have the team’s actions strayed from the team’s purpose? When a team leader starts acting as an advocate in this way, they are laying the foundation for a solid team.

    This is an ongoing competency. Simply laying the groundwork is not enough; a strong leader will constantly be taking the pulse of the team in an attempt to be proactive is addressing the team’s needs and ironing out any wrinkles before they arise. This process can happen in any number of degrees of difficulty, depending on the team members, the tenure of the team, organizational climate, etc. Regardless, the process does not stop.

    The exception that proves the rule

    Now, with any rule there are exceptions. Those aforementioned “activities” that were written off as not building teams? They may still hold a useful place in the team building process, but under very specific circumstances. Even if these circumstances arise, the usefulness of these tools has not been proven, and a leader should only enter into their use under careful deliberation and using experienced facilitators who understand the true team building process and are capable of a longer commitment to working with the team,

    So when are these “booster shots” appropriate? When should a leader drag his team out into the wilderness for four days to help accelerate the process? The following scenarios may call for additional, accelerated aid outside of the ordinary practices:

  • Brand new team with a looming project deadline
  • New members on the team that must be brought up to speed quickly
  • A mission-critical team in critical condition with a project deadline
  • A team where 100% of the members are on board with the activity
  • With the exception of the last scenario, there is a common thread here: deadlines. In all but the last case, the team is threatened by a deadline that must be met. Now, just because there is a deadline does not necessarily mean that there is a need for a team booster shot; as mentioned before, the team leader must carefully consider his or her options before jumping into such an activity. Booster shots are not a cure-all, remember, but only a tool that should be used in conjunction with sound team building processes.

    For instance, a firm that produces portable MP3 players is about to begin a new marketing push to try to take a larger market share. This initiative could mean the difference between several years of strong sales and expansion, or could result in a loss of capital and market share. The senior management team has two new members within the last six months, and there are tensions between the other four tenured managers that have resulted in some communication breakdowns in the last year. In this case, with a team that not only has a looming deadline of some importance, but also has new members and issues between others, there may be a case to engage in some emergency “boosters” to get the team in synch very quickly.

    Boosters that work

    What are some of the options available? If a team leader decides that a booster is necessary, several routes could be taken. In all of the cases below, the key is constant feedback about specific, individual behaviors that are affecting the team. It is not enough to simply engage in the activity with no direction or feedback. And remember, the team leader is not trying to change anyone on the team, but attempting to change their vocabulary and understanding of each other. Focus on the behaviors, not the people, but with an eye as to why the people may be engaging in damaging behaviors.

    Do the work of the team. The easiest and most relevant would be to engage in a team-specific project that directly reflects the work that they do. This has a high level of transfer and relevance to their other work habits and could result in smoother operations.

    Retreats. Take the team out of the workplace and to somewhere new and relaxed where they can focus on the work of the team (as mentioned above). A change of venue and relaxed environment could yield some strong results, but again the work must be focused on the team’s goal. A strategic planning session, for example, would be a good reason for a retreat, but again with feedback given to members regarding how their behaviors are affecting the team.

    Outdoor facilitated initiatives. No, not a high-ropes course (with its previously mentioned built-in barriers). This can be a very powerful tool if used properly. The advantage of being outdoors is that most, if not all distractions have been removed and it lays bare people’s attitudes and behaviors. The stress of the initiatives (often strenuous hikes with little guidance, book ended with facilitator sessions) brings many emotions to the surface and can really get to the roots of the underlying problems.

    Obviously, there are some pitfalls here that, if not carefully navigated, could end up doing more damage than good. This is why it is important to have a strong facilitator present who is not only able to manage the team’s safety and act as an outside observer, but also to help the team heal itself once the inevitable verbal and emotional lashings happen.

    The Takeaway

    As mentioned before, good communication and follow-up are key to the success of any of these boosters. In any of these cases, there must be follow up over several months to ensure that any positive building is being maintained in addition to the ongoing team building that must be present. Faltering in either feedback, follow-up, or ongoing team needs’ assessment will result in a loss of any benefits gained through the boosters.

    Remember, there are three primary keys that are required for effective team building. First, it must be determined if it is even necessary by assessing the nature of the team. Second, it is an on-going effort that requires attention to specific needs that keep the team operating smoothly. Finally, with any team building, whether it is through every day efforts or through a booster, there must be follow through. If a leader keeps all of this in mind, they will be well on their way to developing strong, high-performing team.

    , Warhammer Invasion the Card Game: Deck Building Strategies, Building Wrestling

    When looking through cards trying to decide what to put into your deck it is easy to be wowed by high cost cards. The trouble is without the right amount of low cost cards the big dogs will never see play.

    You need a reasonable amount of cards that cost 3 or less resources with only one loyalty symbol on the board. Our play group has dubbed these First Turn Cards(FTCs)*.

    In order to create a balanced deck you need to have a large foundation of low cost cards to allow you to start gaining cards and resources early. This is why cards like Warpstone Excavation(a zero cost neutral support card that provides 1 hammer) are on the restricted list.

    Warpstone Excavation is a free hammer that when played early can net you 5 – 7 resources or cards within the scope of a game. Low cost cards are huge in helping you develop a board presence before your opponent. Below is my Dark Elf / Undead Deck I plan on taking to Gen Con for the tournament. This deck works off sacrificing its own units for effects so it has a bit more low cost than most, but it still serves as a good example.

    Units(number x cost + loyalty, bold denotes FTCs)

    3 x 0____ Veteran Sellswords

    3 x 0 + 1L Walking Sacrifice

    3 x 1 + 1L Dark Initiate

    3 x 2____ Crypt Ghouls

    3 x 2 + 1L Dwarf Slaves

    3 x 2 + 2L Thief of Essence

    3 x 2 + 2L Vile Sorceress

    3 x 5____ Wight Lord

    3 x 6 + 3L Monster of the Deep

    21 FTC Units

    Support

    3 x 0____ Warpstone Excavation

    3 x 1____ Contested Village

    3 x 2 + 2L Slave Pen

    12 FTC Support

    Tactics

    3 x 0 + 3L Lash the Prisoner!

    3 x 1 + 2L Dark Visions

    3 x 1____ Warpstone Experiments

    2 x 2____ Burn it Down

    3 x 2 + 2L Sacrifice to Khaine

    As you can see, out of a 50 card deck 33 of the cards can be played on turn 1 to gain me resources and cards for future rounds. That is 66% meaning 4 – 5 cards out of my opening hand are likely to be playable not counting the mulligan. Dark Elves are an extreme example as I stated before since many of these units are sacrifice fodder. As a generic standby rule I would use the following numbers as a starting point:

    26 units — 13 FTCs

    12 Support – 9 FTCs

    This gives you 22 FTCs comprising 44% of your deck. On your first draw, 3 of your 7 cards should be playable not counting your mulligan.

    When you start thinking about the odds of drawing the cards you need the importance of a 50 card deck becomes even more important. Always keep this in mind when building your decks and be selective when choosing your cards. You can always take it out and try something else, but throwing a bunch of cards together isn’t really giving any of them a chance.

    APPENDIX

    • First Turn Cards

    , Understanding the Fire Alarm System in Your Building, Building Wrestling

    The next time you step into your building, I want you to step to the side and take a few seconds to look up at your ceiling, and next to the doors. Take note of the smoke detectors, pull stations, and the red panel that is behind the receptionists desk. Then walk down the hallway and continue scanning for anything on the ceiling that looks like a strobe, horn strobe, and more pull stations at the exits. Finally walk to your electrical room or sprinkler room and you will likely find your Fire Alarm Control Panel (FACP).

    When you take the key and open the panel you will find the installation date, inspection date, and any repairs that have been performed; notated and placed on the inside of the door. This is a great place to begin your search for who to call if your system is malfunctioning. The installation companies name will be on the top of the installation sticker. They likely have an inspection and service division that can repair your system.

    Now that you have opened your panel, you should take note of a few things immediately. First, does the panel show system normal or something to that end? Second, does the panel have a sticker in it showing that it has received its annual inspection this year? Third, take note of the two batteries at the base of the FACP; these batteries should have the month and year of their installation written on them so that you will know when they should be replaced.

    HERE ARE SOME COMMON FAULTS AND WHAT THEY MEAN

    1. GROUND FAULT – This means that an electrical component is making contact with something that it should not making contact with.

    2. LOW BATTERY – This means that your batteries are low, and likely need to be replaced.

    3. DIGITAL ALARM COMMUNICATOR TRANSMITTER (DACT) FAULT – These have the ability to dial out or send a digitized message to a central station who will relay the message to a fire station or notify designated personnel in regard to a trouble in your system. This being a trouble means that your fire alarm system is not communicating properly.

    4. PANEL BEEPING AND YOU DON’T CARE WHY!!! – This is where prior planning comes in very handy. Call your fire alarm inspection and service company, have them send a technician to your building as soon as possible, they will fix the system for you.

    Your fire alarm system has inputs and outputs. Smoke detectors, heat detectors, and beam detectors are common inputs. Strobes and horn strobes are common outputs. When an input detects something that will put it into alarm, such as fire, smoke, or heat, a signal is sent to the FACP. This signal will then be used to send the notification devices into alarm. Meanwhile, if your system is going into alarm, your DACT will be dialing out to the monitoring station who will then notify the appropriate personnel.

    If you want specific information about your fire alarm system you can usually download the user manual after looking at your FACP to find out what type of system you have. You can also request owner training from your fire alarm service company.

    , Eight Little Things Not to Forget When Building a New Home, Building Wrestling

    Building your own home can be exciting yet nerve racking experience. Paying attention to detail throughout the construction process will help streamline the process and increase your ultimate satisfaction with the home. Here are eight little things not to forget when building your new home.

    Ample High Performance Lighting – Be sure to install ample high output energy efficient lighting in high use areas. This rule absolutely applies to kitchens and bathrooms. If installing recessed lighting, be sure to several lights through out the kitchen or bathroom to avoid shadows. Chandeliers, track lighting, fluorescent lights or under cabinet light will all work fine. Just be sure to install plenty of them in high use areas.

    Insulate Your Garage – Most builders only install insulation within interior walls of the home that face the outside of the house. Generally, builders do not insulate the exterior walls of your garage. Forget this tip and your garage will be hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. Have your builder insulate the exterior facing walls of your garage before the drywall is installed. Better yet, do it yourself to save some money.

    Electrical Outlets Under Eaves – If you like to install lights during the holiday season on your roof line, be sure to install electrical outlets under the eaves to simplify installing the lights. Also be sure to install a switch to turn the lights on or off from inside your home near the front entrance. When you are up on that ladder on a blustery winter day, you will be thankful you can just plug the lights in with minimal extension cords and flip the lights on or off with a switch from inside your home. Speaking of holiday lights, install an outlet near the mantel of your fireplace too.

    Double Coaxial Connections in Wall Jacks – Given the popularity of high definition televisions and digital video recorders, be sure to run two coaxial cables into each wall jack where you may want a TIVO or DVR unit. This will allow you to record one show and watch another simultaneously. Forget and you will need to drop that second coaxial line later which can be very tricky after drywall is installed.

    Gas Line In Utility Room – Even if you plan to use an electric clothes dryer, it may be prudent to install a gas line into your utility room to allow for a gas clothes dryer in the future. Although gas prices are on the rise, if you have a large family and do many loads of laundry each week it may be cheaper in the long run to use gas. If you do not add a gas line in the utility room, an electric clothes dryer will be your only option.

    Seal Your Garage Floor – Consider sealing your garage floor before moving into the home. Concrete sealer is available in do-it-yourself kits that will protects your garage floor from deterioration caused by road salts and prevent stains due to oil and other fluids. It also adds to the aesthetics of the garage and may make your home more marketable when you sell in the future. You might also consider a drain in the floor of your garage.

    Ample Height for Shower Heads – This may seem like a no brainer. However, if you forget to raise your shower head to a comfortable height during construction, you will have to squat or bend over while you should be relaxing under a nice warm shower.

    Automatic Pool Water Filler – When installing a pool or spa, remember to hook the pool fill line into your sprinkling system so you can automate adding water to your pool. This is especially convenient in the south where water evaporation rates are high in the summer. This will allow you to set one zone of your sprinkling system to add water to your pool. You then simply tell it to run 10 or 15 minutes once a week.

    The character of your home will often shine through in the details. Paying attention to the details, such as those noted above, will help increase your satisfaction with your new home and should help simplify your lifestyle.

    , The Importance of Building Insurance, Building Wrestling

    All lenders insist on Buildings Insurance if any property is secured against a loan. If anything adverse happens to the property (like it being burnt down), the same property can be rebuilt from the proceeds of the insurance claim. And if your property is mortgage free and a similar devastation occurs to it, you will still be protected by the insurance policy and will be able to rebuild your property from the proceeds of your claim.

    All Buildings Insurances are taken out so as to have a peace of mind against misfortunes that you hope will never occur. This kind of insurance offers protection against structural damages e.g. roofs, walls, floors, ceilings, windows and doors. The causes of structural damages specified in policies are usually by fire, detonation, burglary or attempted burglary, malicious damage /vandalism, natural calamities like lightning, flooding, storms, earthquakes, subsidence and falling trees etc. Also included in the policies are damages on outdoor properties such as gates, fences and railings.

    But do be aware that not all policies cover all the above mentioned potential damages and each insurer will have its own exclusion peculiar to that particular policy. Should you require any specific cover which has not been detailed in the policy then you can obtain one by paying an additional premium.

    In the unfortunate event of you not being able to reside in your property until it has been deemed safe and secure for you to live in, you will need to ensure that your Buildings Insurance policy covers you for a suitable alternative accommodation while works are being carried out on your property. Also make sure that your policy covers you for any associated architects’ or surveyor’s fees.