Chris Parker – SAHJ

A year ago I bought my 3 year old son a spacerail online, which is a toy roller coaster with little silver balls that are lifted up by an electric mechanism and dropped in at the top of the roller coaster and then begin weaving their way down the maze of rails to the bottom where they once again begin their journey back to the top. It was going to be amazing to share the experience of building and enjoying this marvelous toy together. I was very excited, my 3 year old son on the other hand had no idea what a spacerail was.

Once it arrived the first thing that caught my eye was the age bracket on the box, which for 16 years and older. Ok, so perhaps the build would take a little longer than initially planned …

Well, was that an understatement! Each part in the box had to be painstakingly assembled from scratch, the rails had to be measured and cut and the instructions were less than useless. So you basically looked at the picture on the box to figure it out. For every part you clipped in, another seemed to unclip, which was very frustrating in and of itself but with an impatient 3 year old tugging at every part while you try and assemble it, it made for quite an experience. Once assembled the balls would fall off at a bend, when you fixed that bend then they would fall through at another section that just shifted because you fixed the bend. So you spent as much time fine tuning after the build than you did doing the build.

However, once working properly the reward was great. It was almost therapeutic to sit and watch the monotonous motion of the balls completing their laps with only the sound of the little electronic motor and the occasional swishing as the balls flew round a bend.

Then I had an idea! This would be a great team building exercise for the staff at our company. So we bought 3 spacerails and split the staff into 3 teams based on the departments they were in. There were no rules except the deadline of two weeks.

It was quite fascinating to observe. Everyone was very excited to start (well some more than others), but I knew what was in stall for them. There excitement would turn to frustration, maybe even despondency. They would need to persevere and work together, but once they had achieved their goal the satisfaction would be great.

No one was quite sure what the objective was, ie was the first team to complete the task the winner, were you allowed to help other departments, were you allowed to take it home to work and so on?

One team completed the task within about a day, another about a week and half and another just in time to meet the two-week deadline.

Once we had finished we just sat and talked to hear about each person and each teams experience. I really just asked one very open question along the lines of “what is your feedback on this teambuilding exercise?” and was very surprised at the depth of insight it gave to the working dynamics at our business. I wont get into too much detail but one thing that was mentioned was that appreciation of the fact that we were able to discuss a particular matter (for the first time) that was only highlighted because of this exercise. It allowed one group of individuals to be heard on a matter that had actually been on their mind for some time and for management it made the matter so much more evident. It also allowed other staff members to hear the issue that had been bothering their fellow team mates. Time will now tell if we can get it right to properly deal with the issue that was raised.

Aligning the rails

One thing that I have learned over the years is that companies have their objectives and visions and employees have their own objectives and visions. More often than not these are completely unrelated. So unless they are aligned then the chances are high that they will eventually part ways.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that people need to be built as individuals and in teams and as an organization. Its not enough to just focus on staff members one at a time because that only deals with a vertical relationship between you as boss and them as employees. It does not deal with horizontal issues between themselves and other staff members that make up the smaller teams and also the entire organization. Any goodwill you develop between yourself and an individual can be damaged or completely destroyed because of disharmony with them and one or more other staff members or departments.

So, to borrow from the spacerail project, if the rails are not aligned then the rollercoaster will not function correctly and so with your team, if the individuals are not aligned with you and with each other then the process of achieving your vision will be so much more painful.

Share your vision

A good starting point and one which I often take for granted is the vision for the business. If staff members do not know what the vision is then how can they be inspired and motivated to help achieve that vision. If there is no vision, then this should be addressed as high priority and then shared with your team.

Learn their vision

At the same time it is important to learn what your staff members visions are, because if they are out of sync with your own then either re-alignment needs to happen or they need to be related to with this fact in mind.

Help them achieve their goals

Understanding your staff members goals / vision is the first step in helping them achieve those goals. It may be that they don’t have very clearly defined goals, in which case you can help them to define them before you start helping them achieve them.

Make sure feedback is objective

When you feedback to your staff members try and be clear on when something is fact, ie performance based on the numbers, versus personal feedback based on how you feel. If it is based on how you feel then say as much (couples communication 101).

Use team building exercises

Team building can happen all the time. They don’t have to be an expensive excursion but rather can be any little task (like the spacerail example above) and you can have a lot of fun thinking of small teambuilding exercises. The important thing is that it is observed by yourself so that you can draw your own conclusions, but most importantly that the staff members are given a good platform to feedback themselves as this is where the most revealing information lies.

Don’t just pay lip service

Once you have implemented some processes that are designed to build your team and you are getting good feedback and make staff members feel heard, the secret will lie in actually taking action. If you just placate staff members and don’t show tangible steps that facilitate achieving their own goals then they will eventually get the message and start making other plans, which will affect your goals.

What if their dream is to open their own salon?

This is a tricky one and perhaps my answer might not be the most popular but if this is what their heart is set on then its better for you to know about this and (shocker alert) even help them achieve this. If you do it in the right way you may be pleasantly surprised because you will have avoided losing a staff member and valuable clients unexpectedly. This will be for you to work out based on what you know about yourself, your business and your staff but can be refreshingly liberating to send people on their way with your blessing rather than having to explain to your clients whey they are such a terrible person for leaving on such bad terms and stealing all your clients.


Teambuilding is an ongoing and complicated process that needs constant monitoring and managing. Teambuilding excercises are just one part of teambuilding but are important. The secret is for everyone to be getting what they want, while helping you achieve your goals of running a successful company. Not every person is the same and this is why engaging your staff members on multiple levels is of key importance.