A company hired us for some team building sessions for its members of staff. We thought it was unprofessional medicating without diagnosing the problem. Do you just go to a doctor and say, ‘I have pain when passing out water? Please, prescribe for me some antibiotics’. A physician who exists to make money may be tempted to prescribe against professional requirements.

We have lost some business opportunities because we have often refused to carry out team building training for the sake of it. We know team building is the in-thing in Zambia, and it is an essential part of promoting cohesion among staff members. The problem is that every business that is experiencing poor performance agility among staff is prescribing team building. When a company loses market share, experiences poor customer care or fails to honour contractual obligations, the only known response is team building.

I told one CEO, ‘It will be a total waste of time running a one-day team building session to treat a problem of ten years.’ He never phoned me back, opting to hire another individual.
On one of the few cases we agreed to run the training without an experience investigation, the team I sent to conduct the training in some outskirts of Lusaka phoned back, ‘It has been cancelled. The staff said it is pointless going through training without the presence of the CEO and the Finance Director.’

As far as the staff members were concerned, the source of the problem in the business were the two people. The CEO was accused of being at the centre of the internal friction because he had allowed female employees to have an upper-hand in key decisions of the business.
As for the Finance Director, they felt he was indifferent to numerous problems the staff were experiencing, refusing to release money for marketing and operational activities. The staff were of the view the team building training should have been targeted at the two people who, unfortunately, decided to fly out of the country at that moment. They decided that the training could only be held when the duo was available.

This is the problem with team building sessions that, though effective in themselves, most businesses in Zambia have, unfortunately, prioritised ahead of real internal business re-engineering requirements. From my own experiences, team building training raises a lot of expectations among staff to the point they believe things should change immediately after a retreat. For those businesses that allowed us to carry out thorough diagnosis, we discovered the need for team building would just apply to very few companies, and may rank lowest on the required interventions. When a business is experiencing operational hiccups, the real problem may be about the following:

BUSINESS PROCESSES: In this case, even where employees are in sync with one another, we discovered that poor or outdated business processes may give a picture of poor performance in a business. In some companies, roles are so overlapping that employees do not know who is responsible for what.
Even in a football team, roles are properly defined, the goalkeeper must remain in his position and allow the strikers to be the ones who score. Lack of job descriptions in a business may show as though the employees are incompetent, inexperienced and arrogant. A well elaborate organizational structure with clearly defined authority levels and company values will enhance efficiencies that will make a business competitive. Most businesses in Zambia are desperately in need of elaborate businesses processes that change with the times. If Zambian businesses took this route, they would be very competitive.

Strategy Management: I asked some employees what the business existed for, ‘we are in the mobile service company and we sell voice and data units,’ they responded. This was not the response I received when I trained the board directors of the same company who said, ‘We exist to make money and increase shareholder value through our participation in the telecommunication industry.’
The problem here was not poor team work between staff and directors. The strategic framework was misaligned, one group focused on the narrow and another on the bigger picture.
As a business leader, make it your primary task constantly to share the mission, vision and values of the business and much more critically, the philosophy of the business. Strategy management focuses on all business units and how they are aligned to each other in delivering value.

We have gone further to encourage some businesses to have a thorough skills audit to assess the competencies. This is because it does not matter how many team building sessions you will have to register positive results. If you have wrong employees, wrong management, wrong strategy, wrong product and even poor governance of the business, your business will continue to suffer fitness problems. The starting point for every problem: carry out an investigation to diagnose it.

(Read ‘Talking business with Chibamba Kanyama every Tuesday in your printed News Diggers copy)