One for the team

06 Nov 2017
Pull together: done effectively, teambuilding can develop relationships and bring people out of their shells. Credit: Forth Ports

Pull together: done effectively, teambuilding can develop relationships and bring people out of their shells. Credit: Forth Ports

Motivating port teams is a worthwhile exercise, explains Felicity Landon

"Walking out of meetings is good for your health", proclaimed The Times newspaper recently. But before you make a swift exit and leave the others to get on with it, the suggestion is that you take your colleagues with you.

The story was about Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, who had been talking about the perils of sitting at your desk all day and how this practice is "haemorrhaging productivity". He called for employers to introduce "walking meetings" to reduce stress as well as back and neck pain in the workforce.

Workplace health experts were quick to agree, highlighting the benefits to both physical and mental health of a 30-minute walk. But the comments went further, highlighting how a walking meeting outside can be a great social leveller, helping to break down barriers between manager and employee, and enabling colleagues to reconnect.

Taking the meeting outdoors shakes things up, injects fresh life to the group dynamic and brings everyone onto a level playing field where rules around who sits where and how a meeting should be conducted are disregarded, says Louise Padmore, co-founder of Work Well Being. “Doing so gets you to the crux of the challenge or question you are debating faster.”

Mr Selbie said firms would benefit from getting their employees to spend less time sitting in a chair and more time moving around. It doesn’t sound a million miles from teambuilding.

Port angle

And what of the ports industry? Does it build teams? The answer is yes, in diverse ways, from PD Ports’ local ‘champion’ teams working on health & safety and environmental culture, to the UK-based Port Skills & Safety joining forces with the Health and Safety Executive and trade union Unite to develop leadership and worker engagement guidance for the ports industry.

“There can be a perception that teambuilding just means a jolly, and probably there has been an underestimation of its value by the ports industry,” says Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association. “There can be a ‘silo’ mentality in an organisation. Yes, a teambuilding event can be partly a ‘treat’, but also something that develops relationships and brings people out of their shells.”

Teambuilding is a favourite topic for behavioural change specialist Will Sambrook, director of the business performance and engagement consultancy Akenham.

“Teambuilding is two things – actually building the team, by recruiting the right people with behaviours in line with that of the organisation, and then building it up in terms of the skills and abilities of that team to work effectively and efficiently and achieve the organisation’s goals,” he says. “To do that, you are trying to make sure people within the team are interdependent, so basically they can stand on their own feet and contribute as an individual team member, but when they come together with other people, they can split and share knowledge and communicate in a way that helps themselves and the rest of the team to operate.”

The key thing, he says, is to recognise that people have different personalities and different outlooks on the world. “Some are about getting results at a fast pace. Others are about overcoming obstacles, or coming up with new ideas or new thinking. Others are able to communicate and others are very precise and focused on attention to detail. It’s a matter of them all agreeing that each member has a very strong value to the team and that we need all these perspectives.”

Colour palette

Akenham uses the Insights colour system to help team members to think about their ‘default styles’ and what they mean, and value the styles of others. Bringing together the sunshine yellow bubbly, ideas-generating person with the cool blue introvert focused on detail could clearly create a clash but they can also massively complement each other, says Mr Sambrook. The bubbly yellow comes up with a great idea but doesn’t think about how it would work in practice or how to implement it properly and nail it down. The cool blue would make sense of it and get to grips with the detail.

“Teambuilding is making sure you get the best of everyone in the team – getting everybody to bring their thoughts and ideas to the table and not blocking out those who may be a little bit quieter.”

He is not a fan of the activity teambuilding exercises that many obviously dread. “The more practical and lifelike you make a teambuilding exercise, the better. Humans are very bad at transferring learning from one situation to another. You can send everyone down the river on a raft, but the chance that they will take that learning and bring it into the office is very small. It's much more about getting the team to understand each other.”

In one exercise, he will split people into their personality types, then get them to walk across to someone in another group with a question or problem, to see how people work. “They always come out with amazing insights that they hadn’t thought about, because it isn’t their style to look at things in that way. Using an exercise in a work-based context like this is really helpful.”

Next generation

And how do the Millennials – looking for more flexibility and more likely to job-hop – change the mix? “For millennials, communication is very different,” says Mr Sambrook. “They don’t call their friends, they text. And that definitely has its challenges; it is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret what is going on, and easy to block people. If they are not particularly loyal to an organisation, then maybe they are not going to invest in being part of the team. However, others argue the other way – because their career life is transitory, because they are moving on, naturally their network is everything to them.”

John McGuire, chief innovation officer of Aurecon, in Australia, says diversity is the key. “I have a belief in diverse teams and being able to blend wisdom, knowledge, risk, the ‘been there, done that, know the traps to fall into’, with new ideas, new energy and enthusiasm,” he says. “There is no doubt that people with years of experience will know the traps, the mistakes and the problems. Yes, ports are very conservative – but I don’t think anyone can deny that things are changing around us, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of creativity that comes out of people of all ages.”

Statistics show that when people retire, they frequently take up woodwork, art and other creative pursuits, he points out. “Perhaps we have to find a way of helping people to be creative in their work domain. It can be a problem being able to make time to come up with ideas and experiments. The more you can embed that as part of the process of work, rather than separate to work, the more you will have an innovative workforce.”

Jackie Anderson is director of HR for Forth Ports, one of the UK’s largest port groups with seven ports in Scotland and Tilbury on the Thames and with around 1,060 staff. As such, the business has a clear view on the importance of teambuilding in ports as an enabler of performance and continuous improvement, she says.

“We also drive leadership programmes, multifunctional project teams, project management and teambuilding interventions to provide the skills and assist the understanding of team roles and draw on their experience. We are endeavouring to create highly functioning teams across our business with a core underpinning of collaboration.”


The leadership and worker engagement guidance launched by Port Skills and Safety (PSS) with the Health & Safety Executive and Unit recognises that achieving an effective health and safety culture is as much about human factors, relationships, trust, communication and behaviours as it is about risk assessments, procedures and controls, says PSS chief executive Richard Steele.

“It is about the whole process of engaging and empowering your people to work towards common goals safely,” he says. “Teams need leaders but they also need all the members of the team to work together, with common goals and agreed values – and that means teams that are engaged on health and safety issues as well.”

PSS in itself creates ‘teamwork’ between its members, he points out. “Ports that in everyday circumstances could be competitors are able to come together and we focus on very practical, pragmatic topics such as confined spaces, timber handling or safe handling of containers. As a result, we have created guidance that gives everyone a common understanding, good practice and practical solutions to the real-world challenges that all ports will face.

“This comes from within the industry; it isn’t a group of academics coming together, but is bringing together what amounts to hundreds of years of experience. It is a different type of ‘team’ but it is serving a very important purpose for the benefit of all.”