A Prescription for Long-Term Team Health

If the members of your family visited a doctor only once a year and then took none of the recommended follow-up actions in between, what is the likelihood of maintaining good health? We know from the statistics about health care inequity that there is a strong correlation between access to preventive care and long-term health outcomes. So why is it that most organizational leaders only invest in the health of their teams episodically and with no care plan in between?

We’ve all been there – the annual team offsite is coming up and we need an idea for team-building. Someone suggests the Enneagram. Someone else had a great time at an Escape Room. A set of options ranging from pure fun to somewhat educational emerges and then the leader chooses based on their own preferences. The team-building occurs, the box is checked, and we consider it done until next year.

I’m not sure why anyone would believe that a two-hour investment in relationships and trust once a year would be sufficient to withstand the constant pressure that most teams face today. Some teams at least dedicate time to it quarterly, but even then, the design is typically one-off rather than holistic.

Teams are relationship systems that need preventive care just the way that our bodies do. Following the medical model, here’s a prescription for long-term team health:

1.    Conduct a diagnosis

Have an objective third party take the “vitals” of your team. While employee engagement surveys help managers get a moment-in-time view of how things are going, one-on-one interviews paint a much richer picture of the dynamics among team members and with the leader. Whether these conversations are conducted by human resources or by an outside consultant, it’s critical to protect anonymity.

2.    Design a care plan

Based on the diagnostic, design a “healthcare plan” for the entire year. If the team has issues around trust or psychological safety, they should be addressed as soon as possible in an offsite setting, ideally with ongoing, objective support. If the team is in good health, improvements can be made over time. A quarterly cadence is good when there are no acute issues, but it’s important to connect one event to another with a clear, visible, overarching commitment to team health. For example, consider whether there’s a theme that you can use to unite the whole year’s efforts.

3.    Deliver the treatment

Because leaders have participated in so many team-building events over the course of their careers, they tend to believe they are capable of facilitating them. Most of us have seen a lot of doctors too. Does that make us capable of self-diagnosis and treatment? Using a trusted professional signals that you are making a real commitment to the health and performance of the team.

For teams that are starting in a good place, we recommend helping them upgrade their day-to-day collaborative practices. While it doesn’t necessarily cause acute pain, bad meetings, email overload, and unclear communication protocols wear down a team’s immune system over time. Simple changes can make a big difference.

Team health is a proven driver of performance, engagement, and long-term employee retention. Making a real investment here will have long-term returns for both the leader and the team.