The Vector View on Issues-Based Team-Building®: How It Works

May 13th, 2015   •   no comments   

Having recently facilitated an Issues-Based Team-Building® (IBTB®) session with a client, I thought it an appropriate time to share with our Vector View readership how this process works. We successfully employed IBTB® in a number of client organizations across a wide variety of industries domestically and internationally.

Instilling high performance standards in any organization is one of the most important objectives in achieving organizational effectiveness. For this reason, Vector Group created Issues-Based Team Building® a process developed specifically to increase the high performance potential of management teams. Expanding traditional team building methodology, Vector’s process incorporates the two most essential factors in achieving high performance—what the team does (the task) and how they do it (the process).

This innovative approach relies heavily upon the Vector Group facilitator. The role of the facilitator is to work closely with team members to integrate the team’s task and its behavior into the team-building process. By the end of the process, the team is able to articulate.

• Mission—the purpose and intent of the team
• Vision—what team success looks like
• Strategic goals and objectives—what measurable results the team plans to accomplish, and by when
• Values—the basic beliefs that guide the team
• Ground Rules—how the team intends to perform and behave with each other

Within the context of working more effectively as a management team, the facilitator conducts frequent in-process reviews, providing objective and constructive feedback on how the team and its individual members are performing.

Issues-Based Team Building® ensures that an organization’s management team gets on track and stays on track. It provides team members with the necessary tools to grow and complete future projects without the need of a facilitator. This increases the potential for the building of other high performance teams within the same company. To improve the high performance capability of an organization, Vector Group’s Issues-Based Team Building® is a proven methodology.

The following comes from an actual proposal we provided a client awhile back. Three facilitators delivered this event to a senior leadership team.

To the client:

Based upon our phone discussion today and our ongoing knowledge of the situation at [YOUR COMPANY], we found continuing dysfunction within the senior leadership team. Local employees as well as outsiders described a number of situations as open conflict and hostility including:

• raising voices
• yelling
• name-calling
• door slamming
• None of this behavior is acceptable within any workplace and [the parent company] certainly does not regard the situation as appropriate decorum.

We do not know the extent of the leadership team’s dysfunction at [YOUR COMPANY] but if things continue as status quo on this downhill tract, there are financial implications involved. At a time of a fragile recovering economy and the ongoing budget oversight that [PARENT COMPANY] does, further austerity measures may be called for to help the company. Leadership dysfunction has far-reaching impact.

Usually, internal issues of team effectiveness center around differing individual and personal perceptions/beliefs concerning what is appropriate as a team issue or responsibility versus personal preferences that the individual(s) have which they feel is not a team issue. It is commonplace for different members of the team to have varying views on personal behaviors that are and are not helpful, appropriate or necessary for the team to operate effectively. Rather than the “open warfare” organizational members of [YOUR COMPANY] described above, we suggest dealing with conflict more effectively.

Description of Proposed Activities
Issues-Based Team Building® is a process for improving the effectiveness of a functioning work team through integration of the team’s task with the team’s process—what the team does with how the team does it. Its purpose is to refocus the work team on both task and process, and address any problems that the team may be encountering which they feel is having a less than positive impact upon the teams overall effectiveness.

In general, many team-building activities that are quite popular engage the team in “related” or symbolic activities from which the team derives lessons to apply. With almost no exception, follow-on evaluation data shows these approaches to be both popular and fun for the participants with very little to no actual changes in work related team behavior.

If the team issues affect the work effort, they must deal with those issues in a straightforward, data based, and objective manner. It is far better for a business team to work the team process directly with all examples and focus upon the actual work and issues at hand. Leave nothing to creative interpretation. Instead focus directly upon what is currently occurring, the impact upon the work effort, what needs to change and how – and all in the interests of better work results for the company.

We have a well-tested four-phase process as follows:

Phase I: Data gathering. Vector Group consultants will interview the team leader and each individual team member. If it proves to be relevant to the issues this could expand to include, as appropriate, representatives of those who work with, receive outputs from, or provide inputs to the team. As part of the interview, each team member may also complete a Team Effectiveness Rating instrument, and a FIRO-B instrument. In addition to required interviews with the current president and the senior team, we will need to conduct some select individual and/or group interviews further down the organization.

Note: Once the pre-work (data gathering) is completed, we move to the actual teambuilding event that usually taking two to three days. We highly recommend this session be done off-site with the team spending at least one night off-site together. Phases II and III take place at this facilitated off-site meeting.

Phase II: A Review of What Should Be Versus What Is – The formal teambuilding session begins with a review of the current [YOUR COMPANY] work effort and priorities with a review of results to date. This is followed by a consultant-facilitated discussion on what the team’s responsibilities for, and potential impact on, the work should be and how that can be maximized to enhance overall [YOUR COMPANY]’s results. The team then works together to revisit and review its Mission, Vision, Values and Strategy/Goals, or to define them if they do not exist. This is followed by the consultants providing a review of the gathered data and feedback from Phase l.

Phase ll usually takes up the morning of day one if the team has previously developed a strategy statement that includes some form of Mission, Vision, Values and Goals. If this is the first time the team has addressed the issues of purpose, intent and strategy then Phase ll may take a full day to complete. Phase ll is the first part of the team building session.

Phase III: Creating a Different Tomorrow—The focus now shifts to the contrasts between the ideal and current reality. The consultants will provide a review check based on the data gathered in Phase l. The consultants will lead the team through a process where the team will work together to resolve issues, enhance understanding, and develop action plans to address team issues that influence their effectiveness. Phase lll usually requires an additional 1.5 to 2 days to complete.

Again, the consultant(s) observe closely and intervene as necessary to assist the team in behaving as the team indicated was necessary and appropriate in Phase ll above. The last activity of the process is the establishment of team operating ground rules and monitoring system based on the learning from the session. We document these and track them as the team goes forward.

We provide each member of the team with an Action Planning Guide to document the results of testing, individual and team commitments, plans, etc. We can easily customize our generic guide to your needs.

  • Phase IV: Ensuring Success—oftentimes, the overlooked component is follow-up to the off-site session. At a minimum we recommend a two- to four-hour session, depending on team needs or issues, at 30, 60, 90 and 180 days after the off-site. The purpose of these follow-up sessions are to keep the focus upon the “agreed way to move forward” and systematically review progress/success as everyone goes through the process of developing new behaviors/habits of working – in the team and outside of the team where related to team responsibilities.

It is important to note that a single “one off” activity, no matter how insightful, is rarely sufficient to alter anyone’s ingrained behaviors and beliefs. If the team comes out of the initial session with any changes agreed it would take time, focus and follow-up to achieve the agreed changes. Please keep in mind that what we are doing his is changing “habit patterns” for members of the team. Changing habitual behavior is not a one shot easy task.

Below are the outcomes that the [YOUR COMPANY] leadership team could expect to achieve in providing Issues-Based Team Building®® support to its senior leadership team, and the process the consultants would suggest taking to achieve these results:

Expected Outcomes

Issues-Based Team Building® ensures that the team will function more effectively by:

  • Ensuring team members’ understanding of the respective skills and strengths of the various team members, and how the team can best capitalize on these
  • Building trust within and across the team
  • Providing clarity of the team’s purpose and the team members’ roles and responsibilities in regard to the team, [YOUR COMPANY] and each other
  • Establishing the parameters of, and intersects in, team members’ work and impact
  • Formulating and implementing team operating ground rules to maximize [YOUR COMPANY]’s overall performance
  • A clear understanding on the part of the team members as to how achieving their financial goals for the organization are directly tied to their team and leadership behaviors

Proposed Process
In providing Issues-Based Team Building® to [YOUR COMPANY]’s senior leadership team, we specifically suggest the following approach:

Phase I – Pre-Work: Consultants will meet first with the company president for a minimum of a half day. Ideally, this session will run through lunch to give the team leader and the consultants’ time to get to know each other a bit beyond the data. The consultants will then split up and meet one-on-one with each member of the [YOUR COMPANY]’s leadership team including any administrative assistants of any team members. These interviews should be scheduled for 1 ½ to 2 hours in length. Additionally, each member will complete a FIRO-B, MBTI and a Team Effectiveness Rating instrument.

Consultants will then meet with each of the leadership team’s direct reports. We typically schedule these interviews for 45 to 60 minutes. After that, the consultants will conduct at least a couple of skip-level group interviews of randomly selected individuals. These group interviews will be comprised of 7 – 10 participants who do not directly report to the leadership team members but the leadership team affects them.

Prior to the offsite in Phase II, the consultants will analyze the data and prepare a report on the team. The consultants will brief each team member on their personal data: MBTI and/or the FIRO-B. As the final pre-Phase ll activity, the consultants will meet again with the team leader to review the findings and review/plan the intended agenda and process.

Phases II & III – The offsite: The off-site should occur at a neutral location, ideally with an overnight stay being required. The duration of the off-site would be two to three days in length, depending on the team’s issues. As indicated above, we will develop the specific agenda for the off-site based on the issues identified in Phase I.

Phase IV – Follow Up: To ensure that the [YOUR COMPANY] leadership team reaps the full benefit of the off-site, we recommend scheduled follow-up sessions of two to four hours in length 30 days and 90 days after the off-site. Topics addressed at these follow-up sessions would include a briefing on progress toward business and team goals, the relative functioning of the team, and successes / learning opportunities. Depending on issues identified, the team might need to revisit team agreements or renegotiate them.

As always, we are open to discussing any of your questions, issues or concerns.


I will not discuss in detail any specific issues that we surfaced for this particular client out of respect for the client and for our need for confidentiality. Some of the issues this senior team faced existed for decades. I will say, however, that the Issues-Based Team Building® we did for this client was definitely not a comfortable experience for any of the team members. It was volatile and precarious for some who had extreme conflicts with particular members. It was humbling and humiliating for others who thought their peers held them in higher esteem. It was angering and exasperating for many whose feedback on their participation as a member of the team was quite harsh.

Despite all that, the team managed to pull together and accomplish what we set out to do. I can say emphatically that we achieved each of the expected outcomes as painful as it was. With the stress of the three-day event, the head of the company (team leader) asked that we stop shortly after noon on the third day to give the team some social time together in order to decompress and ease into the weekend.

Following our work over the three days of IBTB®, [the Company]’s internal resources handled the follow-up sessions with the team to ensure they were sticking with the plan and delivering what was expected. At the last report, this was indeed what was happening. Members continued their conversations with those with whom they had conflicts and found ways to work together despite their differences.

It was heartening and quite encouraging to see this team evolve from a group of individuals either pitched in heated battle or politely withdrawn from others to a functioning leadership team. They raised issues, leveled with each other and committed to achieving company goals. The mission statement they collectively authored will remain a cherished story for Vector Group.

©Vector Group, Inc., 2015



Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at [email protected]. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure all align to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at or call us at (800) 566-0877.

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