By Penn Javdan

The real estate brokerage is a mysterious animal. Unlike a typical 9 to 5 office scenario, it is an environment where each salesperson or broker is, despite whatever temporary alliances or partnerships are formed, solely responsible for his or her output – and for his or her success. But given that many salespeople within a brokerage collaborate with each other on marketing, development deals or on the transaction side, the brokerage also saddles its salespeople with traditional commitments: being a member of a team. The brokerage still retains the lineage of the 9 to 5 office life. And that can be a good thing.

Well-known team-building activities like Zombie Escape, Battle of the Airbands, Office Trivia, or Marshmallow Spaghetti Tower – to name just a few – are meant to create trust, proximity and reliance – and increase performance – among its members. But while these exercises or games may do those things to some extent, they are limited. There is no substitute for the time-tested process of relationships that are formed directly in the workplace.

Team building is a child of organizational development. It should not be regarded as something that originates merely in short-lived activities. Brokers of record and their salespeople must show the ways in which people will feel – and want to feel – that they are members of the group, who will ultimately contribute to the performance and well-being of the group. They must foster a culture of belonging and balance this with the delicate ecosystem of a salesperson’s independence.

That’s a tall task, which is why thought leaders like Eduardo Salas have devised solutions to maintaining this balance. In the Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods, Salas explores the issue of team-building as a phenomenon that extends beyond mere activity or play. It involves:

Goal setting:

This intervention emphasizes setting objectives and developing individual and team goals. Team members become involved in action planning to identify ways to achieve goals. It is designed to strengthen member motivation to achieve team goals and objectives. By identifying specific outcome levels, teams can determine what future resources are needed.

Individual characteristics (team member motivation) can also be altered by use of this intervention. Many organizations insist on negotiating a team charter between the team and responsible mangers (and union leaders) to empower it to accomplish things on behalf of the organization. Successful goal settings help the teams work towards the same outcomes and makes them more task and action-oriented.

Role clarification:

This intervention emphasizes increasing communication among team members regarding their respective roles within the team. Team members improve their understanding of their own and others’ respective roles and duties. It defines the team as comprising a set of overlapping roles. They are characterized as the behaviours that are expected of each individual team member. It can be used to improve team and individual characteristics (by reducing role ambiguity) and work structure by negotiating, defining and adjusting team member roles.

It includes an understanding of the talent that exists on the team and how best to use it, and allows members to understand why clear roles are important. The members should also realize that they are interdependent and the failure of one team member leads to the failure of the entire team.

Problem solving:

This intervention emphasizes identifying major task-related problems within the team. Team members become involved in action planning and implementing solutions to identified problems and then to evaluate those solutions. They practice setting goals, develop interpersonal relations, clarify team roles and work to improve organizational characteristics through problem-solving tasks. This can have the added benefit of enhancing critical-thinking skills. If teams are good in problem solving skills, they are less likely to need external interventions to solve their problems.

Interpersonal relations management:

This intervention emphasizes increasing teamwork skills (mutual supportiveness, communication and sharing of feelings). Team members develop trust in one another and confidence in the team. This assumes that teams with fewer interpersonal conflicts function more effectively than teams with more conflicts. It requires the use of a facilitator to develop mutual trust and open communication between team members.


Teams are not closed systems. It is critical that they interact effectively with their external environments. Teams need good diplomatic relationships with key managers, other teams and the functions that affect their performance. Team members must feel free to disagree with each other during team meetings but should present a united, positive front to the rest of the organization.

Teams are compromised of individuals who have their own integrity and are responsible for their own performance, but also owe their existence as team members to the productivity and longevity of the group. Neither individual nor group should be ignored. The interests of both must be balanced, so everyone can enjoy the benefits of each.

That might be a way into the culture of winning. And as the saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast.