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Teach Them To Fish

Make team building more than just an expensive 'one-off' event.

All too often team development or team building workshops are an expensive one-off affair, far better to add some depth that delivers truly lasting value. We prefer to teach people to fish.

It's nice to do a job so well that a team doesn't need the experts to come back, they have been left with tools that they can easily deploy themselves. Genuine team and leadership development is often about equipping leaders and teams with the tools and skills that will almost do you out of a job (emphasis on the “almost”).

There is a wonderful proverb suggesting that it is far better to acquire a useful set of skills yourself than to rely upon a one-off hand-out or a superficial demonstration of intent.

“Give someone a fish you will feed them for a day, teach them how to fish and you will feed them for a lifetime”.

This proverb is often mistakenly attributed to the ancient Chinese (as such things often are when people don’t have enough time to dig for the true origins).

It actually originated with the author Anne Isabella Ritchie in Britain during the mid 19th Century.

We are not invoking the power of “fish” here for the have fun at work ethos of those crazy funsters at the Seattle Fish markets who spawned (pardon the pun) the management fun fad. Nice though that is.

Rather we are singing the praises of the fish metaphor for actually giving teams and leaders genuine tools that will enable them to build, align and develop themselves on an ongoing basis. A far cry from one-off “feel goods”.

One-off team builds, retreats and experiences rarely have true capacity for adding lasting value to the organization unless something substantive is inbuilt to actually take back to work.

In some cases they can even do more harm than good as issues and concerns arise that are either stated, or all too often left unstated, that will hinder a team’s development.

Unless leaders and teams have pragmatic skills and tools to accelerate team development themselves when back at work, the gloss can quickly wear off from even the best retreat.

With this in mind we have always made use of the Belbin Model to teach leaders and teams how to fish when it comes to team and leadership development.

Belbin is a profiling tool, model and language that quickly and effectively captures the actual behavioural dynamics that are at play within a team. It then offers practical insights, tools and strategies to manage these dynamics as a team develops.

Once you have an internal “champion” or even a set of champions who understand the model and how to use it properly, an organization can easily integrate new people, build new teams and analyse their strengths and weaknesses ongoing.

These champions can be HR and L&D professionals within the organization, or managers and leaders within the teams themselves. By using their Belbin knowledge (and possibly also online working accounts or acquiring a full system), organisations can generate their own profiles and reports as and when they need them.

Teaching a client to fish in this way might actually reduce the number of interventions, events and so forth that they will need, but the referrals and almost viral impact of such effectiveness is far more rewarding long term.

It helps to build genuine credibility for the consultant who delivers it, and when properly used, a wealth of repeat and referral business by dent of the effectiveness it offers.

Word tends to spread quickly about those who can actually teach leaders and teams to fish. Then you get invited back to do even bigger and better things.

Visit our Sabre site at for more information on how we integrate Belbin into retreats, programmes and activities.


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