Supras [Georgian feasts] and rtveli [the grape harvest season] are mainstays of the concept of corporate team building in Georgia, with companies leveraging time-tested Georgian traditions to build cohesiveness among their ranks. But the approach to and understanding of what it means to boost morale, a sense of connectedness at work and employee satisfaction has been rapidly changing in the past few years as companies dip their toes into the Western take on team building.
Managing Directorof Grata DMC, Irma Kodua, told Investor.ge that the demand for team- building exercises and services first appeared with international companies, donor organizations and their representative offices in Tbilisi. Grata DMC began offering team-building sessions in Georgia six years ago under the exclusive license of Catalyst Global.
Approaches to Western team building have caught on, Kodua says, because while the traditional Georgian supra can be an inherent part of a company’s culture, they can also be limiting for employees, and not allow an employee to fully reveal their creative side.
She notes this is partially due to the fact that every supra has one leading and most active member, i.e. the tamada, commonly referred to as a toastmaster in English – the individual who invigorates the table, gives toasts throughout the meal and who has the authority to set the tone on a variety of different topics. Other members of the table are generally just listeners, Kodua says.
The founder of Concierge Tbilisi, a team-building company in Georgia that has also been operating for six years, Lizi Khabazashvili, agrees:
“The tamada plays a leading role at the supra and the other participants are not active. The tamada alone plays the main role around the supra, so other participants do not feel like team members, whereas we feel that the main part of teamwork is the team itself – a group of people united around a mutual goal,” Khabazashvili told Investor.ge.
Both Khabazashvili and Kodua note that supras are still an appropriate tool at times for companies to arrange on their own to bring people closer together and facilitate cohesion – especially when the responsibility to speak and make toasts at the table is more widely shared and distributed.
However, unlike the supra, Western-style team-building activities focus on and have the advantage of giving each and every team member a clear goal, making them feel like an inherent member of the group.
In these circumstances, both Kodua and Khabazashvili say, co-workers tend to be more engaged, open-minded, responsive and devoted to their cause.
This wasn’t immediately the case with team building exercises in Georgia, Khabazashvili notes. At first, she says, employees of Georgian companies would refuse to engage in fun games, often citing their age and stature in a company as a reason not to participate.
However, as the concept has become more familiar, individuals have shown less resistance.
“This often leads to the removal of barriers between management and ordinary employees,” Khabazishvili says, adding, “The fact that a top manager is on your team or has the same role during a given activity, boosts you and gives you the courage to come up to him and openly talk about any topic later on.”
One other reason supras can’t be relied upon to shape and solidify company culture is the problem of scalability – even the largest of tables can only seat so many guests.
Adjarabet began using the services of Catalyst Georgia a year ago and since then has been actively using their services.
In the last three years, the situation at Adjarabet has become challenging, as many new people joined the company and the corporate culture weakened, Adjarabet representative Rusudan Tamazashvili says.
“When you plan to build a team in a company of 800 people and you want to enhance teamwork, a Georgian supra is a completely unacceptable tool; however, in smaller groups, a supra can have very positive results,” said Tamazashvili.
“But thanks to the team-building activities offered by Catalyst Georgia, combined with the company’s internal measures, Adjarabet has achieved a more closely knit corporate culture,” she adds.
Concierge Tbilisi’s client Toyota has focused its team building exercises around environmental issues.
Toyota employee Salome Mshildadze told Investor.ge that the company has been so taken with Concierge Tbilisi’s offerings, they have decided that team-building activities must be held along western lines.
“Western-style team building brings innovative approaches that involve all employees, and we are happy with the results: communication, reconciliation and fun moments,” Mshildadze says.
Team building during Covid-19
Businesses whose activities have been severely limited during the Covid-19 pandemic have also taken a hit in communication and cooperation between employees. And while team building does not work quite as well on Zoom as it does in person, it is exactly during such times that companies have needed such activities to bring teams closer together and to help people acclimate to the new – hopefully temporary! – reality.
Time management, effective communication, working under stress and staying motivated are among the issues that team building organizers have had to work on.
“Lack of attention and not having personal space were the main problems. So our main task was to teach effective communication skills and proper exchange of information,” Kodua told Investor.ge.
Adjarabet has had a hard time keeping employees chipper during these trying times as well: per tradition, the company used to organize meet-ups every month for a happy hour. The pandemic put a stop to this, but Grata DMC helped the company retain a sense of connection between employees, Tamazashvili says.
Another new challenge is the integration of employees who joined the company during the pandemic and had to get to know their co-workers online.
Concierge Tbilisi has received requests from companies to manage small groups of employees through Zoom to ensure employee discipline, teamwork and productivity.
“We have developed a personal work plan for employees, which describes all the basic rules for working from home more effectively. We emphasized the importance of setting aside certain hours for work, keeping up with the agenda and isolating from family members if need be,” Khabazashvili commented.
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