The Science Of Team Building – Why It Is Important For Organisations

As experts in VR Team Building one of the first questions we had to answer is “does team building work? When does it work? And what happens when it does?” In following, we will answer each of these questions, starting with a review of the literature and why not every team-building activity is effective. We will then dive into what exactly works and psychological safety will be highlighted as the superstar of successful team building. We will also look at how to achieve psychological safety in a team setting, and what the experts in the field have to say.

Does team building work? And what does the literature say?

It should come as no surprise that the short answer is yes. The Harvard Business Review published a study in 2016 (Cross, 2022) that found that over the last 20 years, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by over 50 per cent. However, it’s important to note that it’s not any type of team building activity that will do the job. Rather, what’s truly important is the type of team building and the work culture which that creates.

In Silicon Valley, software engineers have found that teams who work together tend to innovate faster, spot and act on mistakes faster. A 2013 study conducted by Deloitte Australia (Deloitte, 2013) found that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80 per cent. This doesn’t only apply to business, the same results are found across all types of teams.

Robert Huckman and Gary Pisano (Huckman & Pisano, 2006) measured the success rates of over 200 cardiac surgeons across 38,000 procedures. For the study, they compared patient survival rates of highly experienced freelancers compared to those of surgical teams. Effectively, they found that working within a bonded team of colleagues showed higher successful interventions. Likewise, in 2009, Klein and colleagues (Klein et al., 2009) carried out a meta-analysis of the team-building literature. After examining 60 correlations, the study concluded that team building has a positive moderate effect across all team outcomes.

When does team building work?

Search in your browser team-building exercises, and you will find everything from weird team-building experiences to karaoke. Businesses are slowly realizing that formal events aren’t very effective and what truly works is promoting casual social events in low-pressure environments. Why is this? Because trust is essential, and people are more willing to share when they feel safe and relaxed.

This is also what data-driven tech giant Google concluded after carrying out a huge two-year study on team performance and how to build the perfect team. During project Aristotle, Google collected data on everything from how frequently people shared meals together, whether the best teams were made up of people with similar interests, how often did teammates socialize outside the office and if they shared the same hobbies. After two years, Google People Operations department found that the highest-performing teams all shared a sense of psychological safety. In essence, they could share intimate details about their life, family, and they knew that they wouldn’t be punished when they made a mistake. It was also found that error rates and turnover intention were significantly lower when psychological safety was high.

What Project Aristotle revealed is that being fully present at work means being our whole self and feeling safe to do so. This involves courage and vulnerability – talking about what is hard, and not always sexy. In the book Dare to Lead, Rene Brown, a research professor and leadership coach, highlights “Courage is born out of vulnerability, not strength (Brown, 2022). This isn’t only confirmed by google, studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, higher levels of engagement and creativity, increased motivation when approaching difficult problems and overall and better performance.

How can you increase psychological safety in your own team?

In 2008, a group of psychologists from M.I.T. and Union College (Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi & Malone, 2010) found within good teams, members spoke in about the same proportion and were good at turn-taking. Secondly, all the good teams scored highly on social sensitivity – they were good at picking up non-verbal cues about how others felt.

Executive coach Laura Delizonna says that first, it’s necessary to approach conflict as a collaborator, rather than an adversary. This involves speaking human-to-human she says, and being truly curious to hear the other team member’s perspective. The second element that she highlights is asking for feedback to illuminate one’s own blind spots.

Conclusion:

After reviewing the literature as well as case studies such as Google’s two year Project Aristotle, we can conclude that teamwork works and that the take-home findings for building better teams is psychological safety – which involves courage, vulnerability and having human-to-human interactions.

Positive psychology has for long emphasized the benefits of social relationships and connection. Now we realize that connectedness also makes for successful organizations and businesses and that paying attention to how people relate to each other is even more important than how people work.

We are experts in creating the spaces for teams to develop and know how vr team building can be used to create these changes in teams for the better.

We are always happy to talk to organisations about their team building needs.

 

References:

Brown, B. (2022). Brené Brown — The Courage to Be Vulnerable. Retrieved 14 January 2022, from https://onbeing.org/programs/brene-brown-the-courage-to-be-vulnerable-jan2015/

Cross, R. (2022). Collaborative Overload. Retrieved 14 January 2022, from https://hbr.org/2016/01/collaborative-overload

Deloitte. (2013). Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/human-capital/deloitte-au-hc-diversity-inclusion-soup-0513.pdf

Huckman, R., & Pisano, G. (2006). The Firm Specificity of Individual Performance: Evidence from Cardiac Surgery. Management Science, 52(4), 473-488. doi: 10.1287/mnsc.1050.0464

Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G. (2009). Does Team Building Work?. Small Group Research, 40(2), 181-222. doi: 10.1177/1046496408328821

Woolley, A., Chabris, C., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. (2010). Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science, 330(6004), 686-688. doi: 10.1126/science.1193147

What Makes A High Performing Team?

Every manager likes to think they have a high-performing team, and every employee wants to be part of one. But what is a high-performance team? How can it be defined? And how common are high-performance teams?

First, it is essential to understand that a team is a group of people with a common goal working to achieve the same outcome in its most basic form.

When it comes to team success, there is a vast scale, from the terrible to the “dream team,” as Rickards and Moger (1999) define them. The dream team is the epitome of a high-performance team (HPT).

If you have ever been a member of an HPT, you will know about it. Very likely by the stark contrast when you compare the team you were part of to any other team you’ve worked in since.

These teams are rare. It takes an excellent HR department, hiring manager, and stakeholders to hire the right people. Individuals must be led in the right direction with the kind of energy that inspires and motivates team members to overcome challenges and take ownership of problem-solving as if the organisation’s problems were their own.

As Ellen(1995) puts it, being part of an HPT feels like being part of a special club. Bonds are formed that are so strong that decades later the team still feels loyal to one another even if they are now working for different organisations.

Commonalities of HPT’s

Many studies and reviews have looked at the common factors of a high-performance team. In this post, we will focus on the dream team’s common factors, which is Rickards and Moger (1999) ‘s version.

1. Strong Platform of Understanding

2. Shared Vision

3. Creative Climate

4. Ownership of ideas

5. Resilience to setbacks

6. Network activators

7. Learn from experience

High-performance teams have a good amount of knowledge and a shared vision. Team members can solve problems through creativity and networking, and they take ownership of their ideas.

When the team hits a rough patch, instead of turning to blame, a high-performance team will work closely with one another, support one another, and use external help if needed to get through challenges.

If you have ever been a member of an HPT, you’ll likely remember a time when the team hit a challenge and how they responded. It’s that feeling of problem-solving and pulling together to achieve a positive outcome that defines a high-performance team.

By now, you should have a good understanding of what makes a High-Performance Team, but we haven’t spoken about how to transform your existing team or implement an HPT in your organisation.

Let’s look at the ingredients required to implement a high-performance team.

The Essential Ingredients For Implementation Of HPT’s

There are seven critical ingredients required for the successful implementation of high-performance teams; Organisational Impact, Knowledge and Skills, Defined Focus, Needs of the individual, Alignment and Interaction with external entities, Group culture & measures of performance.

We will explain three essential ingredients below; they are a combination of system and human factors which work together.

1. Defined Focus (System Factor)

Every team member needs to understand the organisation’s goal and their team’s goals. They need to be able to fit themselves and their work into the company’s wider vision and see how their work impacts the company as a whole.

A defined focus is important for motivation and ensures that everyone in the team is on the same page regarding what they are setting out to achieve.

On a more granular level, team members also need a clearly defined focus for the task at hand. They need to know what the task is, have a clear deadline, and understand the customer they are serving.

2. Group Culture (Human Factor)

Group or team culture deserves several posts all by itself. A positive culture is essential for employee wellbeing and performance.

Psychological safety is a crucial aspect of creating a positive team culture. You might remember we talked about this in our recent post The Scientific Benefits of Team Building. Team members need to feel okay to take risks and even get it wrong occasionally.

Making mistakes and even failure needs to be viewed in terms of learning and improving. Team members need to feel that they can own up to issues and even ask for help to resolve problems.

You don’t need to leave it to chance that Psychological safety will develop in your team. Team building events help establish positive, open & trusting relationships within the group, fundamental to ensuring team members feel safe to be themselves and work through challenges.

3. Need of the Individual (Human Factor)

We’ve just covered the group needs; just as important are individual needs. Individuals needs must be aligned with the group. When individuals feel empowered, the team feels empowered.

Individual empowerment only comes about through each person having a level of awareness about themselves and what they need as an individual.

Second, team members need to share these needs with their manager and other team members. The more open team members can be, the better the group can serve the individual and vice versa.

When it comes to individual needs, personality plays a big part. The better a manager can understand the personality types of their team, the better the team’s performance. (Sharp et al. 2000).

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has given you a good understanding of what makes a high-performance team. You should be able to identify whether you have been a part of one before, or perhaps you are part of one currently.

It’s important to remember that every team’s performance is on a sliding scale, and by implementing some of the advice here, you can transform your team.

If we had to pick one area to work on, it would be creating trust & fostering psychological safety. If you want to start improving this within your team, get in touch about a team-building event, and we can help you create the perfect event to nurture your team.

 

References

COLLINS, M.E., 1995. High-performance TEAMS and their impact on organizations. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 18(7), pp. 24.

Castka, P., Bamber, C., Sharp, J., & Belohoubek, P. (2001). Factors affecting successful implementation of high performance teams. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 7(7/8), 123–134. https://doi.org/10.1108/13527590110411037

Kozlowski, S. W., & Ilgen, D. R. (2006). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Work Groups and Teams. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 7(3), 77–124. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1529-1006.2006.00030.x

Rickards, T. and Moger, S. (1999) Handbook for Creative Team Leaders, Gower Publishing, Aldershot.

Sharp, John & Hides, M. & Bamber, Christopher. (2000). Continuous Organisational Learning through the development of High Performance Teams..

What is Team Building?

Team building is an integral part of management and is widely used in the human resources departments of large companies. The goal of team building is to help people who work together to function better as a team. It is about making them understand:

  • how to best use individual and team strengths.
  • how to solve problems under the responsibility of the team.
  • how to improve team performance.

How to recognize a successful team?

First of all, it seems important to distinguish between the terms “team” and “group”:

  • A group is made up of people who need to focus on their personal goals and responsibilities. A group of individuals under the authority of the same person does not necessarily make a team.
  • A team shares a common goal, and the members recognize each other as part of the same entity. In a team there is an interdependence between its members, which implies a behavior regulated by the same values and norms.

What is an efficient team:

  • recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of each.
  • spend a lot of time together.
  • support each other.
  • knows how to handle pressure.

The stages of progression to become a successful team

According to Professor Bruce Tuckman, a team must go through 4 stages before it becomes successful: team formation, conflicting, norm setting and performance. With each modification of the team, modification of the structure for example, the latter must go through each of the stages before becoming efficient again.

  • • Team formation corresponds to the “introduction”: Members get to know each other, politeness is essential and members avoid touching on sensitive topics of conversation. Everyone keeps their impressions to themselves and remains rather withdrawn.
  • The setting in conflict is a delicate stage: the reactions become more lively and defensive. At this stage, members want to express their point of view, but generally the feedback is very low. Members try to test their manager and refuse to collaborate.
  • The setting of standards corresponds to the good weather after the storm: indeed, the previous step brought to the surface some difficulties that will have to be overcome in order to be able to move forward. This is where a real team spirit begins to appear. We agree on working methods, we become more receptive to the ideas of others, we participate actively in the project, and power is better distributed.
  • The successful team has reached maturity and is now able to fully distribute power and responsibilities among its members. We observe in these teams a high level of creativity, openness and trust towards each other, a great flexibility in the contribution of each one, and different points of view are easily accepted.

The process

Our team building activities use the experiential learning process proposed by David Kolb. It consists of 4 steps as illustrated below:

  • The concrete experience : the team will fully live a new experience, a challenge which is not insurmountable but which requires a minimum of reflection to lead to success.
  • Reflective observation : in this phase, the team takes a step back from how it tackled the problem. What actually happened? What decisions have been made? What were the difficulties encountered? What were everyone’s reactions? What result?
  • Abstract conceptualization : it is a question of obtaining a principle, of generalizing the action according to the observations which have been formulated previously.
  • Active experimentation : it allows the theory deduced during the previous step to be compared to reality. It is therefore a question of carrying out a new action according to the principles of the concept mentioned and of verifying whether the concept is well founded.

For each skill area, the team will go through each of these steps before understanding what the best way for the team to use those skills is.
Through our various activities and challenges, the teams are led to think in this direction and to question their methods of working as a team. Thanks to our constructive debriefings, the teams are encouraged to reflect on the best ways to use these skills in the course of their work.