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.
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.
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