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How a fresh take on team building could better your business

It’s been said that you’re only as strong as your team. But the teams of today are changing. They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital and dynamic than ever before – and with remote working having changed the workplace, a new perspective is needed to maintain company-wide morale.

Gone are the away-day activities of old. In an ever-evolving post-pandemic workscape, it’s going to take more than a tug-of-war or trust fall to build comradery between colleagues. Effective team building needs to be agile, aim-driven and applicable to an actual working environment.

Why is team building important?

Decades of research has surmised that three core psychological needs contribute to the creation of an extraordinary and high-performing workforce: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. As social creatures, interconnectedness is a dominant intrinsic desire, and having our core needs fulfilled has been proven to boost happiness and health – and productivity.

New research from the Harvard Business Review identifies that the highest performing teams are those that leverage social connection, even while working remotely. From frequently picking up the phone to giving validation freely, these peer-to-peer interactions strengthen colleague bonds and foster an environment of authenticity at work. 

Workplace well-being notably boosts individual performance. For business leaders, team building is an essential (and lucrative) practice that has a transformative impact on the output of an organisation: from building trust and yielding better communication, through to improving cross departmental collaboration.

Are team building activities actually effective?

Team Bonding notes that fun activities foster connection and collaboration between colleagues, ultimately up-levelling problem-solving, group planning and conflict resolution – all essential skills for maintaining a happy and harmonious workplace. 

However, team effectiveness expert, Carlos Valdes-Dapena, offers a counterclaim. Based upon 25 years of research, he believes that corporate companies are wasting time and money on elaborate offsite events and are better primed to bolster team spirit by focusing first on ‘individual motivation’.

This data (drawn from questionnaires supplied to 125 teams) found that most teams already liked each other. An ambience of fondness, familiarity and respect had mostly been established within these working circles, rendering ‘team-bonding’ exercises outdated and defunct. 

In fact, research uncovered that it was the ‘results-focused’ company culture that eclipsed the employee’s compulsion to collaborate; instead, a sense of ownership for their own accountabilities took precedence. Clearly the pressure (and perk) of meeting their own working goals trumped any incentive to contribute to the wider collective.

So, is there an ‘I’ in ‘Team’ after all? Research suggests that the most successful approach to team building involves connecting collaboration goals to the individual motives of each member. Essentially, a shared mindset allows for the links to form a chain.

Interestingly, evidence curated in the 1970s documents that individual personalities, conduct and behaviour styles are not so much a contributing factor to thriving teams as establishing ‘enabling conditions’ for this engagement to flourish. 

Team building is a top-down job

It takes more than a round of bowling to establish a healthy company culture. Fun activities may momentarily boost interpersonal bonding, but how an organisation is primed to embed and accommodate those key takeaways at the end of the away-day is far more important.

But what separates an obligatory exercise from a meaningful dialogue? According to Forbes, fostering a team activity with valuable application relies on these key components:

  • Create an equal playing field: Establish an environment of openness and vulnerability (with full and active participation from leadership), set clear grounds for group behaviour, and amplify inclusion from the less vocal members of the team.
  • Be transparent: Clearly, honestly and fairly diagnose company-wide issues, provide an upfront clarification of the activity purpose and aim, and establish a harmonised group goal.
  • Incorporate space for the individual: Employ maximum understanding of neuro-diversity and neuro-agility, team member needs, capacities and points of access. 
  • Keep self-reflecting: Successful team building activities are well-structured and correlate with the development needs of the team. Deliver a debrief that links the learnings from each activity to daily work and sustainable, concrete actions. 

How to build a high-performing team

Harvard Business Review uncovers that the secrets to building a thriving team require much more than an icebreaker round, and adhere to four key fundamentals:

  • Compelling direction: Establish a definitive and cohesive group purpose and incentives that energise, orient and engage the wider team, while considering the differing (and often opposing) backgrounds, placements and motivations of each team member.
  • Strong structure: Blend and balance team skills, strengths and standpoints. Have a clear understanding of how a diverse team differs in perspective and application – and how this can improve agility.
  • Supportive context: Creative incentives, reward systems and provide impactful resources that reflect the individual needs and drives of the team. Recognise subgroups and clearly translate their value and contribution to the wider business.
  • Shared mindset: Transmute the challenges of distance, displacement and digital intervention and foster a common identity and understanding within the company by facilitating fair information exchange.

Laying the foundations for a functioning and fulfilled team is clearly a complex and nuanced activity that requires a fresh perspective from leadership – particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trade the brain teasers for an evolved employee perk program. Switch out the escape room for an agile and fun hybrid work model. Book a business-wide wellness weekend, rather than a bootcamp. For lasting impact that doesn’t tail off as soon as you resume your boardroom seats, shift focus to assessed and integratable changes – and don’t confine group cohesion to a muddy field.

Got what it takes to lead a team?

Choose University of Lincoln’s 100% online MSc Management course for a year-long nosedive into leadership development, decision-making, problem-solving and other fundamental skills needed to build and lead a successful business within a complex and changing environment. 

Whether you’re new to the business world or wanting to improve your organisational strategy, this degree aims to arm you with the tools, techniques and knowledge to work effectively in different corporate contexts.