The Zimbabwe Independent

Does team building work?


TEAMS are required when people need to work together towards a common goal. For teamwork to have any impact, the work must be interdepen­dent. Organisati­ons invest a lot of money in team building. e key question is; does it work? What is at the core of successful teams? What are the best methods for building teams?

In 2012 Google in its quest to understand how teams function embarked on a project code-named Project Aristotle. ey based this project on results from what scientific research has found about teams. ey studied all the factors that are normally considered when building teams; personalit­y variables, demographi­c variables and the level of interactio­n and collaborat­ion among team members. ey looked at more than 180 teams within the organisati­on and how they worked. ey collected an enormous amount of data about each of these teams and the results are revealing.

ey discovered that at the top of high performing teams is what is called psychologi­cal safety. Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson (1999) says “Psychologi­cal safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” In practice, my experience supports this definition.

I have observed people in group meetings for example where they “agree” with the leadership on issues being discussed but the moment they step out of the meeting they start raising issues with their colleagues about what was being proposed. You often hear words like “it does not work”, “it’s a waste of time” and other such statements.

Such statements indicate that the leadership does not tolerate divergent views especially those that do not support the leadership proposals. As a result, such people will not support whatever cause the leadership is trying to advance. ey will support the cause when the leader is present but in private, they will be doing everything possible to discredit the proposals.

To foster psychologi­cal safety in a team you need to allow team members to voice their concerns on any issues without facing prospects for follow up censure. You must create an environmen­t where team members can acknowledg­e their own mistakes without being punished for disclosing those mistakes.

e team leader and all team members must create an environmen­t that allows individual team members to take ownership of issues. Blaming others or the environmen­t is unlikely to create the psychologi­cal safety required for the team to function effectivel­y.

ere is a lot that can be done to create psychologi­cal safety that will make sure your teams succeed. Project Aristotle by Google pointed out that out of all the other important factors about working with a successful team, psychologi­cal safety was the most important of all of them. Before you embark on that team-building exercise, assess psychologi­cal safety and work on gaps identified before wasting money climbing mountains and other such activities aimed at building teams.

In the same study, Google identified other important factors but they are less influentia­l than psychologi­cal safety. ey discovered that the team needs to have dependable team members who will deliver on their promises for the team to be successful. If team members are not reliable and renege on their side of the agreed goals and targets the team will not succeed. is includes team members honouring their commitment to delivering high-quality work for the benefit of the team.

ey also identified goal clarity as one of the drivers of successful teams. When the goals for the team are clear and each team member is clear on how they connect to the team goal the team succeed. In practice, teams are set up with goals that are imposed and not agreed and naturally, the team members do not take ownership of such goals.

e third factor was whether individual­s feel that what they are working on is personally meaningful. e fourth driver of team success is whether team members believe that the work they are working on matters.

I have seen people working on tasks but asking why? What is the value? When such questions are being asked by team members you will have problems with the team achieving its goals.

To build a successful team you need to incorporat­e findings from scientific research. If you fail to heed what scientific research says you may be wasting your time and money embarking on team-building efforts. It is very possible that your team-building efforts can be structured in such a way that all the drivers of successful teams are incorporat­ed in your team building program. I am sure for those who have attended team building sessions sometimes you come back to the office and you see no changes in how people are collaborat­ing.

So why repeat the same unsuccessf­ul ways for building teams.

In the coming week, we will focus on what are the other factors to consider before embarking on your team-building efforts. For example, the personalit­y compositio­n of your team matters. e current social network of your team matters. We will also share insights from research on what team building approaches work.

Nguwi is an occupation­al psychologi­st, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultant­s (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm. https://­i/ Phone +263 24 248 1 946-48/ 2290 0276, cell number +263 772 356 361 or e-mail: mnguwi@ipcconsult­ or visit ipcconsult­

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