Team building is the use of different types of interventions that are aimed at enhancing social relations and clarifying team members' roles. These activities frequently assign tasks for employees to solve through collaborative means. Many team building exercises are intended to make visible and address interpersonal problems that affect team functionality.
Team building was originally a group process intervention aimed at improving interpersonal relations and social interactions. Over time, this activity has developed to address best practices for achieving results, meeting goals and accomplishing tasks. It refers to the activities in which teams can engage to change their context, composition or team competencies to improve performance. It is distinct from team training, which is also a team-development intervention that is designed to improve team functioning and effectiveness.
Team building differs from team training in a number of ways. Team building is not necessarily formal or systematic in nature, does not target skill-based competencies, and is typically done in settings that are not in the actual environment where the team works on the task.
Team building generally sits within the theory and practice of organizational development, but can also be applied to sports teams, school groups, armies, flight crews and other contexts. There have been many issues in past literature about the conceptual definition of team building. However, now there is consensus and conceptual clarity about what team building constitutes. Its four components are:
- Goal setting: Aligning around goals
- Interpersonal-relationship management: Building effective working relationships
- Role clarification: Reducing team members' role ambiguity
- Problem solving: Finding solutions to team problems
These team-development interventions have proven to have positive effects on cognitive and effective processes and performance team outcomes. Team building has seen the strongest effect on effective and process outcomes. According to Klein et al. (2009), team building is one of the most widely used group development interventions in organizations today. Of all organizational interventions, team-development interventions were found to have the largest effects on financial measures of organizational performance. Recent meta-analyses show that team development activities, including team building and team training, improve both a team's objective performance and supervisory subjective ratings on performance.
The four approaches
The following are a summary of the four approaches as described by Salas and his team:
- Goal setting: this intervention emphasizes setting objectives and developing individual and team goals. Team members become involved in action planning to identify ways to achieve goals. It is designed to strengthen team member motivation to achieve team goals and objectives. By identifying specific outcome levels, teams can determine what future resources are needed. Individual characteristics (e.g. team member motivation) can also be altered by use of this intervention. Many organizations insist on teams negotiating a team charter between the team and responsible managers (and union leaders) to empower the team to accomplish things on behalf of the organization. Successful goal settings help the teams to work towards the same outcomes and make them more task and action oriented.
- Role clarification: this intervention emphasizes increasing communication among team members regarding their respective roles within the team. Team members improve their understanding of their own and others' respective roles and duties within the team. This intervention defines the team as comprising a set of overlapping roles. These overlapping roles are characterized as the behaviors that are expected of each individual team member. It can be used to improve team and individual characteristics (i.e. by reducing role ambiguity) and work structure by negotiating, defining, and adjusting team member roles. It includes an understanding of the talent that exists on the team, and how best to use it, and allows members to understand why clear roles are important. The members should also realize that they are interdependent and the failure of one team member leads to the failure of the entire team.
- Problem solving: this intervention emphasizes identifying major task-related problems within the team. Team members become involved in action planning, implementing solutions to problems identified, and evaluating those solutions. They practice setting goals, developing interpersonal relations, clarifying team roles, and working to improve organizational characteristics through problem-solving tasks. This can have the added benefit of enhancing critical-thinking skills. If teams are good in problem-solving skills, they are less likely to need external interventions to solve their problems.
- Interpersonal relations management: this intervention emphasizes increasing teamwork skills (i.e. mutual supportiveness, communication and sharing of feelings). Team members develop trust in one another and confidence in the team. This is based on the assumption that teams with fewer interpersonal conflicts function more effectively than teams with greater numbers of interpersonal conflicts. It requires the use of a facilitator to develop mutual trust and open communication between team members. As team members achieve higher levels of trust, cooperation and team characteristics can be changed as well.
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According to Sanborn and Haszczo (2007), the effectiveness of team building differs substantially from one organization to another. The most effective team building efforts occur when members of the team are highly interdependent in performing the task, highly knowledgeable and experienced in the task to be accomplished, and when organizational leadership actively establishes and supports the team. Effective team building must also incorporate an awareness of the ultimate objective of the task. Teams must work to develop goals, roles and the procedures needed to achieve them successfully. In addition to task-oriented team building efforts, team-building efforts must also be relationship oriented. To ensure effectiveness, team building should work towards the establishment of policies and procedures and working with the environment, including support systems. Caveats to team building effectiveness is that team building as an intervention is designed to work when the members of the team are actually involved in solving the problem and when they are already intact as a team (i.e. they have worked with each other before) to be able to problem solve. The members of the team must have the willingness and ability to speak up about their needs.
Effects on performance
Team building is a specific team development intervention that has been scientifically proven to positively affect team effectiveness, when exerted with its intended purpose. Team building is aimed at specific needs, and thus has been proven to have specific outcomes on teams. Based on the research conducted by Klein et al. (2009), goal setting and role clarification were shown to have strongest impact on cognitive, affective, process and performance outcomes. However, they had the most powerful impact on affective and process outcomes. This implies that team building can help benefit teams experiencing issues with negative affect, such as lack of cohesion or trust. It could also improve teams suffering from process issues, such as lack of clarification in roles. Although the four approaches were useful in enhancing team functioning, goal setting and role clarification have proven to be the most impactful. This is because, drawing upon theory, providing teams with clearly set and challenging goals enhances motivation to work harder to be more effective and reduces conflict. Role clarification helps to set individual purposes, goals and motivation. Finally, larger team sizes (those with 10 or more members) appeared to benefit the most from team building interventions. That is because larger teams generally have a greater reservoir of cognitive resources and capabilities than smaller teams. The following table provides the main results of the effect of team building strategies on cognitive, affective, process, and performance team outcomes:
Challenges to Team Building
Dyer recognized three challenges that team builders will face in the future, with regard to effective team building. They are:
- The lack of teamwork skills in tomorrow's workforce: one of the challenges facing leaders of organizations will be to find employees who have the ability to work effectively in a team environment. Most organizations rely on educational institutions to have trained graduate students with these skills. Dyer believed however, that students are encouraged to work individually for a higher grade and succeed without having to collaborate with one another. This creates an emphasis in self-interest- rather than an orientation to collaborate with others - than can work against the kinds of behavior needed for successful teamwork. According to a research study conducted by Salas, team training proved to have a positive effect on cognitive, affective, process and performance outcomes. That is, across a wide variety of settings, tasks, and team types, team training efforts were successful.
- The increasing need for teams to work together in virtual workplaces and across organizational boundaries: according to Dyer, organizations will find it increasingly important for individuals who are not in the same physical space to work together . Such teams will prove to be a challenge as they are unable to build concrete relationships with other team members. A study conducted by Oertig and Buergi to compare face-to-face communication and virtual project teams indicated that face-to-face communication is very important in building an effective working environment for the team. Face-to-face contact was a key to developing trust and this was initiated by a formal team building sessions with a facilitator to "agree to the relationship" and define the rules as to how the teams are going to work. Informal contact was also mentioned, e.g. sitting down over lunch to break barriers. Team building training will need to be adapted to the needs of virtual teams who are working in geographically distant places.
- Globalization and teamwork: the globalization of industry also will make the team more challenging in the future. Teams of the future will increasingly be composed of team members who have dissimilar languages, cultures, values and approaches to solving the problems. This challenge will need to be addressed by arranging more one on one meetings that have proven to be successful in some organizations. This challenge will be enhanced when combined in virtual workplaces when teams do not have the opportunity to have face to face communications. Training to facilitate understanding of, and communication across, team members can address this issue.
Application of team building
Intervention in schools
Diana and Joseph, in their paper on team building tools for students, describe how instructors can motivate students to develop teamwork skills and provide a guideline on how to achieve it. Typically professors assign a team to work on a project and the only advice they give is - best of luck. Diana and Joseph argue that this is not enough and professors should intervene more and help the students build a team that they can work effectively with. Professors should establish the importance of teamwork by providing specific examples of job situations that would require teamwork skills and how helpful this skill will be in their professional career. If students are able to understand the importance of teamwork skills and how they would benefit from it, they will be willing to contribute more to learn these skills. The following are guidelines provided to instructors for successful team building interventions:
- Defining the task: the first approach to an effective team building is that the instructor defines the goals and tasks required to be completed by the end of the project and a clear set of objectives to achieve. The most important instruction given at this step is clear timelines and deadlines for progress reports. This will ensure that the students are on track with their project and what is expected from them is clearly communicated in the beginning.
- Create a psychological contract: at this step, the instructor provides the team with a set of rules to specify their role in the team and the consequences of not following the teamwork norms. For example, what would happen if the team does not submit their work or if one team member does not contribute to the team effectively? The important goals achieved in this step are assignment of responsibilities, establishment of deadlines, ensuring contribution by all group members and documentation of group norms and conduct. This will help the team in conflict management as they will know what will be the consequences of lagging behind at a given point and help in management of interpersonal relationships.
- Establishing team member roles: the instructor should stress the importance of a balance between task and relationship roles by clarifying different roles. Task roles are essentially information that will help the team to perform the task at hand and relationship roles are social interaction between each team member. Establishment of roles will help the students in distribution of labor and to focus on work that they are good at. They will also know who is to be held accountable for different tasks and who can fix them as they arise
- Meeting with team members: the instructor should attend some of the team meetings and observe the discussion taking place. They should not necessary lead the discussions but surprise the students by attending the meetings without prior notice. Instructor can get a first-hand experience on what is actually happening in the team and give constructive feedback on how to improve certain aspects of the situation and move on. While the instructor is attending the meetings, he should reinforce the rules of teamwork skills as the students will be more familiar with these. Diana and Joseph recognize a list of seven basic rules that must be communicated to the teams: "know your team members, communicate accurately and unambiguously, accept and support one another, check for understanding, share ideas and understanding, check for agreement and resolve conflicts constructively and quickly".
- Conflict management: the next steps are to create a problem solving mechanism in the groups so they can manage any problem that arises within. The instructor should emphasize on the importance of conflict management as and when they arise so it does not harm the overall dynamics of the team. Diana and Joseph provide a decision making score wherein students can see at what stage they are and resolve the issue. For example, students may be at a 0-1 score of "no decision" where none of the members are able to reach to a common consensus to a score of 10 where needs of all members are explored and all are satisfied with the material presented. The middle stages are situations when some dominant team-members are happy while others are not.
- Individual accountability: finally, groups should keep a track of their team meetings and activities in a log so the non-performers are held accountable and get what they deserve. This also includes a list of different roles and parts of the projects that was completed by each member so the instructor can see who contributed to which part. If individuals know that they will be held accountable for not performing in the project, this process will keep them motivated and reduce any sort of social loafing within a team.
Team building in organizations
At the organizational level, team building is a philosophy of job design in which employees are viewed as members of interdependent teams instead of as individual workers. According to the authors of the encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology, "team building [in organizational level] will be ongoing rather than a one-shot session and will be composed of training and discussion specific to that team."
Interventions in sports
The concept of team building was introduced in sports in the 1990s. A study was conducted in 2010 by Rovio and other researchers to analyze the effects of team building on sports teams. The results indicated that team building has a positive impact on the functioning of teams as it contributes towards group cohesion. The key concepts of team building identified in organizations were applied to sports teams as well. Sport researchers lay a significant amount of emphasis on group cohesion, which was used to define team building in the late 1980s.
According to Yukelson, "In sports, teams are made up of a collection of interdependent individuals, coordinated and orchestrated into various task efficient roles for the purpose of achieving goals and objectives that are deemed important for that particular team". The purpose of teambuilding in sports is to develop those behavior and skills that will lead to effective team functioning. One of the fundamental strategies for building a team is to develop a sense of team identity among the team members. This can be done by instilling a sense of "we" in the team. Team members cannot work in isolation and are independent of each other.
An experiment was carried out by Senécal, Loughead and Bloom to determine whether the team building intervention program stressing on the importance of goal setting increased cohesion in a sports team. A total of 86 high school basketball players were studied as participants under either of the two conditions - season long goal setting intervention program and a control program. In the intervention program, participants were asked to individually assign targets for the team and negotiate with other team members to finalize a goal score for the team. The coach reminded them throughout the season about this goal by different approaches such as pasting a copy of it in their locker rooms. Under the control condition, their study concluded that the coach would occasionally encourage them to cheer for other team members and support each other. The research concluded that at the beginning of the study, all the participants had the same level of cohesion for the team but the team with the season long goal setting intervention program performed better in their games. It was found that the level of team cohesion did not increase in the team as a result of ceiling effect with the intervention program but the level decreased significantly for the control group. This must have happened, as they were not focused on their goals as the team with the intervention program did and occasional social events such as outings and dinners did not help in increasing the cohesion level. Therefore, team building intervention program in teams proved to be successful and showed significant improvement in the level of cohesion which positively impacted the performance.
Following are the core components to consider in building a successful sports team:
- Shared vision and unity of purpose: the beginning of any team building should start with the coach communicating the goals and objectives to the team. By doing so, roles are defined and group norms for productivity get outlines. The coach should motivate them to work effectively together to reach the goals.
- Collaborative and synergistic teamwork: the team members should know what is expected from them by providing them with a clear understanding of their role in the team. Mission statements have proved to be successful in encouraging everyone in the team to support each in achieving the goals together.
- Individual and mutual accountability: the team members should be trained that the team comes first. Everyone should be accountable for any individual action or the actions of the team as a whole.
- A positive team culture and cohesive group atmosphere: according to Martens, "team culture refers to the psychosocial leadership within the team, team motives, team identity, team sport and collective efficacy". The coach should build a positive team culture that allows for the smooth functioning of the team. This can be done by selecting team players after careful judgment of how much they value dedication, commitment and the willingness to work hard to achieve the team's goal to win, not to achieve any personal goal. A coach usually delivers a speech in the locker room before the game which has proved to be motivating for a football team in 2014. The coach mentions what is it like to be a part of the team and reminds them of successful players in the past and how beating the particular team will give the team the respect and success they need.
- Team identity: a successful team building endeavour is to instill a sense of pride in group membership such that team members are proud to be a part of the team. Team identity can be created by motivating team members to be committed to team goals and have pride in the performance by working together as one single unit.
- Open and honest communication processes: an open and honest communication process should be encouraged within a team so that the lack of unity does not affect them during a game. The main components of communication such as trust, honesty, mutual sharing and understanding should be emphasized. The team members should be encouraged and given the chance to speak during debriefing sessions can help build these components of communication.
- Peer helping and social support: finally, teammates should be encouraged to help each other during games and before and after a game too. They should support each other if they lose a game or motivate each other if they win the game. Sport teams should function as a family wherein players are not just focused on their own individual goals but rather are concerned about the well being of the entire family.
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