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"Team building" (or "'teambuilding'") refers to the process of establishing and developing a greater sense of collaboration and trust between team members. Interactive exercises, team assessments, and group discussions enable groups to cultivate this greater sense of teamwork. Team building is used in many contexts, for example in sport clubs and work organizations.
Need for team building
Modern society and culture continues to become more fluid and dynamic. Factors contributing to this include the communications revolution, the global market and the ever-increasing specialization and division of labor. The net effect is that individuals are now required to work with many different groups of people in their professional as well as personal lives. Joining a new group and immediately being expected to get along with them is somewhat unnatural - historically humans have worked and lived in close-knit, static societies. As such, people have had to develop methods to help people adapt to the new requirements. All kinds of people, from investment bankers to catering staff and session musicians, face the same difficulties. As yet there is no generally agreed solution to the problem - it may not even be possible given the thousands of years of cultural evolution that brought us to our present behavior patterns.
Team building ingredients
Ingredients seen as important to the successful set-up and launch of such team efforts include:
- Selection of participants
- Establishing goals
- Allocation of roles within the team
- Harmonizing personality types
- Training on how to work together
- Support within the team
- Making effective use of resources
- Communication between team members and leaders
There have been no empirical studies that have been tested in any of the assumptions made by the following group theorists.
Selection of participants
The first important ingredient for team building is selecting of participants to be in the activity. The team leader usually looks for specific things in his or her members in order to ensure success in the project. It is very important to have members that have confidence and are able to build trust among the other participants. A participant must also break out of his or her shell and become a leader. Most importantly, the participant must have a positive attitude at all times (LaFasto 3). Sometimes it is helpful to have an assessment each member has to fill out at the end of a team building experience to help in selecting participants in the future. The authors of When Teams Work Best collected 15,000 assessments that team members had to fill out about their fellow teammates. In the assessment there were only two questions asked: (1) What strengths does this person bring to the team? (2) What might this individual do to contribute more effectively to the team’s success? (LaFasto 4) The assessment revealed six factors to help distinguish between the effective and ineffective team members. The factors fell into two groups: working knowledge and teamwork. “Working knowledge consists of two factors: experience and problem-solving ability. Teamwork consists of four factors: openness, supportiveness, action orientation, and personal style” (5). If each member has these qualities, the outcome of the team building activity will likely be successful.
Establishing goals within the team is essential in team building. It is important for the team leader to establish goals early so the members understand their purpose for participating. If the goals are clarified, the participants are motivated to excel in the activities and develop trust among their leader (LaFasto 101). Goals give the team direction and provide a feeling of value and importance. It is very important for a leader to make sure the team knows how the work will be done and how they will accomplish their tasks (Scholtes 1-5). Without goals, the team has nothing to strive for, and many members may lose motivation. Keeping the goal simple and achievable will be very beneficial to the team in the end.
Balancing skill sets
When creating a team building activity, it is important to have balanced skill sets. One way to achieve this is by having experts in different fields. If some members provide their technical skills, and other members provide their theoretical skills, the outcome of the project will likely be successful. For example, individuals that are knowledgeable about the course materials are confused about the technology part of it. On the other hand, individuals may feel that the technical side of the problem is more comprehensible than the theoretical side of it. By combining both types’ strengths, the team can come up with a solution that benefits everyone. Balancing skill sets can be one of the most challenging things to achieve, but it is very important to do to ensure the success of ones’ team (Mallet 3).
Allocation of roles within the team
Assigning roles to team members help them to know their place on the team. Each member should be assigned a role that is clearly defined and relates to his or her personality. Advantages of defining roles among team members are that it makes assignments more straightforward, helps to understand the decision-making process, and assures the task will be completed. In most undergraduate projects there are three roles: project leader, chief architect, and documentation leader. It is important to clarify each of these roles at the very first meeting so members know exactly what they have to do. Making a list of everyone’s skill sets, preference, work experience, courses taken, and interests would help in assigning the roles. From this list it should be determined who is best suited for what role. If there is conflict in the process, team members can always share the responsibilities. Otherwise the leader can perform a quick lottery to decide who gets what role. However, participants may not have an interest in the role that they were unwillingly assigned to. A serious problem that may occur is that a specific role may have too little or too much work, which may cause resentment between the members. Productivity may also be lost. A team must always be ready to adjust to their new roles and be prepared if assigned to a new one. Members must be willing to move beyond their roles and help others in order to practice good teamwork and to get the job done (Mallet 5).
The personality of a team leader plays a big factor on how the team performs. A leader must understand the kind of personality they need to have in order to gain the respect from his or her members. Many studies have been made to see if personality effects working environments. For example, V.J. Bentz (1985) conducted a study of ineffective managers at the department store Sears. In his studies he found that almost all of the managers had a “personality defect” of some sort. Lesley and Van Velsor (1996) also conducted studies that ultimately found four personality traits of ineffective managers. The four traits were poor interpersonal skills (being insensitive, arrogant, cold, aloof, overly ambitious), unable to get work done (betraying trust, not following through, overly ambitious), unable to build a team, and unable to make the transition after promotion (10). The personality traits that these managers portrayed were proven to negatively effect the working environment. It is imperative for leaders to have a positive and effective personality to gain respect among their organization and members.
Training on how to work together
A team must know how to work together in order to be productive and successful. If a team can work together, they will be able to raise and resolve issues that are standing in the way of accomplishing a goal (LaFasto 109). Working together may not come easy at first, but with proper training the team will be able to adapt quickly. The training may include the instruction on how to communicate better, manage conflict, or understand the skills and talents that everyone brings to the table. A full assessment of the team’s need is recommended before the training (Bubshait). To encourage team members to work together, many companies provide workshops in communication skills, meetings management, listening, assertiveness, conflict resolution, goal setting, and other topics that help in being an effective team player (Parker 137). If people are working together effectively rather than working by themselves, a lot more work will be accomplished.
Support within the team
Another important ingredient for team building is supportiveness. Supportiveness is the aspiration to help others succeed (LaFasto 14). “Someone who shows supportiveness is dedicated to the team’s success and wants what’s best for the team, works behind the scenes to aid the team, willing to pitch in whenever necessary, always willing to help out, willing to take on more responsibility, very easy to work with, and listens well to others’ ideas” (15). Recently, M. West, author of Effective Teamwork, introduced a comprehensive model of team support. In the model he concluded that team support is a multidimensional concept that includes four types. The four types are emotional support, informational support, instrumental support, and appraisal support. Someone who provides a shoulder to cry on, encouraging words, and is sympathetic of others’ pain is said to be a team emotional support. A person that provides team informational support exchanges necessary information about a certain thing to their peers. The person who is actually “doing the support” provides team instrumental support. The last type is appraisal support. This type is the help individual team members can provide to aid in making sense of a particular problem (Somech). Team building will be successful if the team members can cover each of these types of team support.
Making effective use of resources
Effectively using resources is essential in the success of team building. In the business-world companies are very serious on how they use their resources. Many companies use team techniques in systems development to effectively use their resources (Parker 9). “During group sessions, non-technical end users and information systems staff meet on a common ground to hammer out systems solutions that truly meet the needs of everyone---especially the needs of end-user management” (Leavitt, 1987, p. 78). To ensure system requirements are on target, companies like Cigna Company in Philadelphia, CNA Insurance Company in Dearborn, Michigan, and Chase Manhattan Bank in New York are all using group design techniques. All of these companies believe in the same thing: effective goal setting, listening, facilitation skills, consensus building, and a willingness to communicate. These team techniques in systems development not only make effective use of resources, but they also result in measurable benefits (Parker 9). Resources are essential to team building and they must be used wisely and efficiently.
Communication between team members and leaders
When Teams Work Best, “the most important contribution a team leader can make is to ensure a climate that enables team members to speak up and address the real issues preventing the goal from being achieved.” A leader with good communication skills must be able to speak the truth and deal with problems openly. Their goal should be to promote listening, to understand different viewpoints, and to work toward a resolution (109). It is important for a team leader to make team members feel comfortable enough to express their needs and their wants. Members want to feel that they know what is going on at all time and are informed about things such as plans, priorities, and progress the group is making (185). Some ways to communicate is by email, online messengers, telephone, or face-to-face methods. The most important part of communication is not so much the tools you choose, but the dedication by each member of the team to use the chosen tools regularly.
As with many activities, the methodology and effectiveness of team building programs can run a full gamut. For a notorious recent example of team building run amok, see the case of Kamp Staaldraad in South Africa, 2003.
Team building in organizational development
When a team in an organizational development context embarks upon a process of self-assessment in order to gauge its own effectiveness and thereby improve performance, it can be argued that it is engaging in team building, although this may be considered a narrow definition.
To assess itself, a team seeks feedback to find out both:
- its current strengths as a team
- its current weaknesses
To improve its current performance, a team uses the feedback from the team assessment in order to:
- identify any gap between the desired state and the actual state
- design a gap-closure strategy
As teams grow larger, the skills and methods managers must use to create or maintain a spirit of teamwork change. The intimacy of a small group is lost, and the opportunity for misinformation and disruptive rumors grows. Managers find that communication methods that once worked well are impractical with so many people to lead. In particular, leaders encounter difficulties based on Daglow's Law of Team Dynamics: "Small teams are informed. Big teams infer." (1)
- Cross-functional team
- Group-dynamic game
- List of human resource management topics
- Organizational psychology
- Social psychology
- Personal development
- Office politics
Key texts – Books
- William G. Dyer, Team building: Current Issues and New Alternatives (3rd Edition). Pearson Education POD, 1995. ISBN 0201628821.
- Parker, Glenn M.(1990); Team Players and Teamwork. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
- Lafasto, Frank, and Carl Larson. When Teams Work Best. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 2001. 3-185.
Additional material – Books
Key texts – Papers
- Mallet, Daniel. Teamwork Handbook. Jan. 1999. 3 Dec. 2006 Full terxt.
- Somech, Anit, and Anat Drach-Zahavy. Team Heterogeneity and Its Relationship with Team Support and Team Effectiveness. 2002. Journal of Educational Administration. 3 Dec. 2006 Full text.
Additional material - Papers
- Corporate Team Building Primer A step by step guide to planning team building sessions and corporate retreats. Provides tips to ensure success and pitfalls to avoid.
- Teampedia A collaborative encyclopedia with over 100 free team building activities, games and exercises.
- The UK Teambuilding Association
- 10 Fun Team Building Tips
- The Team Building Directory An online resource for anyone interested in team building, training, motivation, corporate events, conferences and development.
- Team Building Activities for Kids An online resource for teachers who want to create "team spirit" and camaraderie among classmates.
- cs:Team building
- it:Team building
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