In years gone by, team-building exercises often came in the form of outdoor education. Employees were hauled out of the office, exchanging round tables and conference calls for group activities involving abseiling, whitewater rafting and rock climbing.
Trainers or leaders were then able to assess how participants worked together under pressure. If the team imploded, the weak links could be identified and addressed.
These days, it’s less common to take teams bush to encourage them to bond, but the core idea behind team training now is still the same.
Susan Nicholson, psychologist and partner at Mentors Psychology for Business, says, “A team needs to have a common purpose and a common working approach, which is achieving something above and beyond each individual’s involvement in the business. With a team you’re looking at how they interact and you’re helping them to do that in ways which make them work more effectively together,” she says.
When Nicholson is brought in to train a team she often looks at the team’s central purpose to identify how members can better function together. But the core component is creating an environment where people can have an honest and open discussion.
Ground rules are created to encourage people to say what they really feel and think. Getting teams to this point involves undertaking emotional intelligence foundation work, where members can share vulnerabilities, move out of their comfort zones and ultimately develop greater trust.
Openness and trust
Michael Erwin from Time Creation Coaching says that after identifying different personality styles and interpersonal relationships in the workplace, the key outcome he’s looking for is openness and trust.
This ultimately leads to better communication, a key ingredient to a high-functioning team. “That usually comes through when members of the team understand more about the dynamics,” he says.
“The ideal is where people get to increase their own self-awareness and then get to know more about others. They can see how the dynamics work when you combine different personalities with opposing goals and varied values. Participants can then be aware of these things and learn to communicate better.”
Separate leadership training can be a good first step in helping team leaders navigate the complicated business of bringing a group of people together. One of these qualities is creating an environment where people are comfortable enough to say what they really think.
Cliques and “buddy” groups in which gossip is shared and frustrations are vented inevitably form within workplaces. But corridor chats and opinions swapped over coffee can be detrimental to team dynamics. Forcing these opinions out into the open in a constructive way can be a confronting experience, and one that most employees are often keen to avoid.
Erwin says sales people, who can often be pigeon-holed as lone wolves, can improve in all aspects of their job as a result of team training. “Usually as they develop themselves to be an internal team player, they can use the same skills to improve from a sales point of view,” he says.
These skills include building rapport and trust, the same skills that are often taught in a team-building workshop. “It’s very similar sorts of skills and the better sales people, especially the ones who have long-term relationships with clients, use those same sorts of skill,” says Erwin.
And while adventure learning is not as popular as it once was, its main aim to build relationships and stronger trust within the team is still just as relevant.