Building effective teams requires more than just spending time together

Want to ensure high performing teams? The answer lies in creating a bespoke culture and preserving it too

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Effective teamwork: it can spark creativity, boost productivity and make an organisation soar to new heights. Without it, tensions can build, idleness may ensue, inefficiency can escalate and defiance could emerge. Bizarrely, however, in spite of the necessity of teamwork for success, building it is often neglected, abandoned or scoffed at as an unnecessary expense.

Optimal collaboration between employees does not just happen, it requires time, thought, strategy and consistency. Investing in teambuilding trips and exercises, as well as establishing a mechanism for open communication, is central to creating a team that excels. Leaving working relationships to chance is a high-risk policy for any business. As Mario Moussa, Madeline Boyer and Derek Newberry argue in their book Committed Teams, effective teamwork goes beyond these basic tools to create – and keep – a culture that is both individual and favourable to an organisation.

Inherent nature
In 1913, French engineer Maximilien Ringelmann discovered the inverse relationship between the size of a team and each individual’s contribution to the task at hand. The Ringelmann Effect, as it was thereafter known, states the human tendency to apply less effort as more people become involved in an activity. This phenomenon, also referred to as ‘social loafing’, is often unintentional, yet develops over time with increasingly detrimental effects within the work environment.

The Ringelmann Effect states the human tendency to apply less effort as more people become involved in an activity

“Teams tend to underperform because of the nature of group life”, said Moussa. “Whenever you are dealing with multiple people, over time, their priorities will shift or the team gets out of sync with other parts of the organisation. This causes team commitment and performance to slump in ways that can be hard to notice.” Bad habits within a team tend to accrue in the long term, as Moussa explained: “Either individuals change or the environment changes, and the team does not talk openly about these shifts, nor do they make the necessary adjustments. Habits that used to work well for the team all of a sudden become counterproductive, sometimes without anyone realising it.”

In their book, Moussa, Boyer and Newberry argue that, in order to establish high-performing teams, leaders must actively create a culture that is unique to their own organisation. “Shared culture is all about following the same rules for solving problems and getting things done”, Newberry said. “Every team creates them, whether they do it consciously or not, and if you are not conscious about creating a shared culture, you can end up with misalignments or with a culture that works against your goals.”

The framework for these rules consists of setting clear goals, roles and norms. “Goals encompass a shared vision as well as specific objectives that establish clear performance targets”, said Newberry. “Goals should also tap into the values that are meaningful to individual team members.” Detailing individual roles is vital as they define the contribution made by each team member; they should also include informal duties, such as coaching and mediation.

Laying out a set of norms will determine how members interact with one another, information is exchanged, decisions are made and conflicts are resolved. By adhering to a predetermined framework, managers leave nothing to chance; they are installing an insurance policy to ensure every employee fulfils their duties and behaves in a way that is conducive to the work environment. Ultimately, this aids communication and engagement, while also reducing the risk of tension and conflict.

Staying active
In line with growing awareness about the investment needed to create effective teams, the market for teambuilding activities is growing at an accelerating pace; hotels, tourist attractions, sports facilities and even theme parks are now offering their services to the corporate world. One such place is the Mazagan Beach and Golf Resort in Morocco, which offers an impressive array of activities including archery competitions, inflatable sumo wrestling, haggling competitions at local markets, and building mosaic walls. It also provides a feel-good factor with humanitarian projects, where companies can work with orphans from the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of El Jadida, or participate in ecological enterprises and sustainable development workshops.

Providing opportunities for team members to interact with one another outside the office dynamic facilities far better communication during work

“We can definitely feel a rise in energy after the teambuilding activities”, said the resort’s Teambuilding Manager Ghizlane Maliti. “[These] activities help companies strengthen the bond between employees, facilitate the implementation of changes in the workplace and enable better personal involvement of employees.”

Taking people out of their comfort zones, and adding the catalysts of competition and plain good fun, can help to break down barriers and so improve working relationships. Providing opportunities for team members to interact with one another outside the office dynamic facilities far better communication during work. Team members will gain a better understanding of one another’s strengths and weaknesses, which will in turn increase their ability to help one another in their daily tasks. Although costly, providing unique experiences for employees also makes them feel appreciated and induces greater loyalty to the company.

Preservation is key
Many companies, with the best of intentions, organise an event or activity, revel in the experience, but then tick off the teambuilding requirement as complete. Yet, as many experts in the field argue, teambuilding is never done. Individuals come and go; those that stay change and grow, while the company itself evolves in line with new technologies and trends.

“We get pulled in different directions by other commitments, maybe at home or from other projects”, said Moussa. “If teams do not talk openly about how to manage these priorities, or if they do not check in on whether the rules they committed to still make sense for them, they end up in a situation where team members might say one thing and do another.

A pleasant workspace is a huge factor in an individual’s satisfaction within their role and overall happiness

“The best teams know that those rules need to be constantly revisited and adjusted. This is the purpose of the second and third step of our process – to enable teams to be flexible and adaptable. In a global marketplace characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, this adaptability is a necessity for high-performing teams.”

Creating a positive environment to work in is the absolute crux for the long-term success of any organisation. A pleasant workspace is a huge factor in an individual’s satisfaction within their role and overall happiness, which is unsurprising when one considers how many hours we spend at work. As experience shows, creating this type of culture is no simple task, but encouraging the generation of a set of rules and making clear what is expected of individuals can do wonders for overall productivity, communication and collaboration.

A working culture that is supportive, transparent and positive provides a type of commitment and motivation that is simply invaluable. When deciding whether the time and cost needed to implement such a strategy and organise group activities is worth it, consider that no group of individuals has ever achieved anything of note without excellent teamwork as their foundation.