Team building is an important investment – how do you get it right?

Article3 mins01 October 2019By Amy Cooper

Forget the dreaded motivational activities – today’s intelligent team building digs deep into science and psychology, with transformative results.


For many people, the word ‘team building’ evokes painful memories of awkward collective activities – paintballing, rope courses, cooking classes. 

But these old clichés bear little resemblance to today’s best-in-class team development programs, say experts in the field. 

In an increasingly demanding business environment, team building must reap lasting results, and represent a worthwhile investment.

“Intelligent team building combines evidence-based methods with behavioural profiling and meaningful follow-through that’s not perceived by sophisticated business people as just ‘fluffy’ or a waste of time,” says Talan Miller, managing director of Sabre Corporate Development.

“It absolutely is bankable on the bottom line,” he adds. “Not only in terms of the sustainability of teams, but also their ability to perform under pressure, especially when everyone is expected to do more with less.”

No business can truly achieve its potential without teams really working together effectively.

Shaun Kenny People of Influence
The science of teams 


High-functioning teams are more crucial to success than ever before, says Shaun Kenny, director of team development consultancy People of Influence.

“No business can truly achieve its potential without teams working together effectively, but it’s often taken for granted that building a high performing team is easy.”

He adds, “If you don’t put in very deliberate steps, a methodology and a know-how, you end up with the default: individuals looking after themselves.”

The best team development programs offer experiential activities reinforced by robust science, say Miller and Kenny.

Instead of a one size fits all approach, Miller and Kenny take time to study individual teams and their dynamics, using proven psychological tools to understand what makes each person tick, before they embark on any activity.

“The word ‘team’ gets thrown about a lot, often without enough thought into what actual behavioural strengths and weaknesses will profoundly impact day-to-day performance,” says Miller.

“Well-designed team building takes into account that how humans work with one another can accelerate the team development process,” he says.

Team chemistry


Effective teams, says Shaun Kenny, have good chemistry in the most literal sense. Neuroscience has shown that oxytocin, the ‘bonding hormone,’ plays a major role in building trust, one of the key attributes of successful teams.

The feelgood chemical is released when individuals demonstrate trust in each other, and it fuels the close bonds between colleagues who perform physically dangerous work together.

For those without life-threatening jobs, the same effect can be achieved through a process called ‘mutually escalating personal self-disclosure,’ in which team members reveal personal views and information to each other.

As Shaun Kenny puts it: “Finding ways to be more vulnerable in a way that’s safe, sharing information that you wouldn't normally share, revealing weaknesses, asking for help.”

One of the People of Influence activities designed around this process asks team members to use a deck of cards to share workplace qualities they most value.

“It really whittles down what matters to everyone and encourages that oxytocin-boosting process,” Says Kenny.

Simulations that make sense 


Best-practice team building uses fun, creative games, but also experiential learning, says Talan Miller.

“It delivers best results when a provider can truly tailor their approaches to mirror real world issues that impact the team.”

Kenny runs business simulations that are fun and irreverent, but sophisticated too, so smart teams will engage with them.

“It won’t make them roll their eyes,” he says.

Sabre’s Battlespace military themed game suits teams facing disruptive change, says Talan Miller.

“It takes teams into the fast-paced decision-making, planning and execution methods used by military combat leaders to deal with rapidly changing and adverse situations.”

At People of Influence, the Office Politics simulation, themed around running for political office, is designed to improve collaboration and connection.

“It encourages everyone to consider the impacts of their behaviour on others,” says Kenny, “and mirrors the sorts of choices we make in the workplace all the time.”

Lasting results 


Miller describes his recent work with a team whose performance was being hampered by internal conflicts.

Through applying the Sabre Team DNA tool, the protagonists were able to identify their key personality traits in a non-threatening way and collectively understand why their team was not performing.

“Armed with simple tools to help make them accountable for their behaviour, the team has made massive strides, individually and collectively,” said Miller.

“The impact of intelligent team building can be nothing short of transformative.” 

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