The one thing every team needs to be successful

Effective team-building stretches people outside of their comfort zone without creating too much resistance, according to Michaela Bearden, director for the Center for Corporate Education at the School of Business.

A group of hands.
Effective team-building stretches people outside of their comfort zone without creating too much resistance, according to Michaela Bearden, director for the Center for Corporate Education at the School of Business. (Getty Images)

No team can be successful without trust. Lack of it derails success by making individuals feel unvalued, unheard and overlooked, said Michaela Bearden, director for the Center for Corporate Education at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, which provides training in leadership, management and business excellence.

With this idea in mind, leaders often utilize team-building activities, such as trust fall exercises or ropes courses, to build team cohesiveness. Participating in these activities requires reliance on others.

In an interview with VCU News, Bearden says effective team-building stretches people outside of their comfort zone without creating too much resistance.

What are some qualities of a good team?

Trust is at the foundation of any good team. Also, the ability to recognize each other’s contributions, and work effectively through conflict. Good teams trust each other and put the team over self. They work towards common goals.

What are some of the pros and cons of participating in team-building activities?

If you are open to learning and developing as a team, the pros are limitless. The right team-building activities will grow individuals and teams by increasing self-awareness and creating mutual trust.

Individuals must trust the intentions of their team to participate. If there is a lack of trust, team-building exercises can backfire. Effective team-building takes a willingness to be vulnerable and authentic. Check the health and functionality of your team before engaging in team-building activities so you can pick an exercise that ensures a positive experience.

Why do these activities at all? What’s the benefit to the team and to management?

Team-building exercises promote awareness of self and others. Teams function better when people understand and trust each other. Managers can develop high functioning teams through team-building exercises that focus on communication, collaboration and problem-solving, ultimately leading teams to produce more.

Teams that are high functioning challenge each other without compromising relationships; they trust each other enough to be honest and vulnerable. This is a critical function of strong teams and can lead to creative problem solving that does not exist among low functioning teams.

What are some good team-building exercises?

Exercises can be good or bad, based on your objectives and the capabilities of your team. New teams should start small with exercises that increase self-awareness, build trust, and define how the team will work together (norming exercises). More established teams could move through values and strengths exercises to strengthen team culture.

Established teams can grow by exploring and solving for a strategic dilemma within the company. These exercises work well with high-functioning teams. Finally, community projects are great for teams of all types. These projects take you out of your work environment and focus on a project that benefits others. Teams report learning new things about their co-workers through community projects. The shared experience brings teams closer together. 

What are bad ideas for team-building exercises?

Managers and leaders want to avoid exercises that force participation before a team is ready. Team-building exercises that get too personal, or force people out of their comfort zone can create problems down the road.

Team-building can be fun and effective with proper planning. Think about the physical and emotional requirements of the activity before selecting it. Some questions you can ask yourself before you pick an exercise include:

  • Is your team new?
  • Is your team low or high functioning? (think about trust and conflict between team members, and their ability to accomplish tasks/goals)
  • What types of personalities are on your team?
  • What are you trying to accomplish?

 

What are some team-building exercises you’ve had your students do?

My favorite is the CliftonStrengths Assessment and debrief. It provides students with their top 5 talents and the debrief is a conversation about how to leverage strengths and lean on the strengths of others. It gives students a common language about their abilities, rather than their weaknesses. During a semester, students are on many teams. Students who understand their strengths are better at collaborating and contributing to a diverse team. This is a great team-building exercise.

How do you convince reticent employees to wholeheartedly participate?

You cannot force people to enjoy team-building or convince people to participate. Employees have to want to learn and grow and they have to be able to see the benefit for themselves. First, try to understand why the employees are reticent. To help, be very clear on the purpose of the activity, and share the benefit with others.

If possible, involve reticent employees in the process. Have them participate in creating the activity and if they are willing, lead it. You can also start with paired activities instead of group activities to ease people into team-building.