Scientifically-Proven Ways to Build and Manage Great Teams

August 13, 2018

Nobody can build something great by themselves, which is why savvy business owners and HR experts know that building and managing a great team is critical to ongoing success.

However, building a team that is passionate, dedicated, and motivated towards achieving shared goals isn’t as easy as it sounds – which is why so many leaders struggle to build cohesive teams these days!

Luckily, academic research on team culture and workplace group dynamics has provided some much-needed insight on creating, motivating, and maintaining cohesive and successful teams. Keep reading to discover how you can apply these academic findings to improve your team building skills:

Team Building Does Work… When Done Properly

“Team building exercises” might invoke eye-rolls from those of us who have had to sit through forced, wooden activities intended to bring our workplace teams closer together, but don’t pass judgment just yet.

journal paper from Small Group Research analyzed data from 103 studies conducted between 1950 and 2007 and provides strong scientific evidence that team building can have long term measurable, positive effects on team performance and results.

The research found that to keep things from feeling forced and awkward, leaders need to ditch the traditional methods of “hugging it out” and “trust falls” and find practical ways to get team members to engage instead.

David W. Ballard, head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, suggests team building activities that have proven to be successful, including:

  1. Volunteering. The most successful team building activities are those that make team members feel proud in which to participate, and research has shown that helping others makes you feel like you have more time for yourself.
  2. Physical activities. Sports offer a great way to do some team-building while also getting a workout. However, it’s important to pick activities that don’t result in an injury (like football) and to stick to non-contact sports such as skating or bowling.
  3. Team outings. These don’t have to be fancy; even taking an afternoon or evening to visit a museum, park, or attend a baseball or hockey game together can build a sense of camaraderie within your team.
  4. Professional development. Workshops and seminars give your team members the chance to learn something new, and to share in the experience of developing their professional capabilities.

Make Time for “Non-Work Talk”

One of the biggest ways that leaders can unintentionally have a negative impact on team performance is by keeping non-work talk to a minimum at the office.

A study from MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory found that when it comes to predicting team success, the most important element is how well the team communicates outside of informal work settings. The study concluded:

“With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success.”

Now, this doesn’t mean your team members have to be BFFs outside the office, but managers need to be aware that non-work discussions are critical to building the kind of trust and familiarity that makes team members look out for one another and go “above and beyond” to help one another complete their tasks.

Star Employees Often Rely on Their teams

If you have a rockstar employee who appears to be thriving in their role, take a step back and assess how much they might be depending on their team to help them achieve their success.

A 2006 Harvard study that measured performance among heart surgeons found that patient patient survival improved significantly when the surgeons were able to work consistently with the same team at their primary hospital.

The study found that when surgeons had to cover for other doctors, their improvement rate didn’t apply to other familiar hospitals when the surgeon was operating with unfamiliar nurses and assistants.

While the study was conducted on surgeons, business leaders need to consider this example when evaluating how much a rockstar employee’s success might be due to the support and familiarity of their workplace teams.

Remote Teams Can Outperform Local Teams

We live in an age of remote work, but many businesses are still taking a staunch stance against telecommuting, or flexible work schedules, largely because they are still seen as opportunities for team members to “slack off” while unsupervised.

However, it’s time to put this belief to bed. A 2009 study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management concluded that software companies who work with virtual teams were regularly out-performing on-location teams – as long as they had appropriate systems in place.

The study concluded that: “Those processes can be classified in two categories: task-related–including those that help ensure each team member is contributing fully; and socio-emotional–including those that increase the cohesion of the group.”

How can you implement the components critical for remote-team success? The study suggests applying these tactics:

  • Let remote workers know they’re valued. Given their remote location it can be easy to overlook their contributions, making these team members feel undervalued. Make sure to show support and appreciation for every team member whether they’re in the office or not.
  • Invest in a project management tool. Virtual teams need the ability to organize, view, and update deadlines and deliverables in a shared location. Sharing calendars and investing in project management tools like Asana and Trello will keep your remote team focused and on-track.
  • Ask specific task-related questions. A basic question like “what did you get done today?” can be hard to monitor and track with remote team members. Instead, asking questions like “have you reviewed that document I sent this morning?” and, “what’s the ETA for submitting this deliverable?” make it easier to avoid miscommunication.

Use Science for Business Success

By applying a scientific approach to “soft” areas like team development and management you can enhance the employee experience in your workplace and build teams that are motivated to succeed.

At EI Advantage, we help leaders and team members develop their Emotional Intelligence (EI)to better  understand how others approach change, how they deal with change on a personal level, and how your team can navigate challenges together.

Want to learn more about how our services can help you improve your team’s overall performance? Contact us today or reach out on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.