The death of team building

12 May 2018

This article was featured in the June 2018 issue of the magazine.

Amir Qureshi, chief executive officer at Thomas International, explains why traditional team building is outdated and in need of replacing with a new approach led by psychology and technology

Ask most people for their views on team building and you can bet that the majority will talk about activities where employees close their eyes and fall back into the arms of a colleague to build trust, or away days where the entire workforce is asked to complete a common activity together, such as building a bridge out of barrels to cross a stream, all in the name of encouraging a mutual sense of achievement.

Team building has been part of the business development strategy for most small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and large organisations since the 1920s, many of which want to nurture a positive employee culture and grow internal bonds that it is hoped will lead to better internal relations, efficiency and productivity.

Yet, how many of them measure the return on investment for elaborate away days, or take a step back to assess whether their employee relations strategy is really working for them?

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of effective working relationships to support team building, employee happiness and problem solving, to name a few. But the culture of the workplace has evolved in the last century and the methods used to build employee relationships need to keep up.


Understanding behaviours

The latest thinking around the subject suggests that providing employees with a better understanding of themselves – their strengths, limitations, communication styles, what motivates them, their basic fears and how they behave under pressure – is a much more effective way of empowering the workforce and building a cohesive team.

According to Lencioni, (The five dysfunctions of a team), the five biggest causes for dysfunction within a team are:

  • absence of trust

  •  fear of conflict

  • lack of commitment

  • avoidance of accountability, and

  • inattention to results.

Sharing team behaviour insights with employees and giving everyone a better understanding of what makes each other ‘tick’ eliminates most situations where these dysfunctions occur. What’s more, the insights can be used to inform how best to communicate with everyone in the team for a harmonious and productive workforce.

So, what is the most efficient way to gain these insights?

At Thomas International, we help businesses to gain a better understanding of employees and help them reach their full potential through personal profile analysis (PPA). These psychometric assessments take just eight minutes to complete and offer a wealth of knowledge to senior business leaders.

Thomas Teams, a service which uses PPA to ensure teams are performing to the best of their ability, analyses the individual profiles of a team of people providing a comprehensive summary of the team’s strengths and limitations. The report gives leaders the tools to inspire their teams to achieve more, pinpoint training needs and identify skills gaps that can be filled through recruitment.


...a much more effective way of empowering the workforce and building a cohesive team


Work focus

While corporate away days, where you build a raft or make it through an obstacle course blindfolded, will help the team to get to know each other better, is this approach effective in building bonds inside the workplace in a way that will increase productivity and, ultimately, influence the bottom line?

One of the main downsides to the traditional approach is that often the activities and tasks don’t mirror everyday work situations. Learning new skills that will help a team improve how they operate and communicate to improve relationships is secondary. In most cases, having spent the best part of five days a week together, teams will know each other – so is investing in a whole day out of the office so that employees can ‘get to know each other better’ really a great strategy? And how do businesses start to measure a return on this investment?

We don’t think so and neither does the latest thinking, which proves that the use of psychometric insights can introduce a positive employee mentality and build internal relationships across the board, simply and efficiently, in a way that applies to everyday working environments.

Unlike team building activities, PPA assessments and reports link to real business scenarios. For example, whether someone will feel comfortable having the authority to make important decisions or be able to cope with changing environments.


In conclusion

Teams are critical to driving effective performance, but most teams are significantly underperforming and the cost to organisations is huge. The culture of the workplace has changed significantly in recent years. Today, by applying science, psychology and technology to the concept, organisations have a much smarter, more efficient solution to building effective working relationships within a team.