Team Building: Does It Work?

What is team building, and does it actually work? Alright, so in an attempt to present dry research findings in a way that wouldn’t put you to sleep, I’ll tell you a short little story of my imaginary friend, Carrie. It’s a little silly, but bear with me. Carrie was pondering the question of whether team building actually works as she skimmed a Forbes article on teams at the end of her workday. She is a mid-level manager at a local branch of a public bank, and was recently put in charge on managing a newly put-together task force. She’s still relatively new to her position, and had little experience with managing small teams, but she was determined to help guide her team towards excellence. Carrie knew that organizations are increasingly moving towards collaboration and team-based structures, so she knew that she had to figure out how best to manage teams if she wanted to move forward in her managerial career. She had heard from her mentor that hiring a team building company to come in and deliver programs to help the team gel was a really worthwhile investment, but she had her doubts. Every time she thought of team building, she thought of Michael Scott’s ridiculous antics on The Office. It all just seemed like fluff… But there was something about team building that fascinated her, and she wanted to figure out if it was actually going to help her team work together better. She’d heard anecdotes and stories from her friends and colleagues, but something inside her told her that that wasn’t enough. Her mind took her...

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #2, Dependability

Dependability matters in team performance – no surprise there. We often think of people’s dependability, though, as an inherent trait…so the important question is this: can we foster dependability in our team members? If so, how? We’ve all been there – stuck in a team with members who seem to be living on another planet. They show up late to every meeting, never follow through with their promises, are never prepared, and they never seem to be able to find any of the documents they need. They text their way through every meeting, and information seems to go in one ear and out another. They justify their lack of punctuality and organization by referencing the 2013 study that found that those who have messy desks tend to be more creative and produce more fresh insights. Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison all had messy desks, they’ll tell you, so you better not be judging them. Dependability seems to be something that we often take for granted in teams – until we don’t have it. So it should be no surprise that Google’s Project Aristotle identified dependability as the second key characteristic of high performing teams. Their top teams have members that set and achieve goals regularly and efficiently, follow through on their promises consistently, and produce work that’s always thorough. These teams are significantly more effective and efficient – it’s not hard to imagine why. If you can’t depend on other members of your team, you can’t trust them…and as I’ve explored in the past few posts, you can’t have an effective team without trust. A big piece of...

Psychological Safety: Another Reason Why Trust Matters

Google calls it Psychological Safety. Patrick Lencioni just calls it Trust. Really, they’re two sides of the same coin, but the point is – trust matters. In my previous post, I reviewed some research conducted by Google that identified psychological safety as the most fundamental characteristic of high performing teams. After writing the post, I got curious about the relationship between psychological safety and another big word in research on teams – trust. Do these two ideas essentially describe the same thing? If not, what’s the difference? According to Amy Edmundson, psychological safety and trust aren’t the same thing. While psychological safety focuses on team members’ beliefs about group norms and how they’re viewed by others in the group, trust focuses on beliefs that team members have about other. In essence, psychological safety describes people’s perception of the larger group environment, while trust describes people’s perceptions of each other. Let’s be honest, it’s a very minor difference. While the distinction may be important for researchers trying to assess the different components of teams, for the rest of us, it’s really two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, what both of these ideas suggest is that team members’ perception of whether they can trust other members of their group is critical to their performance. Like I reviewed last week, Google suggests that this is because teams where members trust each other are better able to support each other, tackle tough issues openly, and embrace diverse skills and perspectives. Interestingly, in his work on team trust, Patrick Lencioni provides a complimentary perspective on this issue. Like...

The Big Turn

Over our distance of almost 1000km we only made one turn. If it were not for the Pensacola and Thield Mountains we would not have turned at all. From our drop off point we followed a bearing of 186 degrees for 19 days as we skirted to the side of the Pensacola Mountains. This led us to essentially t-bone into the Thield Mountains. In Antarctica you need to stay well away from the mountains as the mountains disturb the flow of the glaciers that cover the continent. As the glaciers turn around the mountain ranges they break and form massive crevasses that can be 2km deep. Obviously we want to stay well clear of these giant cracks in the ice. When we arrived at the Thield Mountains we made our one and only turn to 163 degrees. From here it was a straight shot 600 km to the South Pole. The turn does not look like much, but was very exciting for us because what it signified. Enjoy the...

South Pole: Windy Day

Antarctica is a very windy place. There is always a wind in Antarctica, the only question is how strong is the wind? The winds in Antarctica are katabatic winds. A katabatic wind is a gravity fed wind. As the wind currents travel around the earth they drop onto the South Pole and then travel to the ocean. Since the South Pole is close to 10,000 ft elevation and the ocean is 0 ft the wind is pulled down hill by gravity. It is said that in Antarctica you do not need a compass to ski to the South Pole. You just need to ski into the wind. As I sit in the tent this morning you can see the wind buffeting the tent walls, but it does not look too bad. Once we get out of the tent we are hit by the full force of the wind and have to dig out our sleds and gear that was buried by drifting snow in the night. Not only does this wind make travel more difficult, but the constant ultra-cold wind-chill can cause severe frostbite and windburn if you are not careful. Enjoy the...