Research Update: Learning – The Foundation of Team Performance

For the next few posts, I’ll be drawing insights from a study published just over a month ago in the Small Group Research journal by a team of researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands. This study was chosen because of its use of the meta-analysis procedure, which allowed them to statistically compile the results from 43 studies, making their findings more robust and trustworthy. Teams are a common part of everyday life at work. But how often do we step back to think about why we use teams so often? One of the main strengths that teams have over individuals is that it provides us with an opportunity to pool together the unique ideas, viewpoints, and expertise of every member of the team. By having a diversity of perspectives, teams are uniquely adaptable, and have greater potential for innovation. As Aristotle claims, the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. One of the most important characteristics of teams that are adaptable and innovative, according to Koeslag-Kreunen and her associates, is its “learning behaviours”. Amy Edmundson, who I referenced in an earlier post regarding her work on ‘psychological safety’, defines team learning behaviors as “an ongoing process of reflection and action characterized by asking questions, seeking feedback, experimenting, reflecting on results, and discussing errors or unexpected outcomes of actions.” In other words, researchers suggest that in order for teams to fulfill their unique potential to produce innovative and adaptable ideas, products, and services, it has to have a learning-oriented culture. The concept of ‘learning behaviors’ has been studied by team researchers since the early 1990s, and the...

Team Building…Ice Cream and Liquid Nitrogen???

Fun fact…did you know that it takes 12 gallons of milk to create one gallon of ice cream? Some of us prefer our gallon of ice cream to be from our local grocery store, while others would rather go out and grab ice cream from places like McDonalds or Dairy Queen whenever we get the craving. For most of us, though, ice cream is just something we purchase when we feel like it…it’s not usually something we whip up at home on a casual Saturday night.  I mean, making ice cream just seems like an unnecessarily tedious and complicated process. While buying (and eating) ice cream may be among my top hobbies, the mysterious task of making ice cream certainly isn’t. But who would’ve thought that making ice cream would be the ultimate team building experience? Over the past few years, Summit Team Building has been tapping into the power of this amazing frozen treat to create unforgettable team building experiences for corporations around the world. But recently, we’ve taken our ice cream game to a whole new level… Let me elaborate. In the past, we’ve provided teams with soccer ball-shaped tools to make bowls of ice cream that they can enjoy together. Teams get to choose between different flavours, including chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, and with the tools and materials we give them, they work together to create the ice cream of their dreams.  Every time we deliver this program, we’ve noticed that every participant seems to walk away with a smile on their face, newfound friendships with their coworkers, and (most importantly?) satisfied sugar cravings. But that...

Why Network Building Is Necessary for Employee Engagement

Networking is one of the most frequently thrown around buzzwords of our time. We know it matters, but why? I had the privilege of sitting through a keynote by J. Kelly Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network, last week. Hoey insightfully points out that at the core, networking is about building strong, genuine, and mutually beneficial relationships, which can transform careers, and she reveals innovative strategies to harness the power of our contacts. Evidently, it’s a skill that is critical to career success in the 21st century. The importance of networking in career advancement is something that we’re increasingly talking about in recent years. What we talk about less, however, is the importance of networking in enhancing our experiences at work. Specifically, I argue today that networking is necessary in order for us to stay engaged in our work. Let’s start with the research. According to a 2016 report by the Society for Human Resource Management, strong relationships with coworkers was identified as one of the key conditions to job satisfaction. They argue: Positive relationships with co-workers can foster a sense of loyalty, camaraderie, and moral support and engagement among staff. These bonds may boost overall results and productivity as employees are more likely to want to avoid disappointing their teammates and to remain a cohesive team, especially when faced with adversity. Creating a more pleasant working environment through relationships with co-workers can increase employee satisfaction. Gallup, which is another organization who has spent decades and millions of dollars studying work engagement, identified having a “best friend at work” as one of the 12 key elements of employee...

How Much Is Employee Disengagement Costing Your Company?

       This morning, I read an article that shared Amazon’s strategy to get rid of its disengaged employees – pay them up to $5,000 to quit. Although there are a host of reasons why Amazon offers, well, “The Offer” (yes, that’s its official name), one of its main objectives is to give incentive for disengaged employees to leave the company (and never come back). It makes sense, considering the decades of research that have concluded that people stay at their jobs for three reasons: (1) they have an emotional attachment to it, (2) they feel obligated to stay, and (3) it costs more to leave than to stay. To an extent, The Offer removes the third reason for staying among employees who have no emotional attachment or sense of obligation to the company. But why is Amazon so willing to spend money on weeding out disengaged employees who are not committed to the company? Reading about The Offer left me wondering about, first, why companies are so willing to spend money on employee engagement issues, and second, what the financial implications of employee disengagement are. So I did some digging. One of the most surprising things that I found was how prevalent the issue of employee disengagement was. In Gallop’s 2017 State of the Global Workforce report, which surveyed more than 70,000 employees from organizations in 155 countries, found that 85% of employees worldwide are either not engaged in their work, or actively disengaged. Employees that are just disengaged are those that are “checked out”, and going through their workday without passion or energy. Those who are...

Ingredients for High Performing Teams: #4, Meaning & Impact

The final ingredients for high performing teams that Project Aristotle revealed are meaning and impact. Leaders of teams need to articulate a clear vision, and reinforce how each member’s work contributes to bringing the team closer to that vision. On the surface, this sounds simple and straightforward. Let’s be honest, it’s nothing groundbreaking – the importance of meaning and impact to team effectiveness seems fairly intuitive. I mean, most organizations nowadays have mission statements. Meaning just seems to be another buzzword and lofty ideal in the corporate world. As I’m sure you’re well aware of at this point, implementing these ideals in ‘real life’ is a whole other story. The importance of meaning in team effectiveness is obvious – but how do you actually foster a sense of meaning and purpose in teams from the real world? A quick Google search reveals thousands of articles discussing how to develop meaning and purpose in teams (for example, this Harvard Business Review article). Most, however, just end up reiterating how important a purpose is in a team, and that you should “find it”. Finding the purpose as the leader, though, isn’t the hard part, in my opinion. To get the entire team to buy in and connect with it…that’s the real challenge. So in preparing for this post, I set out to explore this exact problem – how can we not only find a team’s purpose, but also get the entire team to ‘buy in’ to it? Before I dive deep into the question of how, though, I want to explore the why – why is making sure each team member...

Teaching Teamwork: How Insights from Team Building Can Benefit Educators

Is teaching a class that much different from leading a team? A 2010 article in Psychology Today makes a good argument for the idea that teachers are really “leaders in disguise”. Leaders and teachers both have to be positive role models, inspire their followers/students, provide individualized consideration, and engage the minds and hearts of their followers/students. Team building has increasingly become a key part of leadership. It seems that most leaders in corporate organizations are aware of, and believe in, the value of team building efforts. But if teachers are truly “leaders in disguise”, why do we so rarely talk about the value of team building in the world of education? The ability to work in teams has become increasingly valuable in the workforce over the past decade. In fact, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey found that top companies in the world are pushing towards team-centric models, thus, the ability to work in small, cohesive teams is becoming more valuable than ever before. As educators who strive to prepare our students to succeed in the world of work in the future, it is now our responsibility to teach our students how to work effectively in teams. But how do we do that? I believe that teachers should model team leadership. When the class becomes a high performing team, students can experience first-hand what it feels like to be a part of successful team. When they’re given other opportunities to work in a team in the future, they’ll know what they should strive for. They’ll be prepared to recreate the successful team leadership they observed in their teacher....