NEW: What you need to know about building teams

11 Jun, 2022 - 16:06 0 Views
NEW: What you need to know about building teams

The Sunday Mail

Memory Nguwi

TEAMS are required when people need to work together towards a common goal.

For teamwork to have any impact, the work must be interdependent. Organisations invest a lot of money in team-building. The key questions are: does it work? What lies at the core of successful teams? What are the best methods for building teams?

In 2012, Google embarked on a project code-named ‘Project Aristotle’ in its quest to understand how teams function. They based this project on results from what scientific research has found about teams. They studied all the factors typically considered when building teams: personality variables, demographic variables, interaction, and collaboration among team members.

They looked at more than 180 teams within the organisation and how they worked. They collected an enormous amount of data about each of these teams, revealing the results.

They discovered that at the top of high performing teams is what is called psychological safety. Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson (1999) says, “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

In practice, my experience in consulting agrees with this finding. For example, I have observed people in group meetings where they ‘agree’ with the leadership on issues being discussed, but the moment they step out of the meeting, they start raising issues with their colleagues about what was being proposed.

You often hear words like “it does not work”, “it’s a waste of time”, and other such statements that show that the system does not tolerate divergent views, especially those that do not support the leadership agenda.

As a result, such people will not help whatever cause the leadership is trying to advance. They will support the cause when the leader is present, but they will be doing everything possible to discredit the proposals in private.

To foster psychological safety in a team, you need to allow team members to voice their concerns on any issues without facing follow-up censure prospects. You must create an environment where team members can acknowledge their own mistakes without being punished for disclosing those mistakes. The team leader and all team members must create an environment that allows individual team members to take ownership of issues.

Blaming others or the environment is unlikely to produce the psychological safety required for the team to function effectively. A lot can be done to create psychological safety that will make sure your teams succeed.

Project Aristotle by Google pointed out that out of all the other essential factors about working with a successful team, psychological safety was the most important of all of them. Before you embark on that team-building exercise, assess psychological safety and work on gaps identified before wasting money climbing mountains and other such activities aimed at building teams.

In the same study, Google identified other important factors, but they are less influential than psychological safety. In the same study, they discovered that the team needs to have dependable team members who will deliver on their promises for the team to be successful.

This includes team members honouring their commitment to providing high-quality work for the team’s benefit. If team members are unreliable and renege on their side of the agreed goals and targets, they will not succeed.

They also identified goal clarity as one of the drivers of successful teams. When the goals for the team are clear, and each team member is clear on how they connect to the team goal, the team succeeds. In practice, teams are set up with goals that are imposed and not agreed, then naturally, the team members do not take ownership of such goals.

The third factor was whether individuals feel that their work is personally meaningful. The fourth driver of team success is whether the team members believe that the work they are doing matters.

To build a successful team, you need to incorporate findings from scientific research. If you fail to heed what scientific research says, you may be wasting your time and money embarking on team-building efforts. So, why repeat the same unsuccessful ways of building teams.

It is possible that your team-building efforts can be structured, so that all the drivers of successful teams are incorporated into your team-building program. I am sure those who have attended team building sessions sometimes come back to the office and see no changes in how people collaborate.

*Memory Nguwi is an  occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker, & managing consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.  email: [email protected]  or visit our website at

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