Team Building and Neuroscience

Building teams and developing leaders with the human brain in mind is somewhat of a hot topic amongst L&D and training folk.

The downside is that just as with past “hot topics” that infuse team building and development from time to time, it can be tricky to sort the “wheat from the chaff.”

The use of the word “neuroscience” and “brain” in connection with teams and leadership abounds, but just using the word “neuroscience” in connection with team building and leadership does not a genuine expert make.

Getting beyond the buzzwords requires genuine experts in the field, and furthermore the ability to select the more pragmatic insights and match them to meaningful day to day take away tools for the participants.

Unfortunately not every bona-fide expert in the field of neuroscience can easily pitch their knowledge at the layman or busy business person.

We have worked very closely with author and behavioural expert Peter Burow and his team at the Neuropower Group to match current neuroscience to corporate and government team and leadership briefs. It’s this ability to take the best from the science and match only the relevant components to each brief where the real power to get results resides.

Based on over 25 years of research, Peter created the Neuropower framework that explores the social systems of the brain, core beliefs and behavioural archetypes.

As an integrative model it does not exclude other models (unless the current research positively invalidates them, as on occasion it can) but rather enables a careful user to enhance their use of the tools they know and love.

For decades many providers have used established models such as Belbin Team Roles, Tuckman’s Model or Situational Leadership and experiential learning knowing that they work, but perhaps not understanding at great depth why.

Neuroscience is starting to uncover some exciting areas of social and behavioural insight that help us better understand why the good models work, and more importantly how to deploy them even more effectively.

With the right time and effort dedicated to understanding the neuroscience of behaviour, decision-making and cognitive bias it’s great to be able to have those “eureka moments” that not only confirm that an existing tool works, but that also better inform us as to why they work.

Neuropower explores in depth six major social systems of the brain (Automatic, Emotional, Intervention, Relational, Objective and Open) that profoundly influence individuals and teams as they develop, and also serve as the “emotional fuel” for individual and collective approaches to daily interactions, planning and execution.

These social systems develop for a team along a similar trajectory to Tuckman’s established “Form – Storm – Norm – Perform” model, but with greater sophistication and insight into the individual core belief preferences that people bring into the team with them.

Each system relies upon a balanced unfolding of various social of the human brain to enable people and teams to progress. Imbalance or gaps at any stage can put teams askew for best progression through the process, and ideally require revisiting and repair by informed leadership.

Underlaying the six social systems are also nine major clusters of core belief types residing in the faster and more intuitive neuro-limbic system (as opposed to the more evolved “neuro-rational” system) of the brain. fascinating also for those who are fans of enneagram work.

Humans being emotional creatures, perceived and real external threats trigger these deeper core belief types and bias observable behaviours and decision-making within teams. If these dynamics are better understood then leaders and teams can map the strengths and weaknesses of their team more accurately and counter such biases more effectively.

Enhanced understanding of what drives the team and its people at this level also enables teams to experience “accelerated teaming” with respect to their progress from being a newly “formed” team to a “performing” team.

This form of more “practical” application for current neuroscience is where there is great progress to be made in enhancing team building and leadership development processes in general. We have certainly become fans.

It does however require moving beyond the mere buzzwords to access recognised experts in the field who can marry the science to real world practice.

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Learn to Team Build Event in One Hour

O.P.T.I.M.A.L. approach to organising a successful team building event

Planning a team building session but do not know how and where to start? Do not despair. This “dummy’s guide” to planning a team building session will give you important areas to consider and make you look like an expert.

The O.P.T.I.M.A.L. approach:

1. Objectives of team building

“Why are we holding this team building event, and what do we expect to achieve?”

To have an end in mind, a purpose, is crucial to planning a team building session. Having objectives mean that you can skew or tailor the activities to meet your expectations.

Having clear objectives would also help to set the tone for the team building session, and establish the expectations of participants involved, so everyone is moving in unison towards the same direction/ goal.

Having conducted team building sessions for a variety of organisations, some of the more common reasons why team building is required, are as follows:

a) To create synergy in a new team/ team with new members

b) To create an opportunity for staff from different departments/ functions to interact

c) To address certain work issues

d) To reinforce their corporate values

e) As a form of training

f) To reward their staff with a day away from the office

g) To interact and have fun

Each of the reasons listed above will result in emphasis on different aspects during the team building session. Spend some time to decide on the main focus of the team building session before deciding on the team building activities.

2. Profile of Participants

“Who will be attending the team building session?”

Another important factor in planning a successful team building session is the profile of the participants. Age range, gender mix and other background information like educational level and job scope, should be taken into consideration while sculpting the team building programme, to ensure that the programme would be suitable and relevant.

Physical conditions of the participants of the team building session should also be considered.

One other important factor to a team building session which organisers frequently overlook is FOOD. In a multi-racial country like Singapore, participants may be Chinese vegetarians or Indian vegetarians, while others only consume Halal food (food that is lawful and allowable under Muslim law) or even Kosher food (food that has been prepared so that it is fit and suitable under Jewish law). There may also be participants who are allergic to certain types of food. The best way to find out about dietary requirements is to check with the participants directly.

3. Time Frame for planning the team building event

“What is the targeted date of the team building session and its duration?”

Dates are important, especially when there is a need to secure venues and check the availability of key personnel or speakers. Typically, we would recommend a lead time of about 2 to 3 months to plan for a small to medium-sized team building event, catering for less than 80 participants. If the event is large-scale, the lead time may escalate to 6 months, or even a year before.

When conducting team building outside working hours, some organisations may wish to consider dates of school holidays or school exams, especially for organisations, which place emphasis of balanced work and family life. To encourage maximum attendance from participants, organisations may wish to leave the school examination and vacation periods untouched, for their staff to spend that extra time with their spouse and children.

Duration of the team building session should also be taken into account – is it going to be a half-day or full-day event? If there are specific issues to be tackled or other forms of planning or training involved, it may be good to consider a 2-day or even 3-day programme.

4. Inclinations of the participants

“What will the participants prefer to do during team building?”

Having information about the profile of the participants is usually sufficient. However, whenever possible, unearth the type of activities the participants are inclined towards – are they indoor-games type of people or the outdoor adventure type or do you have a good mix of both?

One can derive such preferences by having a poll or survey with the participants if you have an intimate group size, or by gathering the views of a sample group if your group size is overwhelming. Alternatively, reviewing previous team building sessions and the feedback received could also give a good indication of what is preferred (and what not to do again).

The rule of thumb is to have a good mix of indoor and outdoor activity especially if your size is big, unless you are deliberately exposing the participants to a particular type of setting, or you know their specific preferences.

5. Money Matters

“What is the indicative budget for the team building?”

The budget would have a significant influence on the venue, food and beverage, as well as duration and type of team building activity. If there are no figures to work on as yet, use the previous years’ budget as a guide. If no such information is available, then plan for something not too ambitious, and adjustments can be made from there.

Next, you have to decide if the team building portion is to be handled in-house or to be outsourced to an external vendor. Of course, if the budget permits, there are many advantages in outsourcing the team building portion.

Firstly, to run a team building event, you would need manpower and chances are, if your colleagues are running the event with you, they cannot participate. External vendors would likely be more experienced in conducting the activities and less likely to make mistakes. The vendor would also provide all the logistics involved, leaving your team and yourself free to participate with all your other colleagues.

team building vendors also bring with them sufficient experience in knowing what works and doesn’t, so you are not only paying for their services, but also their rich experience.

6. Assessment of Success

“How would you measure the success of the team building session?”

How would the success of the session be measured? Is it considered a success as long as the participants enjoyed themselves, or if the participants got to know at least 3 other colleagues better?

While the effects of team building are generally intangible and the takeaways are somewhat more subtle, measurements of success can be derived from verbal feedback from participants, surveys or observation reports. Observation reports comment on behaviors and attitudes displayed during the activities. Pre and/ or post-event surveys track the effectiveness of the team building session based on the same set of questions they organisers wish to enquire about.

7. Location for team building

“Where should we hold the team building session?”

The location or venue would have an effect on the atmosphere of the team building session. The previous six factors mentioned above would have shaped the decision on where to hold the team building.

Other issues relating to location for consideration would be accessibility, function set-up and layout and contingencies for wet weather (if you are having an outdoor session).

With the O.P.T.I.M.A.L. approach developed by änergy, we trust that you would be able to plan for your team building event effectively. If you are running the team building event with your committee internally, be sure to draw up a detailed work plan and budget, with clear responsibilities for every task.

Next, remember that one of the key ingredients of effective team building is rehearsals. You would need to do a site-visit and rehearse the day’s activities, as it would help you trouble-shoot any potential issues, so that improvements can be made on event day and contingency plans are already in-place to tackle any glitches.

We wish you a resoundingly successful team building session!

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Will Team Building Activities Impact Your Bottom Line?

Team building away days are popular with many companies. Company management usually accepts that a coherent team can substantially increase profits. The theory says it’s because the team members feel more of a team spirit, they are more engaged in their work, and the end result is that everyone benefits.

Is that what actually happens though?

Very often it is. Properly planned away days with properly planned team building activities can definitely impact your bottom line. It’s a sad fact though that this is not always the case. Some activities are quite frankly bizarre. Do treasure hunts, saving the planet and mission impossible type scenarios really work? Well, yes and no.

A quick look through an Internet search engine using the question, “do team building activities work” reveals some interesting results. One result even suggested that the team should decide for itself whether they wanted to play games or use an activity related to the kind of work they do. It seems logical to assume that given the choice most teams will opt for the game; it’s more fun.

Perhaps that’s where the problem lies. Some companies providing team away days assume that it all has to be fun, perhaps because people on an away day would like to have fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but the whole idea of away days and team building activities is to build a stronger team. If games can do that, fine, but more often than not an activity related to work, and therefore actually relevant, works better.

The activities used in team building have to produce the right results or they are a waste of everyone’s time. Furthermore, the team members have to understand certain things about the process, or no matter how good the activity is it will not realise its full potential.

There has to be clear expectations. The team leader must communicate clearly to the members what it is they are expected to achieve. Team members have to want to be on the team. They have to understand why they are on the team and why they are essential to the company. Only then can they be expected to have the necessary commitment to play their part properly.

The activities that a team make use of should do a number of things. One important thing that needs to be discovered is simply how they think and how they best work. There’s no point in going against the grain, so if a team works well in a certain way, unless there’s a good reason for doing otherwise, let them.

If each team member can learn how each other member thinks and works in a variety of work situations as a result of an away day, then a lot has been achieved. This kind of information is invaluable to any company. This is the basis of team building; the team understanding itself and going on to higher and greater things. Team building activities that can do that are worth their weight in gold!