As far back as the 1920s, Elton Mayo was looking into the relationship between human factors and productivity. In his classic Hawthorne studies of the 1930s he found that the most significant factor was a sense of group identity; the feeling of support and cohesion that came with increased worker interaction. In other words, productivity improved when people worked as a team.
Employers began to acknowledge the importance of team spirit, and looking for ways to create it. The activities that emerged to meet their need included everything from harsh, military-style boot camps to touchy-feely emotional bonding. Today, while the range of activities is wider than ever, professionals tend to steer a middle course. And, despite having no clear definition beyond ‘something that helps improve a team’s performance’, team building is now firmly established as an integral part of management practice. But is it really a worthwhile investment?
Rachael Seymour has no doubt that it is. As area leader at a regional Flight Centre, she organised for teams to climb Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu, hike on Cradle Mountain and kayak through the Whitsundays. She was so impressed with the outcome that the two businesses she founded, Cornerstone People Solutions and the Retail Leadership Academy, both incorporate team building activities into leadership, sales and service training.
“At Flight Centre I moved from managing a team of six to a group of 100,” she says. “My experience with small numbers taught me that a good, solid, united team can achieve anything they want to. It really is true that the power of a team is far greater than the sum of all of the individuals.”
Seymour used staff retention, total sales and profit to assess the effectiveness of team building over time. “When I took on the role of Area Leader, the staff turnover was 36 per cent. After two years, it was down 17 per cent,” she says. “I know now that people perform better and are more likely to stay if they feel valued and that their contribution matters.”
Kathy Angelidis runs boutique corporate hospitality and events company akEvents. Many of the events she organises include team-building activities, and she, too, was inspired by experiences on the other side of the fence. As sales and marketing manager for a multinational pharmaceutical company, she regularly participated in team building activities at both state sales meetings and national sales conferences.
“In my experience, a sales and marketing team typically consists of a diverse range of individuals, all working independently on a day to day basis,” she says. “It can be hard to feel as though you’re really part of a team, that you can rely on each other for support.”
Angelidis found that team-building activities gave each member an opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills as well as identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We also learned to respect all personality types, and this helped strengthen the bond between us, and enhanced our ability to work on specific team goals,” she says. “I always found it interesting to observe the different characters that evolved throughout the course and how we worked together to get the best out of each individual. It brought a strong feeling of teamwork and purpose to the group and gave us an invaluable insight as to how we could capitalise on our capabilities in the future.”