By the events team at The Royal Institution of Great Britain

Everyone functions in groups, however what makes a group of people a team and furthermore, what makes a team good or bad, successful or unsuccessful? More importantly what can be done to create a better ‘team’ within an organisation?

Have you ever seen the dread in employees faces when they are presented with the latest team building scenario that they will be coerced into ‘throwing themselves into’ with the aim of improving performance through greater and more effective team work at the same time as providing a fun experience? It is very likely that there will be plenty of looks of horror cascading around the office as colleagues picture the ‘trust falls’ and ‘group chanting’ in a secluded field somewhere.

Of course, this might be slightly exaggerated; however, there are a large number of employees that are subjected each year to company team building events which include various pursuits and role-play scenarios. The advantages to an organisation of a team that works well together are clear; greater efficiency, skill specialisation, creativity and reduced staff turnover. Therefore, it is not a surprise that companies invest in team building activities. In fact, so many companies do it that it has developed into a multi-million pound industry catering for everything from a day out at the races to paint balling and gourmet cookery classes. But to what extent do team building events, as we understand them, actually result in the desired objectives?

With a growing number of team building specialist agencies now in operation many are entering their busiest time yet. However there is a shift to more objective focused and thought out events rather than just pure fun or cringeworthyness. Following on from media ridiculing as the Department for Business, Innovation and skills invested £4,700 on a ‘chocolate treat’ team building activity for 40 staff, it seems the pressure is really on for companies to measure the outcomes of team events more closely to prove their benefits.

Carrie from Bluebrick Consulting, who specialise in management consulting, explains how it’s not just the activity that shapes the team building session but more importantly the environment in which it takes place.

‘Being in an historic building is both inspiring and thought provoking for delegates and creates a perfect frame of mind for people when they are in “learning mode.” In the Royal Institution for example there are lots of interesting spaces for delegates to work in when in break-out activities which enable delegates to think differently, something that can be challenging when working in a more conventional conference venue.’

Taking employees out of the office and into a new and positive environment is of crucial importance to a successful team building session. An element of fun or excitement is also important. Individuals will stay focused and learn more if they are engaged in a positive activity. This is why organisations favour a challenge-based session or a life-size table football match over plonking their employees in front of a presentation on ‘How to be a better team player’ in a conference theatre.

In the midst of all this supposed fun and complimentary drink, lie some extensively researched theories mostly within the social psychological field. Social Identity Theory as developed by Tajfel and Turner (1979), states that the individual has not one but rather several selves or perceived identities that correspond to the various groups they belong or feel they belong to. Different social contexts may trigger an individual to feel, think and act on the basis of his personal, relational or national ‘sense of self’. There are many different schools of thought on how and why groups can influence the individual and to what effect, but one thing seems to be clear, is that team building is the process of creating a collaborative enterprise that can perform or effect change.

So as long as thought is given to the team involved, the desired outcome and the implementation a team building event doesn’t need to be dreaded by employees or a fruitless cost to employers. The benefits can be dramatic if the activity is carefully planned and executed.