Team Building: Participation Methods and Repercussions

Once you have determined the structure of the team with regard to size, diversity, and leadership style that will bring out the maximum psychological benefit of team building, you must now consider further psychological tactics. Two of the most important elements when it comes to effectively operating a team unit include participation methods and repercussions of team decisions.

You should have some idea at this point how much input you want your team members to have based upon your team goals, the individual benefits each team member brings to the table and most importantly how much decision making ability you want your team members to have. It becomes quite common and understandable that many managers and supervisors are hesitant to give too much latitude to team members when it comes to making decisions. After all, in most scenarios, if something goes awry is likely to be the manager or team leader who is judged responsible for the error and its results. Consequently, it becomes psychologically understandable for team leaders to insist upon making decisions themselves. Moreover, there is nothing inherently wrong about this strategy; the issue that exists is primarily determining if this is the right strategy for the team as a whole, not just for the team leader or supervisor's comfort. A football team tends to operate at its best under the direction of the coach (or coaches). However, the players may have some measure of input regarding particular plays or identifying strengths and weaknesses, especially of themselves. In doing this, they are serving the team as a whole by improving themselves, communicating with the coach, and letting the coach make final decisions.

Alternatively, an example of a different team leadership style was demonstrated powerfully in the hit show Mad Men. Set in the past, a team of marketing executives was responsible for coming up with ideas to best showcase and sell their clients' items. At the time, women rarely played any role in this type of work and were usually expected to act as secretaries to men who did this work. In the show, a boss who acts as the team leader although different characters are in charge of different accounts. One of the women who worked in the company suggested an alternative method of marketing that would appeal to women; the men working in advertisement were not necessarily making the best marketing decisions for that demographic due to their different perspective and experiences from women, especially at that point in history.

Because the ideas that this particular character suggested were good, she came on as part of the team and her perspective as a woman as well as a team member played a considerable role in the team's activities and forward direction, even though it was still under someone else's leadership. In this type of collective team style, the team leader provides resources and guidance while allowing each team member to participate in discussions and the decision making process. This style tends to be most successful with teams that are geared towards more cerebral activities rather than physical labor. After all, there is no point in hiring individuals who offer expertise in certain subjects if they are never given the opportunity to utilize that expertise.

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Obviously, team goals and objectives play a tremendously huge part in determining how you will structure and build your team. One of the major psychological effects of the team dynamic is one that you may not encounter immediately but should be planning for is that of repercussions. Whether your team is short term or long term, there will be some way to determine if it has been successful; after all, that is why you put so much work into developing your team goals. At some point, members of your team should know what the team goals are or, at least, what its goals for a particular moment in time or project may be. When these goals are communicated to the team, it is infinitely important for the team to know how those goals will be measured and what the repercussions are of success or failure with regard to those goals. One aspect of this determination and its communication to your team will be whether victories for defeats are shared or individual.

Consider a research team working to determine the best way to isolate a particular gene in human DNA. This team may be large, especially if it is in the earlier stages of the process of this research and there are many sub-teams. The team alternatively may be small and working only a portion of the overall project. Because this type of research would involve many levels of work done by different teams or sub-teams, if the team is successful, all members of the team will likely share in some victory or even reward for their efforts. Alternatively, if some aspects of the team were able to be successful in their individual endeavors but another part of the team was unable to meet with success, those individuals who could not complete their portion are likely to be the only ones who are blamed for failure to achieve the goals. Now imagine that the business shelved the project due to failure at this given stage but a particularly diligent team member worked to overcome the challenge, toiling away at home on his or her own time. If that individual is successful, they are likely to be lauded individually, even though they still could not have achieved their goal if others had not successfully finished their respective portions prior to that level of development.

We see this particular type of issue most frequently in politics and sports. People often give credit or blame to one member of the team when that is inaccurate. When it comes to government, people often claim that it is simply too complex for most people to understand fully what politician or sector of the government might deserve shared versus individual blame or responsibility. However, the public's reaction to sports, typically a much simpler topic, indicates otherwise.
For example, imagine a football team that is going into the last 5 seconds of the game and will lose if a particular member of the team does not catch the ball and get a touchdown. If that team member catches the pass and gets a touchdown, they are often lauded whereas if they do not get the touchdown, they are typically blamed for losing the game. Realistically, both of these are unfair unless that same team member has been the only team member to play well or poorly throughout the entire game. The team should share in victory or defeat but the effect of emotions, whether from fans or simply from the tension placed on those final moments, creates repercussions that may not be sound.

The psychological implications of managing repercussions cannot be overstated.Much of this effect integrates elements of respect and esteem from both the individual team member themselves as well as from their teammates and team leader. Safety and security are even more important to an individual's psychological health. When praise and punishment are given out in an unfair or in a disingenuous way, team members are unlikely to feel a sense of security or safety as well as lowered esteem and respect; this, in turn, undermines the entire purpose and function of the team.

In the example of the football team, the coach is likely to understand who is responsible for the team winning or losing and to what degree they are responsible. Consequently, members of the team are more likely to receive appropriate praise or judgment from the coach and, hopefully, the other players. This should help those team members who played well to feel safe, secure, and psychologically healthy even if the team lost the game. However, the nature of organized professional sports in the United States sometimes means an unfair onus is put on an individual member of the team and that onus, even when it is not being directed from the coach, teammates, or team owners, can still pose a threat to their safety and security. Any person operating within a position that interacts with the public, lives with the possibility of being unfairly penalized by people who may not genuinely understand how that individual is or is not at fault. It is consequently that much more important for every team leader and manager to be as fair and just as possible in dealing out repercussions, both positive and negative.

Of course, this does not mean that all repercussions should be individually based. Sometimes the whole team failed. Sometimes to build a bond between teammates, coaches, or team leaders dole out repercussions to all members of the team to further strengthen the team unit and make each member feel a level of shared responsibility both to and from their teammates. Team self-policing can be a highly effective psychological tool to build a stronger team to hopefully achieve success together. Correct and appropriate team management means carefully calculating what elements of success or failure should be shared or dealt with individually and communicate those repercussions to all members of the team, whenever possible, in advance.