Team Building Psychology for Business Management

Once you have a team put together, you are ready to begin developing it into a complete and cohesive unit. To ensure that your team building activities yield the results that you want, you will need to understand the psychological aspects of team building itself. You understand now why individuals have psychological needs that can be met through teamwork and you understand the benefits of teamwork to the overall organization. You must now use that knowledge to help you generate a plan to build a team successfully based not only on your team and organizational goals but also on the psychology of your team members individually and as a collective group.

When it comes to determining how you want to structure your team to maximize the positive effects of your team building efforts, you have to realize that not all teams are created equal or, more accurately, alike. Some teams operate at their maximum potential when they are small while others require larger numbers based on the psychological elements that the leadership is trying to ascertain. Generally speaking, if you want a team made up of people who are working to solve problems, generate new ideas, troubleshoot, or perform other mentally stimulating tasks, you will most likely want to operate with a smaller team. When teams are large, the variety of ideas and solutions posited can rapidly become overwhelming to everyone involved. It can also lead very quickly into scenarios such as groupthink where the majority of members of the group begin to process information and have the same opinions simply because of the dynamics of the group. When this occurs, not only is there a risk that bad ideas might become accepted and good ideas might be stifled, but also one runs a significant risk of damaging the morale of the team members who are not so easily swayed and whose suggestions are overlooked or ignored by others. While the concept of two heads being better than one is often true, it is not always the case that ten heads are better than two.

Alternatively, if the team that you are constructing will primarily perform tasks that require little independent judgment or complex concepts, large teams may be the way to go. Infantry soldiers, for example, are expected and trained to follow commands of their superior officers. They are not expected to provide insight or complete complex assessments, but they absolutely still operate as a cohesive team unit. Part of the reason that this formation works is because of the size of the unit. Having more people involved helps build confidence in the team's ability to complete their goals or mission. There is also a shared sense of experience partly stemming from the fact that they are all working towards a common goal that absolutely requires each of them to do their job perfectly without having a vote in determining how the job is to be done.
It may sound wrong to say, but the reality is that when you want teams to execute orders instead of make them, you want to encourage a sense of groupthink or collective acceptance of the goals of the team, and the strategies used to achieve those goals. History has shown us repeatedly that the most effective way to win a war is to have large numbers of people willing to fight and to die having minimal explanation or input regarding the goals of their government or group as long as they are committed to the team's end goal and are bonded to each other like teammates.

But the size of your team is not the only psychological element to consider when it comes to team building. Diversity amongst the team members can make a tremendous difference into whether a team is successful in their endeavors. It is important to start this part of the discussion by first establishing that discrimination based on age, sex, religion, race, sexual preference, sexual identity, disability, and so forth is not condoned in any way. That said, the variety of people you assemble into your team with regard to these issues would have a role to play in the success or failure of your team.

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Consider again a group of infantry soldiers. The United States government has provided an excellent example regarding these issues. Throughout its history, it has segregated units according to race, not allowed women to serve, not allowed homosexual individuals to serve, and now allows those groups to serve and to serve together. Two hundred years ago, white men did not want to fight alongside black men because they considered them inferior and consequently were assumed to pose a threat to the safety of the team. Having a collective group that did not feel safe because they were in the presence of someone of a different race undermined the sense of team that the government was working to build. The same scenario occurred when it came to women serving and to openly gay people serving; by opening the team up to these groups of people, it was thought that the strength of the team would be tested when the sense of team was threatened by these additions. Those people, as it turns out, were correct. It did disrupt the team. It did initially have some negative repercussions.
However, as time went on, the team adjusted. Team members learned that having these other people on their team was not a danger to their physical, mental, or emotional safety. In addition, the team became stronger as new people with new skills and perspectives were added to the mix. The team also became stronger as a whole by learning to recognize that shared experiences and mission were stronger than other differences. By challenging the team in this way, it became even stronger by realizing that the commitment of team members to the team's goals was even stronger than what they had previously believed and it could override other factors.

Of course, that might not have been the case 200 years ago. Getting the team to even allow for the possibility of building a stronger unit through diversity cannot always happen all at once and usually occurs, as a whole society, over time and through efforts on many different fronts. One of the hardest decisions a team leader has to make is assessing whether their team has the capacity to adjust as needed to allow for a more diverse team. If a team has been historically confined to members who share the same religion, for example, integrating diversity may not mean to suddenly recruit so many people of other religions that the team is now half the original religion and half composed of other religions. Instead, depending on the size of your team, a smaller percentage will usually allow for the team to feel safe enough psychologically to tolerate this new change which will then open up the path to more diversity.

It is also worth pointing out that the diversity on your team should, whenever applicable, reflect the goals of your team. The Board of Directors for a nonprofit organization that serves homeless people should not consist only of the wealthy. Even if the board is composed of a wide variety of age, race, religion, and so forth of the members of the board, it is not enough if no one on the board can relate to the needs of the people they are committed to serving. To have psychologically defensible team building, the diversity present on your team must adequately meet the diversity that may be inherent in your team goals.

Another aspect to consider when designing the structure of your team to maximize the psychological effect of your team building is to consider whether to include any team leaders as being truly part of the team versus a team leader alone. Using the same example of the military, officers generally mix socially with other officers rather than their own soldiers. This is thought to strengthen the bond between the soldiers that keeps them separate from the officers. Again, this works best in keeping with the structure of a team where the team members are expected primarily to follow orders and to depend upon other members of the group for their safety. Nevertheless, this type of structure also requires a tremendous amount of trust in the group's leader even though he or she discloses little information and does not bond emotionally with the group the same way as members of the group do with each other. Consequently, each leader in this type of scenario must exude tremendous levels of confidence in their own abilities so that their subordinates continue to trust in their leadership abilities.

Of course, in smaller groups, it is more common and often more appropriate for the team leader to still be part of the group, especially in certain ways. A good manager communicates with their team and helps lead the team to achieving its goals while encouraging and fostering the positive psychological effects of teamwork within each member of the team. This means allowing the team members a certain amount of opportunity and encouragement to propose ideas, make suggestions, offer unique or different perspectives, and so on. In a small team, team members tend to respond very negatively to commands that are handed to them without the opportunity to participate in making decisions for the team. Unfortunately, many managers are hesitant to allow team members to have that kind of input which often leans to employee turnover and failure of the team reaching their goals. In any setting where you have individuals with high levels of expertise, it is seriously imprudent to expect them not to be involved at all in the decision making process of the team.