.

  • Written by Julien Pollack, Associate Professor, University of Sydney
The key to an effective team-builiding exercise is understanding a team is a social network built on connections between individuals. www.shutterstock.com

Someone we know recently told us about a team-building event that proved anything but.

The chief executive who arranged it loved mountain biking. So he chose a venue to share his passion with his team. On the day, he shot around the track. Others with less experience took up to three hours longer. He settled in at the bar with a small entourage. Other staff trudged in much later, tired and bloody, not feeling at all like a team.

Many of us can recall team-building exercises that seemed like a waste of time. One problem is overcoming the natural human tendency to hang out with those people we already feel comfortable with, just as that chief executive did.

We suggest there is a better team-building approach. It doesn’t involve bicycles or obstacle courses or whitewater rafting. It doesn’t even necessarily involve your whole team.

It’s about understanding that teams are social networks built on connections between individuals. It involves deep one-on-one conversations, designed to get people out of their comfort zones.

Psychological safety

In any situation, be it at a party or at work, most of us naturally tend to gravitate towards those we know. In doing so we strengthen already strong relationships. Familiarity creates psychological safety – the feeling of trust that you are free to be you.


Read more: Meet me at the bar! How uni students interact on a campus, and why chocolate can help


Research suggests psychological safety is crucial in the work environment. There is much more to team success than simply focusing on the task at hand. Team members need to talk regularly, and be comfortable raising difficult issues. Feeling able to make a mistake and express oneself freely improves team performance and the ability to innovate.

Building psychological safety takes time, however, and normal workplace interactions may not be conducive to developing trust naturally. Which is why managers often turn to team-building exercises.

Analysing the social network

But what exercises work the best?

Well-designed team-building should target and strengthen relationships that are for some reason too weak. Such weaknesses can disrupt communication networks by stopping critical information from getting to the people who need it.

We have used what is called social network analysis to map relationships in project teams.

Social network analysis is used in economics, marketing and management to study the structures of relationships between people and organisations. The focus is on the structural patterns of relationships within the entire team. These patterns can be systemically visualised using network graphs, such as those below.

As researchers we gauged the strength of connections by asking questions such as: “How often or how comfortable are you talking to each member of your team?”


A network diagram of a team can visualise potential communication gaps. Circles stand for team members and lines depict the most comfortable relationships. Team members who are relatively more comfortable with each other are placed closer together. Authors

The above two diagrams are the same group three months apart. In scenario (a) the group was split into two subgroups that were relatively comfortable communicating with each other. The group had, in fact, been two teams, brought together under a single manager. They were co-located but still largely working as two separate groups.

The company’s management thought team-building might help bring the subgroups together, and asked us to help. Scenario (b) shows the team three months later. There were more connections within the group, with one individual particularly pivotal in unifying the team.

What caused this change? Not traditional team-building exercises but “targeted self-disclosure exercises”.


Read more: Celebrities and politicians tell us their deepest, darkest secrets. Why?


The 36 questions

We began with social network analysis to identify pairs of colleagues whose relationships were critical for the cohesion of the network, and would benefit the group by being stronger. We then paired people across the group divide and let those pairs do an exercise involving a structured conversation over one hour, working through a series of 36 increasingly personal questions.

The questions start with relatively safe topics, like:

“Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”

Near the end of the session, they’re like this:

“When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”

You may have heard of this before, as the “36 questions that lead to love”.

The questions were first published in 1997 as part of research by psychologist Arthur Aron and colleagues about how feelings of interpersonal closeness are cultivated by disclosing personal details.

They became an internet sensation in 2015, after an article in The New York Times by Mandy Len Caltron pitched them as a technique “to fall in love with anyone”. But their applicability is by no means limited to romantic contexts, as our workplace experiments have demonstrated.

Changing communication patterns

The last question involves you sharing a personal problem with your discussion partner and asking their advice on how to handle it.

This is not the sort of thing most people would normally chose to do at work, but our results show its worth. We measured significantly changed patterns of communication over three months. Participating pairs felt more comfortable talking to each other, and talked more often – the most common change being from “not in the last month” to “once a week”.

The participants who got to know each other better also started to talk about work a bit more, as shown in the chart below. The change – about half a point increase on a six-point frequency scale – was relatively small compared to the dramatic increase in the personal comfort the participants felt towards each other, but even a small change can make a big difference.


A comparison of changes in relationship strengths over three months among pairs of co-workers who participated in a self-disclosure exercise and those who did not. Comfort is measured on a 10-point scale and frequency on a 6-point scale. The authors

Importantly, as already shown in the first diagram, the divide between the two cliques decreased by more bridging links being created.

Risks and rewards

For some, there is a clear line between work life and personal life. Not everyone feels comfortable with talking about personal issues, let alone with colleagues to whom they’re not close. It’s true that rapid personal disclosure can be risky.

In any such exercise you need to proceed at a pace at which you and your colleague are willing to reciprocate. Though the gradually increasing sensitivity of questions in the facilitated self-disclosure exercise are meant to help achieve this, even then it may not suit everyone – and management shouldn’t compel anyone to feel uncomfortable.


Read more: Why too many fearless people on a team make collaboration less likely


But if you are willing to accept a little discomfort, our findings suggest that sharing a bit more in the workplace can be both personally rewarding and beneficial to the group.

Julien Pollack does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Petr Matous does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Julien Pollack, Associate Professor, University of Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/team-building-exercises-can-be-a-waste-of-time-you-achieve-more-by-getting-personal-119601

Your Airbnb guest could be a tenant. Until the law is cleared up, hosts are in limbo

A Victorian court decision that an Airbnb agreement had the status of a lease has profound implications for guests and hosts. Daniel Krason/ShutterstockWith summer holidays around the corner, many Vic...

Bill John Swannie, Lecturer in College of Law and Justice, Victoria University - avatar Bill John Swannie, Lecturer in College of Law and Justice, Victoria University

5 reasons I always get children picture books for Christmas

Children who love being read to are more likely to find learning to read easier. from shutterstock.comChristmas is just around the corner. If you’re wondering what to get your child, your friend...

Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra - avatar Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra

Tough nuts: why peanuts trigger such powerful allergic reactions

The humble peanut. Tasty for most, treacherous for some. Dr Dwan Price, Author providedFood allergens are the scourge of the modern school lunchbox. Many foods contain proteins that can set off an ove...

Dwan Price, Molecular Biologist and Postdoc @ Deakin AIRwatch pollen monitoring system., Deakin University - avatar Dwan Price, Molecular Biologist and Postdoc @ Deakin AIRwatch pollen monitoring system., Deakin University

Must end soon! But not too soon! The catch in time-limited sales tactics

Time-limited offers leverage risk-aversion. That is, the more you dislike risk, the more likely it is you will take the bait and buy now. www.shutterstock.comAs Christmas shopping ramps up, you may be...

Daniel Zizzo, Professor and Academic Dean of the School of Economics, The University of Queensland - avatar Daniel Zizzo, Professor and Academic Dean of the School of Economics, The University of Queensland

Refugees without secure visas have poorer mental health – but the news isn't all bad

Refugees without permanent visas can experience a prolonged sense of insecurity and displacement. From shutterstock.comThere are more than 29.4 million forcibly displaced asylum seekers and refugees a...

Yulisha Byrow, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNSW - avatar Yulisha Byrow, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNSW

God made the rainbow: why the Bible welcomes every colour in the gender spectrum

The Bible affirms, in various ways, the inclusion of those who diverge from male-female gender norms. ShutterstockThis article is part of a series exploring gender and Christianity “God made ...

Robyn J. Whitaker, Senior Lecturer in New Testament, Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity - avatar Robyn J. Whitaker, Senior Lecturer in New Testament, Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity

Jojo Rabbit: Hitler humour and a child's eye view of war make for dark satire

Jojo's allegiances in the film are split between an imagined friends and a real hideaway. Fox SearchlightJojo Rabbit is not Disney Studios’ first foray into Hitler parody. In 1943, it produced ...

Benjamin Nickl, Lecturer in International Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, University of Sydney - avatar Benjamin Nickl, Lecturer in International Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, University of Sydney

Boosting Your Child’s Learning through Play

Being a parent is probably the highest responsibility one has in a lifetime. Once it happens, it becomes ongoing and keeps posing new challenges to us. Of course, it may seem easy from some perspe...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Different ideas of Christmas Gifts to give to your beloved ones

"CHRISTMAS GIFTS – one of the best festival gifts to give to your closed ones. Find Christmas presents for everybody on your checklist. Christmas is now here, and if that you haven't got a hop on ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Ultimate Guide to Sneakers and Sneaker Brands

When it comes to finding the perfect pair of sneakers, it can be hard to know where to start. Finding the right pair for any kind of occasion can be difficult, so brushing up on your knowledge of sn...

News Company - avatar News Company

Conservative landslide at UK's Brexit election; Trump's ratings rise on strong US economy

Led by Boris Johnson, the Conservatives won 56% of the vote and will have an 80-seat majority. AAP/EPA/ VIckie FloresAt the December 12 UK election, the Conservatives won 365 of the 650 House of Commo...

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne - avatar Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

Johnson's thumping win an electoral lesson in not just having policies, but knowing how to sell them

With Johnson's crushing win, Brexit will now happen. But this may also be the start of the break-up of the UK. AAP/EPA/Vickie FloresSo for all the talk of narrowing polls, tactical voting, and possib...

Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol - avatar Simon Tormey, Professor of Politics, University of Bristol

View from The Hill: Morrison won't have a bar of public service intrusions on government's power

Scott Morrison has rejected or sidelined a number of recommendations from the long-awaited Thodey review. AAP/Paul BravenScott Morrison has rejected or sidelined a number of recommendations from the l...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan reflects on the year in politics

For their last video for the year, University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Deep Saini and Michelle Grattan look backwards to the big issues which have shaped political discourse. They discuss the surpr...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Choosing a Heavy Weighted Bathmats

Decorating your bathroom doesn’t finish with the paint choice or tile colours. You can change the whole room with the change of your towel set. There are no rules that say that you need to have a ...

News Company - avatar News Company

God as man, man as God: no wonder many Christian men today are having a masculinity crisis

How men saw God shaped how they saw themselves, and in turn, how they saw women. WikimediaThis article is part of our Gender and Christianity series. To understand contemporary Christian ideas about...

William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Murdoch University - avatar William Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University, Murdoch University

Australia needs a national crisis plan, and not just for bushfires

Bushfires aren't the only catastrophic emergency Australia is likely to see. AAP Image/Mick TsikasCalls are growing for a national bushfire plan, including from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull...

Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University - avatar Andrew Gissing, General Manager, Risk Frontiers, Adjunct Fellow, Macquarie University

Your Christmas shopping could harm or help the planet. Which will it be?

Many Australian consumers are concerned at the environmental impact of their shopping habits, especially at Christmas. AAPAustralian shoppers are set to spend $52.7 billion this Christmas. In the word...

Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania - avatar Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

Right-swipes and red flags – how young people negotiate sex and safety on dating apps

For many young people, app dating is just part of regular dating life. freestocks.org/UnsplashPopular commentary on dating apps often associates their use with “risky” sex, harassment and ...

Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology - avatar Kath Albury, Professor of Media and Communication, Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Boosting Your Child’s Learning through Play

Being a parent is probably the highest responsibility one has in a lifetime. Once it happens, it...

Different ideas of Christmas Gifts to give to your beloved ones

"CHRISTMAS GIFTS – one of the best festival gifts to give to your closed ones. Find Christmas pr...

How to Have a Peaceful Retirement

Retirement is the time to treat yourself after a lifetime of working, to complete your bucket list...

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the...