Team building is not popular. One survey found 31% of workers dislike team-building activities. Perhaps many have been scarred by the forced fun of clumsy corporate team building events. But there’s real value there to be unlocked. How well a team communicates can be more important than how skilled its members are.

We’ll look at studies on the importance of good communication. We’ll see that the key aspect is psychological safety - people have to feel comfortable voicing ideas and disagreeing. Building a safe environment should be key to nurturing a team.

Teams vs Collections of Individuals

A common claim against team building is that it is pointless. This, I think, comes from a problematic assumption that work is mostly about individuals performing tasks.

Many people think of work primarily in terms of their personal workload and getting through their queue of tasks. Of course team building isn’t very relevant to individual task performance but it’s very important to collective decision-making. It’s relevant to communication and negotiation. It’s also important to how invested people feel in the team’s work.

There’s a notion in the social sciences called ‘collective intelligence’ and it represents the intelligence of a group, analogous to IQ for individuals. You might naturally think that teams with high IQ members will have the highest collective intelligence. But that’s not what happens.

An MIT study found better correlation between the team’s social perceptiveness and its collective intelligence than the IQ of its members. Team members understanding one another and being receptive to one another’s states of mind was more important than their individual intelligence. This may seem counterintuitive but can make sense for highly collaborative work. An author of the study explains:

That doesn’t mean that individual ability doesn’t matter. What we’re saying is that what matters is both that individual ability and co-ordinating it effectively.


Why Team Building Matters - Winning Over Sceptics
1.55 GEEK