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The Proven Science Behind Team Building Activities

Professional development companies promote the use of team building to improve inter-company dynamics, develop customer relations and strategize methods of problem solving. While on the surface, it makes sense that these efforts would be beneficial, what evidence exists that supports the use of these activities?
The Human Dynamics Lab at MIT recently completed a study that sheds new, compelling evidence on why team building is so effective, and makes a strong case for its use in the workplace. In their study, they utilized cutting edge wearable technology that captures real time information about individuals in the workplace. The results were astonishing.
The Problem
Initially, the study was designed to evaluate why some teams within an organization seem to thrive, while others seem to stagnate. The original study was the result of a company experiencing lack-luster performance and had low employee retention in one department, while other similar departments were exceeding expectations.
The Study
The wearable technology analyzed facial expressions, vocal inflections, length of conversations and more over the course of six weeks. Taking into account the initial awkwardness of being monitored, after a few hours the employees returned to their normal levels of interaction. By studying over 2,500 employees within an organization, MIT was able to garner a ‘bird’s eye view’ of how communication within a company can help or hinder success.
In many ways, the study offered results that were counter to conventional wisdom. Hosting ‘beer night’, for example, had minimal effect on improving communication in the team. Installing longer lunch tables in the cafeteria, however, provided opportunity for strangers to sit together and had an immediate impact on team communication.
The Results
The conclusions of the study have far-reaching implications for the development of team building within organizations. The company that initiated the study made the recommended adjustments to promote team bonding and saw an immediate 8% drop in average handling time for customer calls. Implementing the changes company-wide has resulted in an estimated $15 million per year productivity increase.
Interestingly, one of the most compelling results from this study showed that teams with the most qualified individuals were not the most successful. Teams with higher levels of communication among team members outperformed other teams in almost every metric measured.
The Application
Companies that are looking for ways to improve team member relationships, or who want to promote a corporate mindset can benefit from the results of this study. By making a simple adjustment, the company in question was able to see overall corporate growth, enhanced team communication and improved employee retention.
Within other corporations, using strategic team building activities can help to identify where communication breakdowns are occurring, and provide opportunities for team bonding that can be more effective than almost any other type of training. The results of this study show that team building doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive.
Targeted activities that promote communication are still the most effective means of growing a corporate culture where growth and development are valued. Using team building activities to further develop the corporate community can improve relationships (and as a result, communication) and can have a tremendous impact on the climate of a company.

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