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Less Partying, More Teambuilding

Teambuilding in a critical COVID-19 situation

Companies that are looking to grow should always prioritise teambuilding. In recent years, it has been a major headache for HR managers trying to be novel in this area, as almost everything has been done to death. In most cases, they went for the “let’s party together” route, which had little effect in creating real team cohesion, but at least they can check the box that teambuilding took place. Lately, more HR leaders are incorporating serious psychological elements into teambuilding programmes; they are designing events and workshops based on the personalities of the participants.

Employee, elite athlete, team unit

If I want to look at the unity of an organisation as a professional, and thus from a deeper psychological basis, perhaps the best parallel is the management of a professional sports team. Teams are composed of top athletes, which means that everyone wants to win, so they train and go to matches with the same, winning mentality. At least that’s a misconception in the minds of many sports professionals. Our personality governs our goals, and there is no “elite athlete” personality. Indeed, people with different personality types take different routes to becoming elite athletes. According to a personality identification system we use, the Ruler athlete becomes a top athlete for their own victory and success; they want to be as famous as possible and earn as much money as possible. The Individual athlete wants to be celebrated, a star in the spotlight; they love it when an entire stadium goes crazy when they play well. The Supporter athlete likes to be part of a team; community is critical for them, and even though a match can cause significant fear and stress, they also accept this in exchange for positive results. The Expert athlete is a maximalist; they choose a sport for themselves, and in that sport, they want to be perfect, just as they prefer it in all other aspects of their lives. For them, sport is a true profession.

You can find all four personality types on a good team, along with their subtypes and sub-subtypes, of course, but the main goals are tied to these four definitions. So, building a team to be effective at the right moments is a tall order. All this causes a big headache for coaches and other professionals dealing with the issue. It is no coincidence that behind team sports successes, there is already thoughtful, personality-based, psychological work going on. How different is a corporate organisation in this area? Overall, there is no difference! The same psychological processes take place within a company as they do on a sports team. It is very rare not to have a representative of every personality type within a given organisation. In both sport and business, we can see whether a teambuilding programme was successful as soon as the first crisis arrives. However, there is a big difference between these two areas: the length of time it takes for the moment of truth to arrive. Sport usually outpaces the business world, because while it often takes months or years for businesses to announce results, a crisis occurs very quickly in sport.

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The real mistake

There are several minor mistakes in teambuilding. However, there is one major flaw: if we plan team cohesion for peaceful times and ignore the possibility of war. Social team events can be critical, but only for certain personality types. Supporters and Individuals are fans of these gatherings. They feel that such events will make them feel better, let them get to know each other better, and it will also have a direct effect on team performance. And in their case, that’s all true! However, Rulers and Experts are not, to put it mildly, passionate about such things. They consider them forced and they don’t even understand what a group happy hour might have to do with them winning the match in the final minutes. And from their point of view, all this is true! Put bluntly, traditional teambuilding approaches are positive at best for only two of the four main personality types. For the other two, the more they are forced, the more likely they are to look for a new team. This is exactly the case with companies. Amid the current crisis, HR must be very careful about the teambuilding method they use. However, building a team, even if it has never been important, is now critical; teams need to be pulled out of the simultaneous private and business crises to be able to perform properly in the future. Very few will recover from this situation by themselves. However, building a team can only be done if we prepare team members based on their personalities, addressing their specific, and often unspoken expectations and fears. For sports teams, for example, the greatest success can be achieved when a specialist tells a Supporter athlete that it is natural to be afraid before important matches. They struggle with their nerves, and they attempt to hide this fear from their teammates and coach, because what kind of professional athlete — who is being paid for peak performance in every situation — dares to be afraid? However, their fear is still real, and if we do not resolve it before the critical match, it will appear during a crucial moment, and our athlete will underperform. Thus, we use a unique methodology: fear must be addressed and discussed during the preparatory workshops. Teammates need to understand that the Supporter teammate will be able to fight intensely no matter the situation, but like any personality type, it has its drawbacks, and for them, it is precisely the fear of crises. By addressing it, Supporters do not devote their energies to hiding their fears — they experience the fear before the crisis — so they can drastically improve their performance when the crisis arrives. With the experience of several international tournaments behind me, I can say that the method really works. Nothing else was needed, just the personality type had to be defined before the teambuilding session so the programme could be adjusted. You might think that the workshop may seem boring to others if there is just one Supporter in a pivotal position. But every intelligent team member is more concerned about the team’s shared success, so their teammate’s psychological mechanisms and this type of teambuilding are particularly fascinating. It speaks volumes that although these workshops are scheduled for three hours, in most cases I am forced to cut off questions at the four-hour mark.

The psychological basis of these workshops is that the team does not teach themselves how to adapt to one other or the coaches’ expectations, nor do they learn how to present a unified picture. Professionally speaking, it is not about flattening their personalities and putting on an “I can be sympathetic to everyone” mask, because the mask breaks to pieces in the first crisis. Real teambuilding creates a “common language”. People working in an organisation understand each other. Not everyone will be sympathetic to everyone, but that cannot be the goal in a heterogeneous organisation. What is important, on the other hand, is to understand why that person is behaving the way they are and comprehend that they are not doing the things that anger us to hassle us. People are simply wired that way. However, the other side also receives clear feedback on what effects their own wiring has on team members.

COVID vs Teambuilding

Building a good team and creating the right team cohesion has never been more critical than it is now. We don’t have to be experts to be able to solve such a market reorganisation in sports or business; we just need a well-functioning, strong team. And the real team is not made up of individual members, but a community that builds well on individual abilities and consciously shapes it into a team unit. In this process, our inner driving force, our personality, plays the lead role.