The Neuroscience of Team Building: 5 Minute Read

The Neuroscience of Team Building – 8 Steps for an Effective Team Building Event

The problem with most team building sessions is that teams have a great time in the moment & have lots of ‘fun’, but there is often very little practical ‘team development’ and not much behaviour changes when people get back to the workplace the next day.

Of course, some ‘fun’ team sessions can be great and can make a difference. People simply spending time with each other as human beings getting to know each other better is nearly always useful. If that’s your objective, then most team sessions will hold some value.

However, to get the best out of a team building day and get behaviour change that sticks back in the workplace we need a different approach.

1. The team need to be in a safe environment – mentally safe as well as physically safe, ideally in an engaging, fresh, original, non-threatening gamified type environment. Our brains like novelty, new things, but only if we feel safe and able to do tasks without too much pressure and fear of failure.

Otherwise people are in a neuro-scientific ‘threat’/survival state (fight/flight/freeze), and their brains simply are physically less or not receptive to learning. A waste of time & money for the organisation.

2. There needs be a mix of fun, laughter, team bonding (getting to know and understand each other) – all things that get oxytocin flowing in people’s brains (oxytocin is the ‘love’ drug…so called for the effect it has on prosocial behaviours, such as its role in facilitating trust and attachment between individuals. More oxytocin effectively means better teamwork).

This is where most team building programs stop.  Even those where the team has to complete some sort of task effectively only get to step 2 above.

What gets behavioural changes to really stick best back in the workplace?

3. The team first become aware, in a safe, fun environment, of the practical behaviours they do well, and those behaviours they need to change to improve performance.Going through practical activities specifically designed to highlight strengths and areas for development, in that safe, fun, light-hearted environment will give them that awareness. Facilitation by an experienced, neutral, non-threatening 3rd party usually get the best results.

4. Ideally people come to their own insights on the day about the learning and understanding about the practical behaviours that will actually make them work better together. Skilled facilitation is most effective in making this happen. When people come to conclusions themselves they have a deeper ‘why’ for the change. More positive, feel-good brain chemicals are released so people are much more likely to come up with and accept the actions they need to take to make the change. A skilled facilitator will guide people to self awareness.

5. In the team building session, the team come up with a set of agreed practical, real-world actions and behaviours they need to deploy to get them working better together.Having clear actions is critical to create effective neuronal learning pathways in brains to effectively apply behaviour to the learning.

6.The team physically put the actions and behaviours into practice right there at the team building session (still in the fun, safe environment) and see success as a direct outcome of their actions. This embeds and deepens the learning pathways in the brain and better success embedding the behaviours back in the workplace.

7. Agree to support each other and hold each other accountable to individual behaviours.Follow up and ongoing positive feedback, attention and support are critical to deepen the neural connections of the learning in people’s brains so they keep doing what they need to do and make it a behavioural habit.

8. ???

Step 8 is contact us and ask about our innovative, highly agile, smart-phone-App-based Team Building program 😊 It’s proven to do all of the above.

“Excellent team building exercise! The differences between sessions 1 and 2 were clearly demonstrated and evident”    -National Capital Development Manager

Find out more:

“Brilliant! Clear and concise. Fun and meaningful”  –Head of Strategic Growth

We run each team through a series of ‘fun’ challenges run through our smart-phone app. These challenges, while seemingly innocuous on the surface, are carefully crafted based on neuroscience and deep behavioural knowledge, to bring out nearly all team behaviours, good and not so useful, in a safe and enjoyable forum.  

These activities are viewed by an experienced team facilitator, who unobtrusively observes what happened applies to the workplace.

The facilitator then skillfully debriefs the team to extract what they did well, what they can improve and how all that relates to and impacts on the workplace. The facilitator then helps the team devise specific strategy and actions they need to apply to improve.

We then send the team out to practically apply that knowledge and learning in a second round of fun challenges, also observed by the experienced facilitator.

In this second round, teams get the opportunity to practically apply, embed & and observe how successful the new strategies and actions are, so the learning sticks. The facilitator again debriefs the team, especially in terms of what people did better, what the impact was and how that  team to agree on the practical actions they will deploy back in the workplace. The team vocalise these so there is also cross-team accountability.

“The approach to this is unique and effective in gaining everyone’s trust and active participation. Very relevant to executive leadership. Thank you for a great session” –Maria Lysioulis, National HR Manager.

We also often add in extra practical exercises to help teams get to know each other better as human being and to understand how the team is connected and how people rely on each other.

Each program is customised to the level, needs and objectives of the team. We can also add a light-hearted competitive edge with teams competing against each other. We also often follow a team building activity with a Strategic Facilitation session.

To find out more about our Team Development or Strategic Facilitation programs contact us:

“We had such a great day.  Such an amazing way to get a new team off the starting blocks.” -Program Manager, NBBEN, February 2017

The Team at Southern Cross Coaching & Development