The fact that groups can influence outcomes important to both the individual and the group has been recognized for decades. One group variable that has been proposed to be important in this regard is the member’s perception of the group’s cohesiveness—staying with a group to achieve goals or for member satisfaction. Numerous studies have emerged illustrating that perceptions of cohesiveness are associated with a multitude of factors that impact individual (e.g., adherence, satisfaction) and group outcomes (e.g., team success, collective efficacy). While recognition of these relationships is important, there is an equally important question for those interested in behavior change. How may the cohesiveness of the group be enhanced? One established group-based intervention used by coaches and exercise leaders to enhance cohesion is team building. Although it has been defined in numerous ways, team building in activity settings typically refers to programs that use group dynamics principles to increase cohesiveness, which then enables the group to function more effectively.
Team-building programs have been used in both exercise and sport settings but typically look to target different outcomes. In the sport setting, the focus is usually on the process of locomotion occurring within groups, with the flow moving from team building → increased cohesiveness → improved group effectiveness. In contrast, the other key process occurring within groups, maintenance, is often the focus in exercise settings. Research questions typically surround how to keep individuals adhering to their activity regime. The flow is captured as team building → increased cohesiveness → increased group maintenance. Given their different outcomes, team-building programs take different forms across settings, and these differences will be highlighted in this entry. Further, it also is evident that team building transcends the stereotypical notion of having teammates go to a movie or theme park together.
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Team Building in the Sport Setting
In the sport setting, with its emphasis on creating a more effective team, the results of a meta-analysis by Luc Martin, Albert Carron, and Shauna M. Burke revealed the use of four different forms of team-building programs. These included, in ascending frequency of reported use in the field setting, interpersonal relations, goal setting, adventure, and omnibus. In the interpersonal relations framework, the focus is on building an interpersonally competent group, with the assumption being that this will translate into group cohesiveness and effectiveness. This approach works well in situations when there is a requirement to improve poor personal relationships or poor communication among members. Within the goal-setting framework, the focus is on helping group members develop individual and group goals and the actions required to achieve them. This approach is typically used when the team’s goals are not clear or the actions required to achieve the goals are not clearly identified. The development of cohesion derives from the group’s focus on its conjoint goals. The adventure framework approach proposes that engaging team members in an adventure or outdoor experience will enhance group cohesion and ultimately team effectiveness. The adventure experience can range from providing a challenge in an outdoor environment or gym wherein members must work together cooperatively to solve some problem to having team members go on an extended trip where they spend concentrated blocks of time together. The omnibus framework is underpinned by the idea that the enhancement of cohesion and team effectiveness is created when members are exposed to a number of protocols derived from group dynamics principles, such as creating uniqueness, making sacrifices for the group, or clarifying roles.
The results of the meta-analysis revealed that team-building protocols that focus on goal setting are of longer duration and target individual type sports like track appeared most effective. In terms of the relationship between the overall team-building interventions and specific outcomes, positive relationships with performance effectiveness, adaptive cognitions like self-efficacy or satisfaction, and to a lesser extent social cohesion, have been reported for those exposed to team building than those not. Given these interventions were primarily directed toward enhancing performance effectiveness, ostensibly a task focus, the emergence of social cohesion (orientation toward maintaining social relationships within the group) might be perplexing. One possible explanation might be that many of the identified protocols involved collaboration as in the goal-setting protocol where members had to agree on a common goal, and this need for collaboration was reflected in social cohesion.
Team Building in the Exercise Setting
As noted above, outcomes in most exercise settings that employ team-building protocols typically concern the maintenance of the group, whereby interest is directed toward enhancing the adherence of individuals. Unlike the sport setting, where multiple frameworks have been employed, one model has served as the foundation of numerous interventions conducted in the exercise setting. It is the four-stage, team-building model developed by Bert Carron and Kevin Spink that uses the exercise leader as the agent of delivery. The efficacy of this model has been demonstrated across many exercise settings and age groups ranging from adolescents to the elderly. The stages in the model include introduction, conceptual, practical, and intervention. The first three occur in a workshop conducted by a team-building specialist such as an exercise psychology consultant working with exercise leaders. The final stage involves the leaders going back to their group and implementing the team-building strategies that were formulated during the workshop. The specifics of each stage are presented next.
In the first stage, which focuses on establishing a rationale, exercise class leaders are presented with a brief overview of the benefits of cohesion specific to their setting. For instance, if the leaders run exercise classes for older adults, the positive relationships that have been established between elderly exercisers who perceive their group as more cohesive and as having better exercise class attendance are mentioned.
The second stage provides a frame of reference for the leaders. This is accomplished by introducing a conceptual model that outlines how to use group dynamics principles to enhance cohesion. In the model, cohesion within the group is viewed as an output (or product) of conditions that arise from three different categories of group characteristics. Two categories are the environment of the group and the structure of the group (inputs), and one category is group processes (throughput). It is assumed that specific elements in the environment and the structure of the group will contribute to enhanced group processes, which in turn lead to member’s increased perceptions of cohesiveness in the group. Furthermore, within each of the three categories, specific factors are identified that have previously emerged as being associated with enhanced group cohesiveness. These include highlighting group distinctiveness (group environment), fostering group norms and individual positions (group structure), and increasing communication or interaction and individual sacrifices (group processes). By way of illustration, to highlight the factor of distinctiveness, leaders are told that when something in the group’s environment is somehow made distinctive (e.g., all group members wear the same T-shirt), members develop a stronger sense of we, can more readily distinguish themselves from nonmembers of the group, and ultimately develop stronger perceptions of cohesiveness. This procedure of presenting the leaders with a research-based rationale justifying the inclusion of each factor continues until all the factors in the model presented above are addressed.
The practical stage is the final part of the workshop. The purpose is to have the exercise leaders become active agents in developing practical strategies that they will use in their own group settings. This is done by having them use the conceptual framework to brainstorm as many specific techniques as possible to be used for team building in their own groups. The leaders are asked to use distinctiveness, norms, positions, sacrifice, and communication or interaction as frames of reference. From the lists of suggestions generated, each leader is free to take the suggestions thought to work best.
In the intervention stage, the leaders take the team-building protocols they have developed at the workshop and introduce them into their groups. Examples are now presented to illustrate the outcomes that have resulted when this intervention has been used in the exercise setting. The purpose of the initial studies into team building using the Carron and Spink model was simple—to determine if cohesion in exercise classes could be enhanced using the principles in the model. The results of numerous studies revealed that use of this teambuilding intervention significantly enhanced group members’ perceptions of task cohesion in exercise classes across the age span. The emergence of task cohesion (orientation toward achieving the group’s goals) was consistent with the fact that the teambuilding protocol used in this model targeted task cohesion.
This positive relationship also has been extended to another key outcome salient to the exercise setting—adherence. Results generally revealed that those exposed to team-building protocols report better attendance, less lateness, and a lower probability of dropping out of the exercise group than those not exposed to such protocols. Cognitive outcomes, such as satisfaction, also have been examined in some of these exercise studies, with those exposed to a team-building condition reporting higher levels of satisfaction with the group experience than those not exposed to the team-building protocol.
Delivery of Team-Building Programs
A closer examination of the team-building programs reveals that the protocol can be delivered to group members either directly or indirectly. In the indirect approach, which is the predominant mode of delivery in the exercise setting, the program is filtered through the exercise leader. Specifically, a team-building specialist works with the exercise leader to develop a team-building protocol based on group dynamic principles each leader will implement with the particular activity group. While the indirect approach also has been used in the sport setting, most sport interventions have used a more direct form of team building, in which the intervention is presented directly to the team members. In direct approaches, the individual responsible for implementing the intervention (e.g., sport psychology consultant) works directly with the team members to provide them with greater insight and greater independence in applying the appropriate group dynamics principles. It is assumed, through the contact and education, team members will become more intrinsically motivated to develop team bonds as a result of their enhanced competence and self-determination. Of interest, comparisons of the direct versus indirect approaches in the sport setting have revealed that both are equally effective in generating the expected positive outcomes.
While the effects of team building are typically perceived to generate positive outcomes, there is one form of team building that may not be as effective as commonly assumed, and that involves hazing. Hazing is the use of harassment, abuse, or humiliation as a way of initiating new members to a group (e.g., having rookies wear odd clothing in public places as a type of team initiation). It is often assumed that team-building behaviors such as hazing serve to build team cohesion. However, there is little to support this conclusion as results have revealed that athletes who report doing or seeing more hazing-type activities also report that their teams were less cohesive.
- Brawley, L. R., & Paskevich, D. M. (1997). Conducting team building research in the context of sport and exercise. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 11–40.
- Bruner, M. W., & Spink, K. S. (2010). Evaluating a teambuilding intervention in a youth exercise setting. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 14, 304–317.
- Bruner, M. W., & Spink, K. S. (2011). Effects of team building on exercise adherence and group task satisfaction in a youth activity setting. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15, 161–172.
- Carron, A. V., & Spink, K. S. (1993). Team building in an exercise setting. The Sport Psychologist, 7, 8–18.
- Carron, A. V., Spink, K. S., & Prapavessis, H. (1997). Team building and cohesiveness in the sport and exercise setting: Use of indirect interventions. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 61–72.
- Martin, L. J., Carron, A. V., & Burke, S. M. (2009). Team building interventions in sport: A meta-analysis. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, 5, 3–18.
- Spink, K. S., & Carron, A. V. (1993). The effects of team building on the adherence patterns of female exercise participants. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 15, 39–49.