Teams are the beating heart of business, and effective teamwork improves problem-solving, drives motivation, deepens relationships and empowers individuals. But teams are not always effective, and problems like social loafing, personality conflicts and a culture of individualism, can destroy productivity.
Although, perhaps inevitably, training often occurs in silos, few executives would deny the value of teamwork training: Cross-functional understanding and relationships are at the core of effective business management. However to be effective, teamwork training needs to be supported by the right organizational culture and training tools.
Business simulations are almost always team-based competitive training tools. As such, business simulations are not just a great way of teaching the mechanics of teamwork, they also – by making teams practice together in a risk-free environment – help to foster an organizational culture that supports it.
Teamwork Training Using Simulations
As with any business simulation based training, effective teamwork training using simulations requires that instructors and training directors take a methodical approach to planning, executing and monitoring the training. Below, we offer here a 9 step process to developing an effective teamwork training program using business simulations.
Step 1: Training need identification, positioning & planning
The first step is to identify the training need that your organization might face: this should be more specific than ‘more teamwork’! Think, for example, about whether your focus is on something more prosaic, like a regular team-building exercise, something more ambitious in scope, like cultural transformation or something more technical such as digital collaboration, agile training or cross-functional training. You should also be thinking about what job performance indicators can be used to baseline current performance and measure any improvements that come as a result of your training program.
Also, don’t forget that the teamwork training needs and availability of managers may differ depending on their seniority and function, so plan and market the training accordingly.
Step 2: Identify key learning outcomes
At its core, effective teamwork is composed of a number of processes and competencies that have been well articulated in educational literature (see table).
Any teamwork training should include instruction on the components of effective teamwork. However, depending on the overall learning goal, and the way it is articulated, you may wish to adapt the learning outcomes. For ‘Agile Training’, for example, you may want to make learning outcomes of the 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto, or for digital collaboration, the effective use of cloud-based collaborative tools.
Step 3: Emphasize teamwork over task work
A sophisticated business simulation platform lends itself to being adapted to almost any learning outcome. For a teamwork focus, your simulation-based training should minimize task complexity so that learners don’t get distracted by ‘task work’. For example, although simulation could be used to teach financial analysis, (in which case the taught and assessed components of a simulation might include a deep-dive on financial modelling in Excel), for a teamwork focused training, it might be best to minimize the focus on a such a technical subject.
Step 4: Blend teaching modalities
As with all simulation-based training, traditional methods of instruction, such as lectures and demonstrations should be used before, during and after the simulation to reinforce the specific learning outcomes you identified in step two.
Step 5: Prioritize practice
Equally, it is important to ensure the simulation component is given room to breathe, and not shoe-horned in around a lecture heavy curriculum. Of all management skills, teamwork is perhaps the one that MOST requires practice, and that is what simulations are all about.
Step 6: Customize the Simulation
Customize the simulation so that it provides a challenge that is relevant without being overwhelming or distract from an overall teamwork focus. Some thought should be given to the background skills and experience of the training participants to make sure that the simulation is of an appropriate level of difficulty.
Step 7: Simulation Feedback
As discussed in a previous article in this series, feedback should be given on both observed team outcomes and behaviors in the simulation. Give the teams space for self-reflection before the final debrief. Particular thought should be given to designing tools that enable the instructor to make valid judgments on team and individual performance in the simulation and to provide accurate diagnostic and corrective feedback. For example, a good simulation should have a built in scoring mechanism, as well as other quantitative and graphical feedback in the game, however there might also a place for anonymized peer reviews to help guide the instructor on individual performance.
Step 8: Monitor effectiveness of training back in the work environment
Teamwork training programs must be evaluated to measure learning outcomes and to determine program effectiveness. Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of training evaluation are an appropriate framework:
- Reaction: Use participant feedback forms to help understand what participants thought and felt about the training
- Learning: Use end-of-training tests, quizzes or self-reflective assignments to assess the increase in knowledge and/or skills, and change in attitudes that came as a result of the training.
- Behavior: Conduct an on-the-job evaluation of the trainee 3-6 months post-training to assess how effectively they transferred theory, skills and attitudes from the training to the job.
- Results: Assess the final results that occurred because of attendance and participation in a training program by determining if the training is driving improvements in the relevant performance metrics identified in step 1.
Step 9: Reinforce desired teamwork behaviors. Sustain through coaching and performance evaluation.
Ultimately, any training program needs to develop skills and behaviors that are both required by and reinforced on the job. To promote the transfer of competencies targeted in training to the job environment, teamwork behaviors should be reinforced by ongoing coaching and mentoring sessions, as well as performance evaluation.
As products and services are almost always delivered in cross-functional teams, training and practicing in silos poses a threat to managerial effectiveness. It is therefore logical that managers need to train as a team, not only during MBA programs, but also in corporate training and talent development programs. Team training using simulations gives the opportunity for practitioners from different business functions to come together to improve the skills used in their roles as executives. Poor teamwork is perhaps the greatest source of business risk, and simulation-based team training should always be part of the solution.