Learning how to work better together: when does teamwork training work?

Key Points

  • training team members to work together improves their teamwork behaviors and the team’s performance
  • interactive training methods are better than passive lectures, because they stimulate critical thinking regarding teamwork
  • the training should target at least two elements of teamwork to be effective

Take a moment to think of your work, study, hobbies, and any other activity you frequently engage in: how many of these involve a team? How many teams are you part of right now? Teams are everywhere in our society. Helping people in teams work better together means we will achieve more, from winning the soccer match tonight to sending people to Mars. One way of boosting teams is to train people regarding teamwork: how they work with each other while they try to solve their common task.



What’s the evidence for teamwork training?

A team of Canadian researchers examined teamwork training and whether it has any effect on two aspects: how well the team performs its task, and how many teamwork behaviors people actually show. To answer this question, they started by reviewing 16,849 previous studies on this topic, and then selected 51 for a detailed analysis. All these studies compared teams receiving teamwork training to teams with no intervention, called a control group. Having a control group in parallel with the trained teams allowed them to reach more trustworthy conclusions than if they had looked only at teams receiving the training. The control group offers a view on what naturally happens with the participants if no intervention is received, thus it acts as a baseline. From these 51 studies, the authors pooled together the data and conducted a meta-analysis in order to find out how effective teamwork training is and under which conditions it works best.


Teams can learn how to work together

The main conclusion is that training aimed at improving teamwork… works!

People who went through teamwork training engaged in more teamwork behaviors, such as defining the team’s mission or coordinating with each other while working. This effect of teamwork training was medium-to-large, which means that from all the people receiving the training, 66% show more teamwork behaviors than those who were not trained. Teamwork training benefited equally all components of teamwork: people equally engaged in making action plans and in resolving conflicts, for example. So, it doesn’t matter which precise behavior you are aiming for in your team, a teamwork training is likely to improve them all.

Furthermore, teams also performed better on their tasks after going through teamwork training. This effect was also medium-to-large, and was present both on performance measured objectively (e.g. number of items produced) and subjectively (e.g. by external raters).

So, overall teamwork training has positive effects on behaviors and performance. However, different teams might benefit in different ways from teamwork training. Teams who have been together for a long time might improve more their performance, while new teams will advance more in the behaviors they enact to work together.


How to recognize an effective teamwork training

However, not all that glitters is gold: it’s important to choose the right method for a teamwork training. Interactive methods are the best: giving people the chance to actively learn and practice teamwork has the largest effect on their behaviors and performance. You can propose workshop-style exercises involving all team members, simulations of tasks that the team has to do, or even team reviews or debriefs on their real work together. The aim is to stimulate peoples’ critical thinking regarding teamwork, and simply lecturing them might not do it.

When planning the training, aim it at several components of teamwork instead of focusing on just one. Having a very focused training which addresses only one behavior might not result in the improvements in teamwork and performance that you were hoping for.



Takeaways for your practice

Train teams in your organization on how to work together. It helps their behaviors and their performance, whether they’re new or they’ve been working as a team for a long time. Follow these tips when preparing or choosing the training:

  • Choose interactive methods, such as reading case studies about teams with teamwork problems and then build strategies to improve it. Other ideas are: watch and discuss videos of teams with efficient vs. non-efficient teamwork, conduct simulations of the team’s task and then debrief how they worked together, or hold team reviews of how they behaved while working on their real task.
  • During the training, focus on several elements of teamwork. Choose them based in the stage of the team: for a freshly-created team, defining the mission and action plans might be appropriate. However, a team already working on the task might find it more useful to work on their collaboration, coordination, or communication.
  • To make the training more effective, work on increasing participants’ motivation. Highlight why the training is useful for them and which benefits it might bring. Encourage them, saying that they have what it takes to complete the training.


Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this summary. We found that it has a very high (90%) trustworthiness level. This means that there is only a 10% chance that alternative explanations for these results are possible, including random effects.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

We aim to provide you only the best available scientific evidence to inform your decisions.

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References

McEwan D, Ruissen GR, Eys MA, Zumbo BD, Beauchamp MR (2017) The Effectiveness of Teamwork Training on Teamwork Behaviors and Team Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Interventions. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0169604. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0169604

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