If you workout in a group fitness class or a small group, you’ve probably noticed how effective it can be…as well as enjoyable. I’ve been coaching groups (and joining them myself) for a number of years now and I can honestly say, working out in a group will boost physical performance, enhance pain tolerance, reduce those feelings of discomfort and fatigue, and promote social bonding.
Outside the physical act of exercise, I can also say that being part of a group (team) delivers loads of other benefits. Teams can help us:
Create new things
Feel more engaged, connected and inspired
Define our identity and sense of self
Satisfy our innate need to belong
Increase resilience and provide support
Develop empathy and generosity
Improve social cohesion and cooperation
Share meaning and purpose
Better navigate life’s physical and mental stressors
Improve health and well-being
Reduce feelings of depression and anxiety
That’s a pretty good list…But, why does being part of a team makes us more successful?
Behavioural scientists have worked out and pinpointed the characteristics of successful groups and they can now tell us why the good groups work. So now we can use these findings to build teams, groups and support networks to improve our chances of success in all areas of life. Ie., our health/fitness, careers, relationships and personal development.
From an evolutionary perspective, out of a desire to survive, humans instinctively sought out other people and formed tribes. Forming tribes meant we could share food, warmth, and shelter, and better manage the danger of attacks from animals or other tribes.
Now, once these initial survival components were satisfied, humans developed a psychological need to belong. The tribe made us feel included, accepted, and gave us an identity. We could see ourselves as part of something bigger. We shared a sense of purpose. We began to crave the social contact and bonding that group environments provided.
Fast forward to today, and we now spend a lot of our time in groups. In fact, plenty of our everyday activities occur in groups. Working, relaxing, exercising, learning, socialising, or just having fun. From our immediate families, roommates, social circles, gym buddies and work teams to organisations, communities, societies, and cultures…we’re heavily influenced by group dynamics, whether we realise it or not.
However, just because we gather in groups doesn’t automatically make them effective teams. Most of us, at some stage, would have been in a group that damaged, rather than improved, our lives. So, what makes a great team?
First, to better understand team dynamics, let’s take a quick primer on group psychology and the key elements that create effective teams.
1. Behavioural Synchrony
Behavioural synchrony is that feeling of being completely connected to another person. Where you felt on the same wavelength, totally understood, and just clicked.
You’ll come across it when you’re in that flow state with others. You’re in-sync, you’re coordinating each others minds, moving in the same direction.
Even though you can force this synchrony, it can be developed by physically moving together. Exercising, dancing, singing, clapping in time with music, walking in step, or mirroring each other’s posture. These things help arrange group behaviour, enhance cooperation, and strengthen bonds between group members. Building trust.
2. Hive Psychology
Clearly humans can be self-absorbed. We evolved to find solutions that benefit ourselves, usually making us competitive. These traits aren’t naturally good or bad…they’re just part of our psychology that’s helped us survive and thrive.
But, then there’s hive psychology, where we switch our minds from chasing individual needs to looking after group needs. In this state, we think less about “me” and more about “us.”
Obviously, hive psychology draws its name from the behaviour of bees in hives, where groups of bees act cooperatively, cohesively, and selflessly as a single unit to achieve the best result for the hive as a whole. In humans, groups that utilise hive psychology show greater connection, understanding, and relatedness. They also have higher levels of well-being, happiness, and hope. By temporarily thinking less about ourselves directly, we find ourselves ourselves in the group’s shared purpose and thrive in ways not possible on our own.
3. Social Facilitation and Cognition
Have you noticed you tend to behave or perform better when other people are around (or, when you know someone is watching)? This is known as social facilitation. It describes the extent to which our behaviour is enhanced by the mere presence of other people.
That’s why we tend to perform better when exercising with other people, why we tend to eat better when we’re held accountable by others, and why solo entrepreneurs look for co-working spaces to enhance their productivity and creativity.
The Key Elements of a Productive Team
Now that we understand the psychology behind why teams make us more successful, we should think about how. Here some key factors that make up a highly-functioning and well-developed group:
Participating in common activities
Having shared goals
Encouraging collective discussions and conversations
A strong sense of social support
Having mutual empathy and trust
Sharing knowledge with others
Using accountability and responsibility
Having a unified purpose
Promoting cohesive bonds
From this list, think about your team on the challenge, or your teams at work, or your sporting groups. Which of these elements exist in your groups and teams? Are there areas that are missing or that could be improved? How could those areas be improved?
(Tip: these questions are great topics to discuss within your group.)