The nature of work has changed. Organizations face increased competition and pressure for speed. As such, collaboration across organizational, geographic and temporal boundaries is a must. Add to this dynamic is a changing workforce, millennials have officially arrived. The common answer to these changes is the use of teams.

“Teams are ubiquitous,” according to Michelle Marks, author of “The Science of Team Effectiveness.” “Whether we are talking about software development, Olympic hockey, disease outbreak response, or urban warfare, teams represent the critical unit that ‘gets it done’ in today’s world.”

In most organizations, teams are formed based upon company needs at that moment. Perhaps it’s grouping sales members by territory, or forming a development team to build a product. Cross-functional teams, on the other hand, may be formed by grouping people from different functional areas within a company. Whatever the structure may be, the underlying purpose is nearly always the same: Teams are formed in order to accomplish a goal together.

However, organizations often overlook the training of the team itself. There is a misguided assumption that teamwork comes naturally. You don’t just expect someone to be a great public speaker without practice, or a whiz at computers without training, so why would you assume that a team would just instantly work well together? This begs the question, “How does one train to be on a team?”

Frequently, organizations spend valuable time and resources on team building, but all too often, this misses the mark. One thing they fail to consider is that team building is vastly different from team training. Team building is usually about role clarification, goal setting, or building interpersonal relationships. This usually occurs out of context, such as at a retreat or challenge. We probably all have experienced one of these at some point in our careers. While certainly fun, these outings do not come close to actual teamwork training.

Team training, on the other hand, is about honing in on specific teamwork competencies: the knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSAs) needed to become a good team player and work well with others. Essentially, team training is focused on providing expert teams with the skills to engage in effective teamwork processes. It is a skills-based, behavioral strategy, and is usually context specific. Meaning, the training occurs in context or simulations that mimic the work environment as closely as possible.

The KSAs most typically associated with teamwork training include: team orientation, team leadership, monitoring, feedback, back-up behavior, coordination and communication. The skills necessary for promoting teamwork include:

  • Role clarification
  • Goal setting
  • Identifying work priorities
  • Group problem solving
  • Team coordination
  • Interpersonal relations and understanding
  • Consensus building
  • Conflict management

These interpersonal skills, or soft skills, improve team member interactions and teamwork skills, which in turn, encourage better team performance.

While these skills may seem fairly intuitive, how to actually train for these skills is not. Interpersonal, or soft skill, training, has always been a bit of a mystery in organizations. After all, how does one truly train for something as seemingly nebulous as group problem solving, or consensus building?

Fortunately, there are some models that can be applied in order to teach teamwork skills. The most effective method is often referred to as Behavior Modeling Training (BMT), and emphasizes the following instructional steps: (1) describe a set of well-defined behaviors or skills to be learned (2) provide a model or models displaying the effective use of those behaviors (3) provide opportunities for trainees to practice using these behaviors (4) provide feedback to trainees following practice (5) take steps to maximize the transfer of those behaviors to the job.

The first step, which involves describing the set of behaviors or skills to be learned, should be presented as a rule code. For example, “Listen and respond with empathy to reduce defensiveness,” versus a description or summary of the behavior, such as, “Listen empathetically.” In regard to the second step- providing a model or models displaying the effective use of the behaviors- both negative and positive models should be presented.

The BMT strategy is viewed in both academic and organizational circles as an effective and robust training model. However, it’s also fairly straightforward and concise, making it appealing to industries looking for a high impact training program. If you’re looking to maximize the effectiveness of the teams in your organization, consider BMT as your training model.