Team Building Asia’s Stuart Harris on Creating an Org’s A-Squad
May 22, 2023
About 11 years ago, Google ventured on a quest to find an answer to an age-old riddle in the workplace: What does it take to build the perfect team? Employing a team of statisticians, psychologists, and engineers, the initiative—dubbed “Project Aristotle”— took off, putting more than 180 teams under the microscope to study each member’s behaviours, interests, background, and skills and how they play against the larger team’s performance. After two years of finding patterns and crunching numbers, researchers came to a shocking conclusion that would later recalibrate their understanding of cross-functional organisations: who was on the team didn’t matter as much as how the team was working together.
In modern work, collaboration is the currency. As companies jockey for innovative ideas and make cross-functional teams work, the ability to collaborate and work within a team has become a competitive advantage. One company on a mission to help teams across Asia achieve optimal performance through strong dynamics and collaborative work is Team Building Asia (TBA). Stuart Harris co-founded the company about two decades ago with partner David Simpson, merging their background in hospitality and psychology to build a company that helps organisations develop talents and motivate teams through programmes custom-made for their needs.
“We create engaging team experiences with effective learning. We do that in-person, virtually, or hybrid. The goal is to bring them (team members) together in a team environment through an experiential programme,” Stuart told The Beat Asia in an interview.
TBA’s programmes are wide-ranging, starting from onboarding and integrating new staff into an organisation all the way to developing an entire team for increased job satisfaction and improved workplace collaboration. In between, they also help companies find the right keynote speakers, and activate team-building initiatives for townhalls and conferences.
Creativity and imagination give TBA’s programmes a soul and differentiate them from other templated team-building schemes. One of their in-demand programmes is called “Orchestrate!,” a three-hour activity that requires participants with zero musical skills to learn to play like a symphony orchestra. Guided by professional musicians, each team member is given an actual instrument, such as strings and percussion, and assigned to a section where they will learn how to play together under time pressure. By the end of the programme, the whole team is expected to band together to play a five-minute musical piece under the baton of a conductor.
“That's one of our larger programmes and it [focuses] on teamwork, working together, and [having the] mindset [that] they can achieve anything. We always start the delivery of our programmes with ‘what’s the challenge? And then we look at the ‘why’ – why will the team be doing this challenge? What are the problems the company is looking to solve with this? What are the objectives that we are trying to achieve here?,’” Stuart said. “Something like the Orchestrate! is about wanting the team to come together to prove the importance of teamwork.”
Another programme called “Flat Out Formula One” is aimed at testing the participants’ innovation, agile thinking, and project management skills. Here, team members are asked to construct their own racing car using a flat pack kit. To win the game, the cardboard-made car needs to be creative and sturdy enough to get the team representative to the finish line.
“They need to work out their strategy: who’s going to be driving the car, who’s going to push it, and how are they going to manage the pitstop.”
Key to making Team Building Asia’s engagement activities effective is knowing the client’s purpose. With dozens of programmes on offer, and more in the pipeline, TBA can fashion their programme in accordance with an organisation’s challenges and needs and deliver it anywhere in the region.
With sustainability among the biggest talking points in boardrooms today, Team Building Asia developed an app-based activity centred around the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that need to be completed by 2030. Launched during the pandemic, IMPACT lets team members complete different challenges related to SDGs such as zero hunger, climate action, and quality education, among others. The difficulty level increases as members climb up the leaderboard, with tasks categorised under mental, creative, or physical.
The best part is that TBA has partnered with social enterprise B1G1 (Buy One, Give One) to make a tangible impact on behalf of all teams. This can include giving access to education in India for three days, planting a tree in Indonesia, or providing clean water access in Ethiopia, according to Stuart.
“The next part is where the teams make a commitment. So, they looked at the sustainable development goals, and they see which ones they feel passionate about. And then they pick three that they can actually commit to. That's certainly been well received by a lot of our partners around the world.” By the end of the challenge, all teams make 257 impacts in total.
As organisations embrace the new normal in the workplace, whether it’s a hybrid set-up or full in-person, Stuart believes there is greater need for team building initiatives.
“[Over] the last 12 months, there have been a lot of new teams being formed, a lot of teams coming together.” Later this year, Team Building Asia will participate in a conference in Dublin to discuss key trends in building an engaged team and what’s next for the industry.
As of writing, Team Building Asia has created 130 unique programs for various organisations and made nearly 32,000 B1G1 impacts.
Team Building Asia is the exclusive licensed partner of Catalyst Team Building products in Hong Kong, China, and Macau. To know more about their team engagements and other programmes, visit their website or follow their Facebook and Instagram.
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