Team building

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Lifting a log used as a team building exercise in US military.

Team building is a philosophy of job design in which employees are viewed as members of interdependent teams instead of as individual workers.[1] Team building (which is correctly spelled with two words)[citation needed] refers to a wide range of activities, presented to businesses, schools, sports teams, religious or nonprofit organizations designed for improving team performance. According to Dyer in 2007, team building was originally a group process intervention aimed at improving interpersonal relations and social interactions and has developed to include achieving results, meeting goals, and accomplishing tasks.[2] Team building is pursued via a variety of practices, and can range from simple bonding exercises to complex simulations and multi-day team building retreats designed to develop a team (including group assessment and group-dynamic games), usually falling somewhere in between. It generally sits within the theory and practice of organizational development, but can also be applied to sports teams, school groups, and other contexts. Team building is not to be confused with "team recreation" that consists of activities for teams that are strictly recreational. Team building can also be seen in day-to-day operations of an organization and team dynamic can be improved through successful leadership. Team building is said to have benefits of self-development, positive communication, leadership skills and the ability to work closely together as a team to solve problems.[3] Team building focuses on four methods that effect the unit : role clarification, interpersonal relationship management, goal setting, and problem solving. [4]

Work environments tend to focus on individuals and personal goals, with reward & recognition singling out the achievements of individual employees.[5] Team building can also refer to the process of selecting or creating a new team.

Team dynamic[edit]

When assembling a team it is very important to consider the overall dynamic of the team. According to Frank LaFasto, when building a team, five dynamics are fundamental to team success:[6]

  1. The team member: Successful teams are made up of a collection of effective individuals. These are people who are experienced, have problem solving ability, are open to addressing the problem, and are action oriented.
  2. Team relationships: For a team to be successful the members of the team must be able to give and receive feedback.
  3. Team problem solving: An effective team depends on how focused and clear the goal of the team is. A relaxed, comfortable and accepting environment and finally, open and honest communication are required.
  4. Team leadership: Effective team leadership depends on leadership competencies. A competent leader is: focused on the goal, ensures a collaborative climate, builds confidence of team members, sets priorities, demonstrates sufficient “know-how” and manages performance through feedback.
  5. Organizational environment: The climate and culture of the organization must be conductive to team behavior. Competitiveness should be discouraged and collaboration should be encouraged - this will minimize conflict and discord among team members.


The overall goals of team building are to increase the teams understanding of team dynamics and improve how the team works together. Unlike working as a group, working as a team incorporates group accountability rather than individual accountability and results in a collective work product.[7] Team building encourages the team approach to working on a project. Advantages to this approach include:[8]

  • Increased flexibility in skills and abilities
  • More productive than work groups with individual mindset
  • More beneficial in times of organizational change
  • Encourage both individual and team development and improvement
  • Focuses on group goals to accomplish more beneficial tasks
  • Improved range of team building objectives such as collaboration, communication and increased creative or flexible thinking.[9]

Leadership roles[edit]

Successful team leaders frequently contain six of the same leadership abilities:[10]

  1. A team leader is usually goal-oriented to keep the team on track.
  2. They must promote a safe environment where members can openly discuss issues.
  3. A leader must build confidence amongst members by building and maintaining trust and offering the members responsibilities.
  4. A leader should be technically competent in matters relating to team tasks and goals.
  5. It is important for a team leader to set a manageable list of priorities for the team to keep members focused.
  6. Finally, leaders should offer clear performance expectations by recognizing and rewarding excellent performance, and provide feedback to others.

Carl Larson and Frank LaFasto conducted a three year study of over 75 diverse teams. By interviewing key members of each team, Larson & LaFasto identified eight effective strategies a leader should employ to enhance team building:

  1. Establish clear and inspiring team goals
  2. Maintain a results-oriented team structure
  3. Assemble competent team members
  4. Strive for unified commitment
  5. Provide a collaborative climate
  6. Encourage standards of excellence
  7. Furnish external support and recognition
  8. Apply principled leadership

Types of exercises[edit]

Large team works together to build a human pyramid in attempt to scale an obelisk.

Team building exercises consist of a variety of tasks designed to develop group members and their ability to work together effectively. Team building consists of four approaches:[11]

  1. Goal Setting
  2. Interpersonal-relationship Management
  3. Role Clarification
  4. Problem Solving

There are many types of team building activities that range from games for kids to games and challenges that involve novel and complex tasks that are designed for improving group performance by addressing specific needs.

Team building can range from simple social activities - to encourage team members to spend time together- to team development activities -designed to help individuals discover how they approach a problem, how the team works together, and discover better methods of communication.

Team interaction involves "soft" interpersonal skills including communication, negotiation, leadership, and motivation - in contrast to technical skills directly involved with the job at hand. Depending on the type of team building, the novel tasks can encourage or specifically teach interpersonal team skills to increase team performance.

Whether indoor or outdoor, the purpose of team building exercises is to assist teams in becoming cohesive units of individuals that can effectively work together to complete tasks. Some corporate team building companies theme their events around ideas from popular culture such as TV game shows to add a fun element to the event.[12]

Communication exercise: This type of team building exercise is exactly what it sounds like. Communications exercises are problem solving activities that are geared towards improving communication skills. The issues teams encounter in these exercises are solved by communicating effectively with each other.

  • Goal: Create an activity which highlights the importance of good communication in team performance and/or potential problems with communication.
"Peanut Butter Pit" challenge where kids had to get out-of-reach rope without using any tools, and than use the rope to swing across the "pit". Hemlock Overlook rope course.
Game of "Swamp Crossing" where kids have to come up with a strategy that will allow a team to cross a "swamp" using portable islands (boards). Hemlock Overlook rope course.

Problem-solving/decision-making exercise: Problem-solving/decision-making exercises focus specifically on groups working together to solve difficult problems or make complex decisions. These exercises are some of the most common as they appear to have the most direct link to what employers want their teams to be able to do.

  • Goal: Give team a problem in which the solution is not easily apparent or requires the team to come up with a creative solution

Planning/adaptability exercise: These exercises focus on aspects of planning and being adaptable to change. These are important things for teams to be able to do when they are assigned complex tasks or decisions.

  • Goal: Show the importance of planning before implementing a solution

Trust exercise: A trust exercise involves engaging team members in a way that will induce trust between them. They are sometimes difficult exercises to implement as there are varying degrees of trust between individuals and varying degrees of individual comfort trusting others in general.

  • Goal: Create trust between team members

These exercises can be effective for many teams, but none are a one-size-fits-all solution.[13]

Assessment and feedback[edit]

In the organizational development context, a team may embark on a process of self-assessment to gauge its effectiveness and improve its performance. To assess itself, a team seeks feedback from group members to find out both its current strengths and weakness.

To improve its current performance, feedback from the team assessment can be used to identify gaps between the desired state and the current state, and to design a gap-closure strategy. Team development can be the greater term containing this industrial assessment and improvement actions are a component of organizational development.

Another way is to allow for personality assessment amongst the team members, so that they will have a better understanding of their working style, as well as their team mates.

A structured team building plan is a good tool to implement team bonding and thus, team awareness. These may be introduced by companies that specialize in executing team building sessions, or done internally by the human resource department.


The major risk of team building is that a team member may become cynical of the organization. This could happen as a result of the organization holding team building events outside of the normal context under which the organization usually functions. For example, if an organization hosts team building events when individual goals and efforts are the norm with the organizational culture, the team building event will have no lasting impact.

Some[who?] suggest that team building events are followed with meaningful workplace practice. If the team members do not see an improvement within an organization as a result of team building events, members may view such events as a waste of time. This may lead to loss of trust in the organization, harm motivation, as well as decrease employee morale and production.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is team building?". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Schein, William G. Dyer, W. Gibb Dyer, Jeffrey H. Dyer ; foreword by Edgar H. (2007). Team building : proven strategies for improving team performance (4th ed. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0787988937. 
  3. ^ "Creative Team Building Activities and Exercises". Managerial Skills. Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "Effects of Team Building and Goal Setting on Productivity: A Field Experiment". The Academy of Management Journal. 
  5. ^ Heathfield, Susan M. "How to Build Powerfully Successful Work Teams". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  6. ^ LaFasto, Frank M. J.; Larson, Carl (August 2001). When Teams Work Best. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 
  7. ^ Hackman, Michael Z.; Craig E. Johnson (2009). Leadership: A Communication Perspective (Fifth ed.). Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-57766-579-3. 
  8. ^ "What are team building activities?". PowTeach. 28 June 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "Demon Wheelers team building objectives page". Retrieved 2013-03-18. 
  10. ^ Hackman, Michael Z.; Craig E. Johnson (2008). "7". Leadership: A Communication Perspective (Fifth ed.). Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. ISBN 978-1-57766-579-3. 
  11. ^ Buller, P. F.; Bell, C. H. (1 June 1986). "EFFECTS OF TEAM BUILDING AND GOAL SETTING ON PRODUCTIVITY: A FIELD EXPERIMENT.". Academy of Management Journal 29 (2): 305–328. doi:10.2307/256190. 
  12. ^ "Demon Wheelers team building page". Retrieved 2013-03-18. 
  13. ^ Shuffler, Marissa L.; DiazGranados, Deborah; Salas, Eduardo (Dec 5, 2011). "There’s a Science for That: Team Development Interventions in Organizations". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 20(6): 365–372. 
  14. ^ Heathfield, Susan M. "Keys to Team Building Success". Retrieved 26 March 2012.