Team building

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

Team building is the collective term for various types of activities used to enhance social relations and define roles within teams, often involving collaborative tasks. It is distinct from team training, which is designed to improve the efficiency of the process, rather than the interpersonal aspect of it.

Many team building exercises are intended to find and address interpersonal problems within the group.[1]

Over time, this activity is intended to inculcate best practices for accomplishing tasks in a team-based environment.[2] Team building is categorised as one of the foundations of organizational development but can be applied to a multitude of cooperative groups, such as sports teams, school classes, divisions of armies, or flight crews. The formal definition of team-building includes the following:

  • Goal setting: Aligning around goals
  • Interpersonal-relationship management: Building effective working relationships
  • Role clarification: Reducing team members’ role ambiguity
  • Problem solving: Finding solutions to team problems

According to Klein et al. (2009), team building is one of the most widely used group development activities in organizations.

Of all organizational activities, team-development was found to have the strongest effect out of various financial measures for improving organizational performance.[3] Recent meta-analyses show that team development activities, including team building and team training, improve both a team’s objective performance and that team's subjective supervisory ratings.[4]

The four approaches[edit]

Salas and his team describes four approaches to team building:[5]

  1. Goal setting emphasizes the importance of setting clear objectives and developing individual and team goals. Team members become involved in action planning to identify ways to achieve goals and define success and failure. This is intended to strengthen team-member motivation, foster a sense of ownership, and to help achieve clear, specific and unambiguous goals and objectives. (By identifying specific outcomes, with tests of incremental success that teams can determine what future actions can address these areas for improved outcomes. Individual team-member's personal motivation can also be altered by use of this intervention.) Many organizations insist on a team charter negotiated between the team and responsible managers (and union leaders) to empower the team to ensure the activity leads to goals accomplished on behalf of the organization. in the belief goal-settings help teams to work towards the same outcomes, makes them more task- and action-oriented and focus such tasks and actions on clearly identified organisational priorities.
  2. Clarification of roles emphasizes the importance of communication between team members regarding their respective roles, in the process improving their understanding of their own and others' respective roles and duties within the team, defined as a set of overlapping roles are characterized by behaviors of each individual team member. (This is intended to improve team effectiveness by reducing ambiguity regarding roles, and foster understanding of the importance of structure by activities aimed at negotiating, defining, and adjusting team-member roles and embed understanding that talent exists in the team while educating team members how best to employ it, allows members to understand the importance of clarity of purpose and the roal of individuals in achieving set goals and embed realization the team consists of interdependent individuals and that the failure of one team member may lead to the failure of the entire team.)
  3. Problem solving emphasizes identifying major task-related problems within the team. Involving team members in action planning, implementing solutions to problems identified, and evaluating those solutions involves setting goals, developing interpersonal relations, clarifying team roles and working to improve organizational characteristics. This can have the added benefit of enhancing critical-thinking. (The reasoning being that if teams are good in problem-solving skills, they are less likely to need external interventions to solve their problems.[15])
  4. Interpersonal-relations management emphasizes increasing teamwork skills such as giving and receiving mutual support, communication and sharing, which develops trust between team members and confidence in the team. (This is based on the assumption that teams with fewer interpersonal conflicts function more effectively than teams with greater numbers of interpersonal conflicts.) It requires the use of a facilitator to develop mutual trust and open communication between team members. As team members achieve higher levels of trust, cooperation if enhanced and individual team members can be encouraged to perform tasks outside their accustomed roles, in turn altering the characteristics of the team as a whole.


According to Sanborn and Haszczo (2007), the effectiveness of team building differs substantially from one organization to another.[6] The most effective team building efforts occur when members of the team are highly interdependent in performing a task, highly knowledgeable and experienced in the task to be accomplished and when organizational leadership actively establishes and supports the team.

Effective team building must also incorporate an awareness of the ultimate objective of the task. Teams must work to develop goals, roles and the procedures needed to achieve them successfully. In addition to task-oriented team building efforts, team-building efforts must also be relationship oriented. To ensure effectiveness, team building should work towards the establishment of policies and procedures and working with the environment, including support systems.


Team building is an intervention designed to work when the members of the team are actually involved in solving the problem, and when they are already intact as a team (i.e. they have worked with each other before); the members of the team must have the willingness and ability to speak up about their needs; and be able to solve problems.

Effects of team building strategies on all four outcomes, with 10% and 90% credibility intervals

Effect on performance[edit]

Team building is a specific team development intervention that has been scientifically proven to positively affect team effectiveness, when exerted with its intended purpose.[7] Team building is aimed at specific needs, and thus has been proven to have specific outcomes on teams. Based on the research conducted by Klein et al. (2009), goal setting and role clarification were shown to have impact on cognitive, affective, process and performance outcomes however, they had the most powerful impact on affective and process outcomes, which implies that team building can help benefit teams experiencing issues with negative affect, such as lack of cohesion or trust. It could also improve teams suffering from process issues, such as lack of clarification in roles.

Although the four approaches were useful in enhancing team functioning, goal setting and role clarification has proven to have the greatest impact because (drawing upon theory) providing teams with clearly set and challenging goals enhances motivation to work harder to be more effective and reduces conflict[8], helps to set individual purposes, goals and motivation.

Finally, teams with 10 or more members appear to benefit the most from team building interventions. That is attributed to larger teams having - generally speaking - a greater reservoir of cognitive resources and capabilities than smaller teams.[9]

(See table, drawn from the article Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis (Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society) showing effect of team building strategies on cognitive, affective, process, and performance team outcomes[10])

Challenges to Team Building[edit]

The term 'team building' is often used as an umbrella statement when organizations are looking for a 'quick fix' to address certain issues the root of which are likely to stem from poor communication systems throughout the organization or unclear leadership directives which flow downward in an ambiguous and confusing manner, leading to unproductive teams with no clear vision of how to be successful.

Teams are then put together to create solutions to specific problems while the underlying causes of why teams are not performing to expectations go unadressed. .

Dyer recognized three challenges that team builders will face in the future, with regard to effective team building[11]

  • Lack of teamwork skills in the workforce: one of the challenges facing leaders of organizations will be to find employees who have the ability to work effectively in a team environment. Most organizations rely on educational institutions to have trained graduate students with these skills. Dyer believed however, that students are encouraged to work individually for a higher grade and succeed without having to collaborate with one another. This creates an emphasis in self-interest- rather than an orientation to collaborate with others - than can work against the kinds of behavior needed for successful teamwork. According to a research study conducted by Salas, team training proved to have a positive effect on cognitive, affective, process and performance outcomes.[12] That is, across a wide variety of settings, tasks, and team types, team training efforts were successful.
  • The need for teams to work together in virtual workplaces and across organizational boundaries: according to Dyer, organizations will find it increasingly important for individuals who are not in the same physical space to work together . Such teams will prove to be a challenge as they are unable to build concrete relationships with other team members. A study conducted by Oertig and Buergi to compare face-to-face communication and virtual project teams indicated that face-to-face communication is very important in building an effective working environment for the team.[13] Face-to-face contact was a key to developing trust and this was initiated by a formal team building sessions with a facilitator to “agree to the relationship” and define the rules as to how the teams are going to work. Informal contact was also mentioned, e.g. sitting down over lunch to break barriers. Team building training will need to be adapted to the needs of virtual teams who are working in geographically distant places.
  • Globalization and Virtualisation: Teams will increasingly be composed of team members who have dissimilar languages, cultures, values and approaches to solving the problems. This challenge has been addressed by increasing the level of one to one meetings, an approach that has met with some successful in some organizations.[14] This challenge is similar to the that experienced by teams working in virtual spaces when teams do not have the opportunity to have face to face communications. In this case training to facilitate understanding of, and communication across, team members can address this issue.

Application of Team Building[edit]

Interventions in schools[edit]

Diana and Joseph, in their paper on team building tools for students, describe how professors typically assign a team to work on a project and leave the team to their own devices. Arguing that this is not enough the authors maintain instructors can motivate students to develop teamwork skills and provide a guideline on how professors could intervene more and in the process help the students build a team that educators can work with effectively[15] . This approach emphasizes the establishment of teamwork by providing specific examples of job situations that would require teamwork skills and how helpful this skill will be in their professional career on the basis if students are able to understand the importance of teamwork skills and how they would benefit from it, they will be willing to contribute more to learn these skills.

The following are guidelines provided to instructors for successful team building interventions:

  • Defining the task: the first approach to an effective team building is that the instructor defines the goals and tasks required to be completed by the end of the project and a clear set of objectives to achieve. The most important instruction given at this step is clear timelines and deadlines for progress reports. This will ensure that the students are on track with their project and what is expected from them is clearly communicated in the beginning.
  • Create a psychological contract: at this step, the instructor provides the team with a set of rules to specify their role in the team and the consequences of not following the teamwork norms. For example, what would happen if the team does not submit their work or if one team member does not contribute to the team effectively? The important goals achieved in this step are assignment of responsibilities, establishment of deadlines, ensuring contribution by all group members and documentation of group norms and conduct. This will help the team in conflict management as they will know what will be the consequences of lagging behind at a given point and help in management of interpersonal relationships.
  • Establishing team member roles: the instructor should stress the importance of a balance between task and relationship roles by clarifying different roles. Task roles are essentially information that will help the team to perform the task at hand and relationship roles are social interaction between each team member. Establishment of roles will help the students in distribution of labor and to focus on work that they are good at. They will also know who is to be held accountable for different tasks and who can fix them as they arise.
  • Meeting with team members: the instructor should attend some of the team meetings and observe the discussion taking place. They should not necessary lead the discussions but surprise the students by attending the meetings without prior notice. Instructor can get a first-hand experience on what is actually happening in the team and give constructive feedback on how to improve certain aspects of the situation and move on. While the instructor is attending the meetings, he should reinforce the rules of teamwork skills as the students will be more familiar with these. Diana and Joseph recognize a list of seven basic rules that must be communicated to the teams:
    • Know your team members
    • Communicate accurately and unambiguously
    • Accept and support one another
    • Check for understanding
    • Share ideas and understanding
    • Check for agreement
    • Resolve conflicts quickly and constructively
  • Conflict management: the next steps are to create a problem solving mechanism in the groups so they can manage any problem that arises within. The instructor should emphasize on the importance of conflict management as and when they arise so it does not harm the overall dynamics of the team. Diana and Joseph provide a decision making score wherein students can see at what stage they are and resolve the issue. For example, students may be at a 0-1 score of “no decision” where none of the members are able to reach to a common consensus to a score of 10 where needs of all members are explored and all are satisfied with the material presented. The middle stages are situations when some dominant team-members are happy while others are not.
  • Individual accountability: finally, groups are encouraged to keep a track of their team meetings and activities in a log so they can celebrate progress and understand where gaps exist in order to support them moving forward. It is not about determining who is the weakest link, it is about determining how the team functions as a whole unit and how every action has an impact, direct or indirect, to each team member. It will also provide insight into workload based on the role and responsibilities and individual fit for the role.

Team Building in Organizations[edit]

Team building in organizations is a common approach to achieving organizational or departmental results, in fun and non-threatening environments.

While fun is an important component to team building, it is not the driving force behind effective team building; teams want to achieve results in order to feel productive, focused, and aligned as a valued member of the organization or department. (If a team takes a day away from the office to play volleyball they are not doing anything to effectively align the team and may cause resentment for having to catch up on a day's worth of work missed, but if teams gather socially after working hours or at lunch time, where they can have fun and not have to worry about playing catch-up from missing work similar benefits accrue without incurring the penalties.) By contrast team building activities that are geared toward creating a learning environment, exceeding results, and engaging employees both during the activities and afterwards when they return to their place of work.

Employee engagement exercises allow teams to create solutions that are meaningful to them, with direct impact on the individuals, the team, and the organizational objectives. Experiential learning and gamification methods are effective ways to engage millennials in the workplace.[16] Employee engagement is effective because:

  • Employees enjoy problem-solving activities
  • Such activities create ownership
  • increase capacity
  • competitive activities encourage a results-based outlook

Outdoor team building activities designed with business outcomes in mind are an effective way to engage the team. (If the activity fails to produce organizational results, it is simply a social gathering.)

Team building activities that are competitive in nature allow teams to own their actions by producing meaningful results. The alternative approach is collaborative team building activities where teams must come together and act as one unit to produce results. The ideal is to designing team building activities that encompass both competitive and collaborative themes.

At the organizational level, team building is a philosophy of job design in which employees are viewed as members of interdependent teams instead of as individual workers.[17] According to the authors of the encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology, “team building [in organizational level] will be ongoing rather than a one-shot session and will be composed of training and discussion specific to that team.” [18]

Interventions in sports[edit]

The concept of team building was introduced in sports in the 1990s[when?]. A study was conducted in 2010 by Rovio and other researchers to analyze the effects of team building on sports teams.[19]

The results indicated that team building has a positive impact on the functioning of teams as it contributes towards group cohesion. The key concepts of team building identified in organizations were applied to sports teams as well. Sport researchers lay a significant amount of emphasis on group cohesion, which was used to define team building in the late 1980s.

According to Yukelson, “In sports, teams are made up of a collection of interdependent individuals, coordinated and orchestrated into various task efficient roles for the purpose of achieving goals and objectives that are deemed important for that particular team”.[20]

The purpose of team building in sports is to develop those behavior and skills that will lead to effective team functioning. One of the fundamental strategies for building a team is to develop a sense of team identity among the team members. This can be done by instilling a sense of “we” in the team. Team members cannot work in isolation and are independent of each other.

An experiment was carried out by Senécal, Loughead and Bloom to determine whether the team building intervention program stressing on the importance of goal setting increased cohesion in a sports team:[21] a total of 86 high school basketball players were studied as participants under either of the two conditions - season long goal setting intervention program and a control program. In the intervention program, participants were asked to individually assign targets for the team and negotiate with other team members to finalize a goal score for the team.

The coach reminded them throughout the season about this goal by different approaches such as pasting a copy of it in their locker rooms. Under control conditions, their study concluded that the coach would occasionally encourage them to cheer for other team members and support each other. The research concluded that at the beginning of the study, all the participants had the same level of cohesion for the team but the team with the season long goal setting intervention program performed better in their games.

It was found that the level of team cohesion did not increase in the team as a result of ceiling effect with the intervention program but the level decreased significantly for the control group. This was attributed to the lack of emphasis on their goals as the team, since the occasional social events such as outings and dinners did not help in increasing the cohesion level, therefore team building intervention programs in teams was deemed a successful approach that shows significant improvement in the level of cohesion which improves performance.

Following are the core components to consider in building a successful sports team:

  • Shared vision and unity of purpose: the beginning of any team building should start with the coach communicating the goals and objectives to the team. By doing so, roles are defined and group norms for productivity get outlines. The coach should motivate them to work effectively together to reach the goals.
  • Collaborative and synergistic teamwork: the team members should know what is expected from them by providing them with a clear understanding of their role in the team. Mission statements have proved to be successful in encouraging everyone in the team to support each in achieving the goals together.
  • Individual and mutual accountability: the team members should be trained that the team comes first. Everyone should be accountable for any individual action or the actions of the team as a whole.
  • A positive team culture and cohesive group atmosphere: according to Martens, “team culture refers to the psychosocial leadership within the team, team motives, team identity, team sport and collective efficacy”.[22] The coach should build a positive team culture that allows for the smooth functioning of the team. This can be done by selecting team players after careful judgment of how much they value dedication, commitment and the willingness to work hard to achieve the team’s goal to win, not to achieve any personal goal.
  • Team identity: a successful team building endeavor is to instill a sense of pride in group membership such that team members are proud to be a part of the team. Team identity can be created by motivating team members to be committed to team goals and have pride in the performance by working together as one single unit.
  • Open and honest communication processes: an open and honest communication process should be encouraged within a team so that the lack of unity does not affect them during a game. The main components of communication such as trust, honesty, mutual sharing and understanding should be emphasized. The team members should be encouraged and given the chance to speak during debriefing sessions can help build these components of communication.
  • Peer helping and social support: finally, teammates should be encouraged to help each other during games and before and after a game too. They should support each other if they lose a game or motivate each other if they win the game. Sport teams should function as a family in which players are not focused exclusively on their own individual goals but are primarily concerned about the well being of the entire family.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Salas, E., Diazgranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Goodwin, G. F., & Halpin, S. M. (2009, 12). Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(6), 903-933. doi: 10.1518/001872008X375009
  2. ^ "Creative Team Building Activities and Exercises". Managerial Skills. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  3. ^ Macy, B. A., & Izumi, H. (1993). Organizational change, design and work innovation: A meta-analysis of 131 North American field experiments, 1961-1991. In W. Pasmore & R. Woodman (Eds.), Research in organizational change and development (pp. 235-313). Greenwich, CT: JAI.
  4. ^ Salas, E., Diazgranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Goodwin, G. F., & Halpin, S. M. (2009, 12). Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(6), 903-933. doi: 10.1518/001872008X375009
  5. ^ Salas, E., Priest, H. A., & DeRouin, R. E. (2005). Team building. In N. Stanton, H. Hendrick, S. Konz, K. Parsons, & E. Salas (Eds.), Handbook of human factors and ergonomics methods (pp. 48-1, 48-5). London: Taylor & Francis. Compare: Salas, Eduardo; Priest, Heather A.; DeRouin, Renee E. (2004). "Team Building". In Stanton, Neville Anthony; Hedge, Alan; Brookhuis, Karel; Salas, Eduardo; Hendrick, Hal W. Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods. CRC Press. pp. 465–470. ISBN 9780203489925. Retrieved 2015-09-22. 
  6. ^ Sanborn, Lee O., and Gregory E. Huszczo. "Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology." Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2007. 788-90. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <>.
  7. ^ Shuffler, M. L., DiazGranados, D., & Salas, E. (2011). There’s a Science for That: Team Development Interventions in Organizations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(6), 365-372.
  8. ^ Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: a 35 year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.
  9. ^ Halebian, J., & Finkelstein, S. (1993). Top management team size, CEO dominance, and firm performance: The moderating roles of environmental turbulence and discretion. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 844-863.
  10. ^ Salas, E., Diazgranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Goodwin, G. F., & Halpin, S. M. (2009, 12). Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(6), 903-933. doi: 10.1518/001872008X375009
  11. ^ Dyer, W. G., Dyer, W. G., & Dyer, J. H. (2007). Team building: Proven strategies for improving team performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bas
  12. ^ Salas, E., Diazgranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Goodwin, G. F., & Halpin, S. M. (2008, 12). Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(6), 903–933. doi: 10.1518/001872008X375009
  13. ^ Oertig, M., & Buergi, T. (2006, 12). The challenges of managing cross-cultural virtual project teams. Team Performance Management, 12(1/2), 23–30. doi: 10.1108/13527590610652774
  14. ^ Oertig, M., & Buergi, T. (2006, 12). The challenges of managing cross-cultural virtual project teams. Team Performance Management, 12(1/2), 23–30. doi: 10.1108/13527590610652774
  15. ^ Page, D., & Donelan, J. G. (2003). Team-building tools for students. Journal of Education for Business, 78(3), 125-128.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Sanborn, L., & Huszczo, G. (2007). Team building. In S. Rogelberg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology. (pp. 788–790). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:
  19. ^ Ravio, E., Monna, A.B., Weigand, A.D., Eskolar, J., & Lintunen,T.(2010). Team building in sport: a narrative review of the program effectiveness, current methods, and theoretical underpinnings, Athletic Insight Journal, 2(2), pg. 1–19. Retrieved on 11/10/2014 from:
  20. ^ Yukelson, D. (1997). Principles of effective team building interventions in sport: A direct services approach at Penn State University. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Special issue: Team building, 9, 73- 96.Retrieved on 11/10/2014 from:
  21. ^ Senécal, J., Loughead, T. M., & Bloom, G. A. (2008). A season-long team-building intervention: Examining the effect of team goal setting on cohesion. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 30(2), 186.
  22. ^ Martens, R. (1987). Coaches guide to sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics