What is Team Building?

Team building is a vitally important aspect of any good business. In this article, we’ll show you what it is and how it applies in the work context.

So, what is team building? Team building is a method used to build lasting relationships amongst a group. By doing this, you essentially transition them away from merely individuals working in a group setting, to people willingly working together to achieve the team objectives.

The results of good team building can be seen in better relationships, efficient working, better engagement and customer satisfaction.

In context to team building, you need to understand a few more things like, how to implement it effectively and what the elements of a good team building process are.

How Does Team Building Work?

Team building can develop in a number of ways. 

Natural Development

Teams can achieve a natural bond and rapport, built up over time. This can come from the fact that employees share the same work; the same tasks’ and often the same goals. And through regular contact, relationships will naturally develop.

Sometimes this will work successfully. Other times, you may get a few people that develop good relationships, while others are still not that engaged.

If a team is going to gel and become a high performing one, then work needs to go into team building to encourage everyone to develop good rapport. In fact, research supports this.

We’ve created an interesting article on research from MIT that shows how partial communication and engagement of a team is nowhere near as effective as one that is in full communication.

Team Building Activities

As a leader, you can also accelerate this team building, and encourage your team to develop deep relationships.

This is often in the form of providing team building activities and events. These sessions can be relatively longer escapes, like a day or two, where the team step away from work and spend time to socialise and embark on team activities, like building a raft or abseiling, for example.

There are other activities which take considerably less amount of time; 10-20 minute team exercises in the workplace can help develop team bonding, too. These small activities are very powerful if they are regularly conducted.

Each session can chip away at hard exteriors, helping to soften tentative barriers that may exist amongst people who have not yet developed rapport.

To help get you started, we’ve written a guide on 28 activities you can do with your team everyday, to improve team building.

There are also other things you can do to ensure your team is building rapport and developing into a high performing one.

Things like providing effective team communication, providing empowerment and more decision making, as well as rewarding employees when they do well, can all help encourage and develop team building.

In fact, our article on the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, will show you what typical things to avoid to improve your team’s engagement and performance.

When Does Team Building Apply?

The team building process is something that should be worked on over time. It’s the leader’s responsibility to constantly address it, no matter where the team is in its lifecycle.

Speaking of life cycles, here are the typical stages a team goes through as their team building develops and rapport increases.

Bruce Tuckman, a psychologist, studied teams and team development. He identified stages that teams typically go through to becoming high performing.

The role of you, the manager, is to be able to understand these phases, identify where your team is on this roadmap, and work with them through the stages to team development.

These phases are:

  • Forming;
  • Storming;
  • Norming;
  • Performing;
  • Adjourning.

Stage 1 – Forming:

This is where the team is new. People need to understand each other and open up. At this stage, the leader should encourage them to introduce themselves, share a story and background, interest and experience.

The additional things a leader should ensure are in place, are:

  • The team has goals and objectives – clarity in what to focus on and how to measure success;
  • Team socialises with each other through regular face to face interaction – promote communication and reflection across the team;
  • Roles and responsibilities are defined, so everyone knows the norms – Ensure everyone knows how they fit in the team.

Stage 2 – Storming:

At this phase, team members compete for status and acceptance. There’s inevitable conflict and disruption. This step is unavoidable. People fall out and conflict arises, whilst they try to understand where they all fit.

The manager must understand that this is normal. Rather than question their own capability, embrace it as a natural step towards team building.

Here, the team must be encouraged to discuss problems and find solutions. Engage in more teamwork and team exercises to break down barriers.

Coaching them through this stage is important. It allows the manager to develop empowerment and encourages the team to make more decisions, as well as coaching them through accepting other people’s ideas, values and backgrounds. 

Stage 3 – Norming:

Here’s when they are beginning to work more effectively together. They shift their focus more from personal goals and agendas to working together to achieve team goals. The team now largely know how to work together and they respect each other’s opinions and experience.

At this stage, the manager should give them even more decision making and empowerment, on their way to being an autonomous team. 

The transition of management style is important here. The manager is now supporting the team; acting as a servant – helping step in when they need it, but giving the team a lot of empowerment for decision making.

The manager must still lead and guide. They must also encourage team building exercises, high levels of team communication and teamwork as well.

Stage 4 – Performing:

At this stage, the team are now working well and achieving results. At the pinnacle of this phase is what’s referred to as high performing teams. Some teams may not reach this level. It takes a lot of work and coaching to get this far, but at this stage, the team is pretty much self directed.

They synchronically work to the team goals together and are highly skilled and effective.

The team leader is now not involved in problem solving, decision making nor getting the work completed. The leader monitors the output and takes part in reviewing status with the team.

In conjunction with standing off and observing, the leader must also keep an eye on the team dynamics. If a drastic change is forced on them, it could throw the balance out and push them back to level 3 or even to the storming stage again.

Individuals that lose focus and are not engaged could also cause disruption, so the leader’s job is to ensure there is constant harmony in the team.

Stage 5 – Adjourning:

If it’s a project based team, then this stage represents the completion of the project. The team has achieved their goals.

In light of continuously improving, the team leader should review the following, to see how lessons could be learned for next time:

  • What worked;
  • What didn’t;
  • What and how can we improve for next time.

There’s also an opportunity to reward and celebrate the team’s success. Make it a celebration and reward and acknowledge the team for a great job done.

If a manager runs their department, then adjourning is not really applicable. Their role is to keep the team around levels 3 and 4 and ensuring the dynamic is right.

Here are some of the key things a team leader needs to implement to ensure the team is developing around levels 3 and 4 on the Tuckman model.

For more information, MIT have created a supporting guide on the stages of team development.

Typical Elements to Getting Team Building Right

As we know, the need for team building can manifest from a number of ways:

  • When starting a new team for a project;
  • When a number of your team members are new and have just joined;
  • In an existing team that may not be performing well;
  • Even a new startup when you’re choosing your team.

The point is, team building should actively be encouraged throughout the lifecycle of any team.

Here are the key things a manager must implement to ensure it is a success:

  • Building the team around certain character types – there’s quite a bit of research out there that demonstrates that having a mix of different character styles helps create a balanced team. For instance, when using Belbin’s team roles, there’s no point filling your team with nothing but finishers / completers, without having team workers. There’s no point, too, in having a team full of team workers without coordinators or a shaper. SmartSheet.com has created a great introduction to Belbin and how to use the model in the workplace;
  • Matching skills and motivation to team tasks – utilising individual skills and expertise in the right areas helps improve team capability. If someone likes to do more of the detailed work, then assign them more of these tasks. Alternatively, if another person loves the idea of organising, then help shape their role more around this;
  • Create the team building rules – No team can function correctly if they don’t know the rules and how they are expected to interact together. By setting the expectations, you can encourage and guide your team to work amongst the values that they all sign up to. This creates clarity and unambiguity.  Simply brainstorm a list of actions and behaviours that are acceptable and not acceptable, and post this is the workplace and in the meeting rooms, to remind people of the rules of the game;
  • Create and monitor performance – Making goals clear and also allowing the team to help set their goals and objectives, creates a positive, empowered and high performing foundation. When the team will know what success looks like, they can work together to achieve it;
  • Develop incentives – Rewarding your team for achieving their goals and working above and beyond your expectations. Creating and implementing ideas on how you can reward your team can help encourage teamwork and keep doing what they’re doing. These can extend beyond monetary amounts. Think a breakfast on us, an afternoon off, additional training, are some examples of good rewards to help acknowledge excelling efforts;
  • Engage in regular communication – Encourage and promote regular communication between you, the leader, and the team. The more communication, the merrier. This has been proven in some studies to contribute more to a successful team than hiring the right personnel;
  • Engage in regular team building exercisesgetting into the habit of running many team building events, so teams can socialise away from the workplace, help develop bonds and rapport further. Every team building activity you complete, can chip away at even the hardest of characters.