team building example
What is team building? And why does that question generate so much discussion and disagreement?

Does team building have to be a sequential program continued over a period of time to qualify as real team building? Or are you team building if you simply spend time away from the office with your team, be it at a bowling alley or a ballgame? Is there something in between the two extremes that qualifies as team building? Is this even worth arguing about?

Lots of questions here and you may be wondering why you should even care. Actually, you might not have to care if you already know what you’re looking for to improve your team’s performance. But for most of us, it’s worth taking time to understand the different facets of team building so you can then align your organization’s goals with a kind of team building that might work best for your group.

What Is The Team Building Argument About

The disagreement most often comes between some consultants who view team building only as long term work and team building facilitators like myself who provide short term activities to bring teams together for various reasons. Those reasons might include increasing morale, focusing on mission or building trust.

I don’t have an argument with anyone about which is the more legitimate type of team building. I believe that both long term development and short term activities have real benefits for organizational teams. In fact, I often work with coaches engaged in long term development with a team. That coach may bring me in to provide a catalyst to kick off a team initiative or to provide a capstone activity to bring a long term team building project to closure.

Whether formally led, or merely by day to day experience, some aspects of team development happen over time and go through different stages. The four basic stages of team building are often described as forming, storming, norming and performing. This speaks to the evolution of a team from the initial stages in which the team is formed, to the second stage in which members begin to push against each other as they establish roles and voice within the team. Norming implies that a team’s function and roles are becoming defined in a working model that leads to what every team aspires to – performing.

So when someone asks me, “What is team building? Short, long, in between?” I say it’s all of the above! You’ll need to move past semantics to successfully focus and find the type of team building you need to help your team perform. What’s most appropriate for your team now will change as your team dynamic changes.

What Does Your Team Need Now?

If you’re reading this I’m going to guess that you’re considering some type of team program to help your own organization. The first thing you need to consider is the purpose for your team building program. What do you lack that you want to achieve? Or what do you want to improve?

Here are general guidelines and food for thought:

  • Developmental team building – When forming a new team, coaching and guidance is optimal. Many teams form without outside help. But if you can utilize strategic coaching you’ll become a high performing team more quickly. A coach will help define roles, stay ahead of potential personality conflicts and provide a framework for optimal communication between team members on an ongoing basis.
  • Troubleshooting team building  – Sometimes teams become dysfunctional enough that they need intervention. Examples may be needing someone to help untangle a history of miscommunication, a lack of clear roles and/or to help you rebuild trust. To get your team back on track you might require ongoing coaching but then again, your team may just need some out-of-the-office time together. A well facilitated program that lasts a day, or a few days, can sometimes be enough to loosen stuck patterns, to build trust and reconnect everyone with their team’s mission. This will increase engagement and build the enthusiasm and resilience needed to correct and improve performance.
  • Team tune-up – There’s real value in short term team building workshops that are fun and interactive. Fun, event based activities can be great catalysts for change. I often lead programs at the beginning of a corporate change initiative or to coincide with a marketing kick-off or a sales initiative. Don’t discount programs that skew toward entertainment or adventure. When these types of programs are well facilitated, they’ll allow your team to overcome a challenge together. They’ll prompt you to assign roles and model successful team work. They’ll help you bond and increase moral by enabling your team to meet a challenge, organize to work through it and then celebrate success together.

How Do You Know What’s Right For Your Team?

You can never know what your best option is before you embark on it. Life is just that way, whether it’s your personal life or your work life. My approach is to cast a wide net when I begin to look for something. If I was trying to figure out what team building looks like for my organization, I’d go through the list above and try to define just what it is I think I need.

Once you’re able to communicate what you think you need for your team, start talking with different coaches, consultants and team event providers to find a fit. Communicate your set of needs and goals and then let your potential team building provider speak to solutions and approaches.

When you’re interviewing someone make sure you don’t control the conversation. State your needs and stop there. I’m really bad at taking my own advice on this and I often regret it.

For example, I interviewed someone earlier this week since I’m looking for help with PR. As I left the interview, I realized that in my enthusiasm to explain my business, my goals and my passion, I’d done most of the talking. I left the interview with a renewed sense of my own goals but no real sense of the person I might want to hire. Do as I say, not as I do!

That little story above is a great example of what team building could be. By understanding what I should be doing and acknowledging what I continue to wrong, I’m expressing self objectivity and a desire to try to improve. If I were sharing this story with a teammate, it would be some pretty good team building.

So what is team building? It is what it is and what it needs to be. Don’t get hung up on semantics – just do it!

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.