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What Is Team Building?

January 1, 2008 by Ruth Gmehlin, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

Team building conjures up many different images and ideas. This article is written to help you navigate through the different types of team building available today and identify what is right for you and why. Team building exercises can be a hit or miss if they are not well chosen to deliver benefits to the organization and team members. Poorly chosen team building events could waste your time or even have a negative effect.

Team building has become an overused term and catch-all for anything to do with a group of people whose relationship is first and foremost based around the fact that they are working together undertaking an activity other than their daily work duties. By this definition something as simple as eating lunch together is considered a team building event, and to a certain extent, that is correct. However, in organizations today -- be they multinational corporations, small nonprofit agencies, or even our schools and churches -- face the pressures of increasing productivity without increasing resources or expenses. Team building, in whatever form it takes, is the answer to leveraging the most vital resource in an organization - its human potential.

Why Invest in Team Building?

There is no doubt that spending time and money on a team building event produces valuable and measurable results. Top benefits include:

  • Increases retention. Over 90% of employees leave because of a bad manager or a dysfunctional team, rather than a desire for more pay. Team building intensifies loyalty, and lets your employees know you care about them as people - not just as contributors to the bottom line.
  • Creates motivation. When employees are involved with a team building event, they feel connected to their jobs and their co-workers. Having good relationships at work is a strong predictor for being a happy, more productive and motivated employee.
  • Reduces conflict. A strong team is made up of different working styles. Naturally when diverse styles work together there is bound to be outright or underlying friction. A team building event can be a neutral setting to address and resolve these challenges.

Types of Team Building

Team building activities generally fall into two distinct categories:

  1. Games and outdoor adventure with a focus on fun.
  2. Management training and employee development.

Some forms of team building are purely for the purpose of having fun as a group and getting away from the office. Activities like sailing, river rafting, golf, or a games day are all fun and certainly have their place. Everyone can use a day away from the office to spend some time with their colleagues in a different setting. This is important if you want the team to get to know each other in a neutral environment where everyone is on equal turf and the organizational levels are flattened. It is also a great way to create collective memories that are not connected to the office.

True team building, often labeled management training and employee development, focuses on using the experiential learning approach to strengthen, build and increase team performance. Experiential learning fosters an environment of accelerated learning through self-discovery and participation. People see, understand and experience how their own behaviour significantly impacts their job performance when experiences are linked to real-world situations. A day spent learning to understand, recognize and adapt behaviour and communication styles leads to mutual appreciation and a better work environment. This is a valuable use of a day to refine your team goals and figure out how to capitalize on the strengths of each employee.

Which Type of Team Building Best Suits Your Needs?

The next time you are considering a team building event, use the following guidelines to determine which type will get you the results you are looking for.

Management Training and Employee Development

  • When managers are looking to understand their team dynamics and improve communication effectiveness within their team.
  • When there are frequent disagreements among team members; employees are consumed with politics rather than focus on their work.
  • When the team has formed cliques that work well with each other - but not with the whole group.
  • When a team has experienced change, such as: a new manager, new employees, merger, acquisition, layoffs or new products.

Games or Outdoor Adventure

  • When managers are looking for a fun day out of the office where people will enjoy each other in a non-business setting.
  • When managers are looking to reward their team for hard work and achieving specific goals.
  • When a company wants to inject their team with creativity and inspire their imagination to come up with new ideas.
For businesses to thrive in the conditions today, we must work together in a new paradigm. Now more than ever, we are dependant on the talents, strengths, know-how of each other. The need for interdependence and working in teams has been driven to new levels. Teams that are highly effective, with managers that excel at facilitating interrelation between co-workers, have an undeniable edge at becoming the success stories of tomorrow.