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Team Building – What’s All The Fuss About Anyway?

Why do I get a cringe down my back when I hear the phrase team building day spoken by a manager or supervisor?

Probably because I've seen so many of these well-intentioned events go horribly wrong. Or worse still,

I've seen groups of very intelligent individuals walk away thinking "what the...?" then return to work without giving the day, or its lessons, another thought.

No change in behavior. No new insights. No team improvements. What an utter waste of time! All team building events must be memorable. They must change (read "improve") individual behavior for the better. They must strengthen team bonds and help create the high performing teams we all hear about and wish we were a part of.

By the way, if your team is a high performing one, low on conflict and high on harmony, then congratulations! You and your team are doing something very right. But why not read on anyway? You might pick up something new that could add a little more value.

How to make your team building days work better

Yes, it's important to work on your team dynamics on a day by day basis, constantly monitoring and adjusting what's going on. But speci all y designed team building days also have their rightful place. Just remember, if you're going to run a team building event, then it must add value. After all , training is expensive and even the participants need return on their investment or time and energy.

It really doesn't matter whether you play team building games, create a list of team rules, or just discuss team issues. The main thing is not what you do, but how you do it. Understanding a little about what teams need to be effective will help you better understand how to improve team processes (not just during a specific team building event, but on a day-to-day basis as well).

What Teams Need

In order to be effective – to work as a cohesive unit and achieve more together than is possible as individuals, teams need a number of crucial elements to be present in their environment. These elements are not difficult to achieve but they do take a certain amount of effort on the part of the team leader or business owner.

Research has shown, over and over again, that these elements are vital for effective teams. They are not “new age”, nor “touchy feely” nor “time wasting frills”. They are the very basics of team work, and businesses which recognize their importance and work at maintaining them are rewarded with teams that out-perform their more average cousins by miles.

Improving Team Performance

If you want to improve the performance of your team, it’s not all about “whipping them into shape”. It’s about creating the right environment so they can do their very best. It's also about understanding and accepting your role as leader/coach and learning the skills you need to create the team you deserve. Like the best sporting coaches in the world always say, when the team is not performing, it’s the coach’s job that’s on the line!

So let's check out exactly what a team needs to be effective.

The Five Effectiveness Areas

1. Team Mission. Everyone on the team needs to know exactly why the team does what it does. What is the business trying to achieve and how does the team help to achieve these things? Everyone must understand the team priorities, especi all y when they change, and how working to the wrong priorities affects the whole team’s ability to accomplish its mission.

2. Goal Achievement. The team leader must help the team understand their goals (both team and individual) and provide feedback on how they are progressing towards achievement of these goals. This must be consistent and honest as well as non-blaming. The team also needs input into setting these goals, both as a team and as individuals. Most importantly, the team leader must help the team achieve its goals by providing support and resources.

3. Empowerment. The team must work towards achieving business goals and within business guidelines, but outside of this, the team and each of its members needs a certain amount of autonomy in decision making and activity. This doesn’t mean anything goes, but it does mean that we all need some say in our daily lives, including our working lives. Try to build a team’s skill level through guidance rather than control. Both technical and relationship skills (known as Emotional Intelligence) are vital for team members to take ownership of their jobs and act accordingly. Guidance and role modelling will encourage ownership and independence and all ow the team leader to "let go" of many operational tasks and concentrate on more important management tasks.

4. Open, honest communication. Communication needs to be open, honest, timely and two way. This is not a master-slave relationship, but rather an adult to adult interaction between equals (of course this takes a high level of emotional intelligence from both parties). When treated with dignity and respect the vast majority of workers respond with higher levels of effort and results. Conflict is minimized and more easily resolved and individuals manage their own behaviors better. When everyone feels able to voice their thoughts in a respectful way, the whole team works better, and the customer notices!

5. Positive roles and norms. People learn best by observing, analyzing and practicing. What are they seeing when they observe the Team Leader’s behavior in your business? Are the Team Leader and all other managers modeling the type of behavior they want to see from their team members? Or is it more a case of “do as I say not as I do”? Team members must have good role models, and time and effort must be spent on training and developing their skills in order to get the best from each person on the team.


Team building is an activity which needs to be integrated into your over all business improvement strategy. Don’t use it as a band aid or a panacea; it doesn’t work for either case. It needs to flow natur all y from all the other daily activities you undertake to keep the health of your team up to scratch.

Jo Gibney is seminar leader, group facilitator, professional speaker, writer and HR Consultant. Her commitment to adult learning is a life long passion, and much of Jo’s work focuses on developing not just work skills but also personal competencies and strengths. Check out Jo's websites at and

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