Team Building 101

Posted on Tue June 25, 2013.

It now appears “teams” and “team building” are at the heart of nearly every company and organization in North America. Nearly half of the job postings in our local paper start with “Join Our Team”. When speaking with friends I often hear how they are searching for a new and unique “team building” activity.

But what exactly comprises a team “building” activity?

A true team is more than a group of people who work together in close proximity on the same project. A team implies relationships within the unit and focuses on equality, cooperation and communication. A team is most likely headed by a team leader, but this role may be filled by a series of individuals or it may be self-directed.

Let’s consider for a second other relationships in your life, i.e. your spouse, your children, your parents, your best friend… Could these relationships be described as a team? Now let’s imagine you are experiencing trouble in one of these relationships. What might you do to improve that relationship?

Would you take your spouse golfing?

Would you go white water rafting with your mom?

Although these activities may help in some instances, they probably wouldn’t serve as your tantamount solution to a communication problem you would genuinely wish to fix. These activities would serve to assist in the “bonding” process you’re undertaking with that individual in addition to some serious work on the foundation of your relationship.

That is why we have differentiated team “bonding” from team “building”.

Team bonding generally involves a team taking part in an extra-curricular activity outside of the office. This event may serve as an annual reward or event with its main purpose being to allow members of the team to interact outside of the normal, everyday work setting. Team bonding activities may take the form of lunch at a restaurant, bowling, a cooking class, golf, white water rafting, a scavenger hunt or laser tag (just to name a few). It is hoped that people will have the opportunity to communicate in non-work related conversation and learn more about one another. Many of these activities also take people outside of their comfort zones and allow them to create new avenues of trust with their fellow teammates.

However, team bonding activities are generally not facilitated or focused towards any specific workplace issues. Thus, quite often the members that interact the most with one another within the office are naturally drawn to those same individuals outside of the office and new relationships are rarely formed. Further to that, if true consensus is not reached by the team for their team bonding event, those who are disappointed by the choice of activity may actually develop feelings of resentment towards the company and the individuals who championed that choice of event. Thus if the team bonding coordinator is not careful, the exact opposite of the day’s objectives may be attained.

Team “building” on the other hand can still be a lot of fun, allow for new lines of communication to be formed, build trust, etc. etc., but there is also a bit more “work” involved. Let’s again think back to your personal relationships. If you are having trouble at home with your spouse, is going out for one nice dinner after another going to solve the problem?

Well maybe if the problem is that you’re hungry all of the time!

But seriously, let’s pretend the problem is that you have issues with the approach your spouse is taking towards raising your children. Are nice meals and days spent mini putting going to solve that problem?

No, the only way to solve that problem is to identify it, bring it out on the table and discuss it. It may be possible for the two of you to work through that problem on your own, but many times conflict situations become confrontational and stands are made. In this case, it may be beneficial for an experienced and knowledgeable third party to be introduced as an objective facilitator. Perhaps a close mutual friend or a child or family counselor could fill this role. A counselor would probably be the best option as he/she has experience in this field and can introduce and suggest tools to help you towards a resolution.

Similarly, an organization searching for a true team building process should seek out an experienced professional to assist them in their journey. True team building does not need to be dry and boring, as today’s professionals have identified that the best way for learning to take place is in a dynamic and fun setting. From my experience, people love learning more about themselves and what it is that makes them tick. Personality tests and lessons on leadership and conflict management can be a lot of fun if presented in the right manner. Team bonding activities are also usually scattered throughout the process to keep the overall format lively, dynamic and fun.

By Mike Caldwell