The Ultimate Guide to Team Building Skills
Of all group-development activities, team building skills are among the most critical in any organisation. And for good reasons too…
Various studies have shown how team-development significantly improves organisational performance. Furthermore, team empowerment not only improves the organisation process but also enhances customer satisfaction.
For such great benefits, does it require massive investment?
Twitter set up a team-oriented environment with rooftop meetings and friendly co-workers. The result? Twitters’ employees were ranked as the happiest in the United States, and they ceaselessly raved about the company’s culture.
This in-depth guide will help you create a highly motivated, team-oriented environment, just like Twitter.
In this Ultimate Guide to Team Building Skills, we will deliver answers, and understanding, to the following (you can jump to sections with these links below):
- What is Team Building?
- How Team Building Affects Performance
- Elements Core to Team Building
- How Team Building Works
- Challenges to Team Building
- Mistakes to Avoid in Team Building
- Evaluating Team Building Skills Effectiveness
- Further Reading and Resources
Team building is primarily the use of collaborative tasks to enhance social relations and define roles in teams. Indeed, this is different from team training, which focuses on improving team efficiency – not interpersonal relations.
By exposing and addressing interpersonal problems within groups, team building skills aim to improve performance in team-based environments.
Generally, team building exercises achieve four key goals:
- Aligning the team around specific goals.
- Reducing ambiguity concerning team members’ roles.
- Building effective working relationships.
- Finding solutions to problems in teams.
There are many different types of team building skills activities. They can range from simple games played in the office to encourage cohesion, to away days and corporate retreats where individuals are encouraged to work together to achieve a shared goal. The underlying purposes of any team building skills activity, however, is to help employees strengthen relationships, develop skills, and escape the norm.
The Five Most Effective Team Building Skills Activities Are:
- Physical activities
- Field trips
- Professional development activities
- Shared meals
Being one of the foundations of organisational development, team building skills are a vital tool for any group of individuals, including:
Study or project teams in learning institutions perform better with effective teamwork skills.
In particular, teachers and other staff members benefit from cohesive teamwork.
Workers produce better results through collaborative team building activities. Consequently, employee engagement leads to meaningful and valuable creative solutions for individuals, the team and the company. Furthermore, it can help with staff retention.
To illustrate, SquareSpace is a splendid example of a company that exhibits an all-around team effort derived from its flat organisation structure (no, or very few, levels of management between staff and executives). In fact, it’s often voted as one of the best places to work in New York City.
Individuals with unique skills make up a sports team, but they are all interdependent. In particular, they must coordinate and orchestrate to blend their varied skills and achieve a unified goal. This, therefore, requires cohesive teamwork.
Sports team building also emphasises team identity, by instilling a sense of shared destiny.
4. Military Units or Flight Crews
The military, for example, requires sober leadership skills, cohesive teamwork, expert planning and sound decision-making in challenging and rapidly changing environments. In particular, team support is vital within the extremely volatile environments in which soldiers operate. For further information, read our extracts of Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ on the Benefits of Team Building.
Googlers—Google staff—are widely regarded as the best of the best: highly driven and talented workers. Consequently, the company is the second most valuable in the world with a brand value of $101.8 billion, according to Forbes.
That didn’t happen by accident.
Indeed, Google constantly invests in building a highly motivated and cooperative team. Some of the perks of working at Google include free meals, parties, employee trips, gyms, a dog-friendly environment, financial bonuses and open presentations by high-level executives.
Besides such examples of companies excelling due to great teams, numerous studies show how highly motivated and cohesive teams produce the top organisational performance.
Group cohesion is vital for a motivated workforce, based on a Harvard Business School publication. Research from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows how activities to develop team building skills make employees feel valued, which motivates them to excel at work.
Evidently, team building isn’t merely a feel-good exercise.
Only properly organised team building is effective. It should involve knowledgeable, experienced and interdependent team members, complemented by active support by the organisational leadership. In fact, the teams must be aware of and work towards specific goals, apart from having clear roles and procedures.
Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital (support services division) is a notable example of an organisation which implemented a team-based facilities group to improve its performance. This involved five major elements which are the core of team building skills:
- Implementing a team-based organisation
- Establishing individual performance standards
- Developing team performance goals and objectives
- Individual staff development
- A recognition program
Research also shows that specific components of team building skills produce greater organisational performance.
A 1999 study by researchers from Syracuse University identified role clarification being more likely to increase organisational performance compared to other components of team building skills. This includes goal setting, problem-solving, and interpersonal relations.
Indeed, that makes sense, since, without clear roles, you can’t properly delegate responsibilities to the right people, preventing effective people management. In turn, this affects problem-solving, interpersonal relations and goal setting.
Team building skills are beneficial to multiple types of organisations and work environments. For example, a study by the University of Maryland evaluated the impact of teams on flight crews, computer-supported groups and other types of autonomous work groups. The review found overwhelming evidence of the contribution of teams to organisational effectiveness.
Clearly, team building is a great asset to any organisation.
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There are a number of different theoretical approaches used for developing team building skills. Two notable ones are Eduardo Salas’ Four Approaches to team building and Bruce Tuckman’s Forming Storming Norming Performing team-development model.
In the ‘Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods’, Eduardo Salas and colleagues’ explained four approaches to team building skills:
1. Setting Goals
Teams require clear objectives for both individuals and the whole team.
In a collaborative effort, team members plan, identify and define success and failure based on the team goals. This way, everyone has a sense of ownership, since they are involved from the start, which also strengthens motivation.
With clear goals, it’s possible to identify specific outcomes and measure the team’s progress.
REI, a camping and outdoor product company, is an example of an organisation with clearly defined team building goals. Its mission – to equip both customers and employees for the outdoors – is a key objective of its team building skills activities. Employees are enticed with ‘challenge grants’ where they submit proposals for challenging outdoor adventures to win equipment.
2. Role Clarification
Members must understand their own roles and duties, as well as other team members’ roles and duties.
Such role clarification reduces ambiguity and fosters an organised structure for a well-coordinated team effort. As members focus on their unique roles, they are also aware of their interdependence within the team.
3. Problem Solving
Teams are primarily set up for a purpose; hence, they need to identify and work together to solve key problems.
Proper role clarification will enhance problem-solving, with large problems being broken down into manageable sections and different tasks handled by appropriately competent individuals.
This is evident in Philip Krim and his friends’ (Gabriel Flateman, T. Luke Sherwin and Jeff Chapin) approach at solving the problem of setting up Casper, a mattress firm. They each applied their unique skills to solve different parts of the problem: Krim, the mattress expert, dealt with product design; Sherwin who knew how to build a brand focused on doing that; Flateman, a web designer, took charge of the company’s online presence; and Chapin took the role of the stylist.
4. Interpersonal Relations
Interpersonal relations include communication skills, sharing, and giving and receiving support.
Good interpersonal relations are vital in developing mutual trust between team members and avoiding conflicts. A facilitator guides and influences the conversation towards mutual trust and away from conflict. This, therefore, ensures an effectively functioning team.
A company like Warby Parker, which designs prescription glasses and sells directly to customers, applies creative team building strategies that build interpersonal relations. For instance, random employees are sent out to lunch together and the firm insists everyone helps keep break areas clean.
Such strategies create situations of close interaction with other employees, where they can communicate and share.
Published in 1965, Dr Bruce Tuckman’s model, Forming Storming Norming Performing gives a systematic explanation of the progression of team development behaviour.
Tuckman’s model shows how gradually more authority and freedom is extended to the team by the leader and the leader’s control reduces. As the team matures, its ability increases, relationships are established and, consequently, the leadership style changes.
You can find further information on Tuckman’s stages of team effectiveness in the video below:
Forming (Stage 1)
Characteristics – At this initial stage, team members are highly dependent on the leader for guidance and direction. Members aren’t sure of their individual roles and responsibilities, and they have little agreement on the team’s aims.
Challenges – Due to lack of clarity, members often ignore processes. They also test the system and leader’s tolerance.
Leadership style – The leader directs. Such a leader will be relied on to explain the team’s purpose, objectives and external relationships.
Tested and proven team building activities for work can help build cohesion.
Storming (Stage 2)
Characteristics – There’s still plenty of uncertainty, but members get a clearer understanding of the team’s purpose. They also try to establish themselves by vying for positions.
Challenges – The leader might receive challenges as members seek to establish themselves in relation to the leader or other members. In such an environment decisions can’t come easily. The situation also creates cliques and factions, which inevitably lead to power struggles.
Leadership style – The leader coaches. A compromise would be required for the team to progress. The leader should also help the team focus on its goal, and avoid relationship and emotional distractions.
Communication is key to building and maintaining the team. It can be particularly challenging with teams in different locations. To overcome this, Baggu, for example, used technology and a dedicated company ‘liaison’ to maintain open lines of communication between its West Coast-based design and operations team and the New York-based sales team.
Norming (Stage 3)
Characteristics – The team now responds well to its leader’s facilitation, and they clearly understand and accept their roles and responsibilities. Here, group agreement precedes big decisions, while smaller decisions are delegated to individuals or smaller groups within the team. Also, processes and working style are discussed and developed collaboratively.
Advantages – There are extensive agreement and consensus among the members. They have a strong commitment and unity and may engage in fun and social group activities.
Leadership style – The leader facilitates and enables the team. Some of the leadership is even shared by team members, with the leader having general respect from the team.
At this point, the maturing team possesses greater autonomy.
For instance, Adobe is one company that shows the value of greater autonomy for its workforce. The managers serve as coaches, and they even go as far as letting employees set their own goals and determine how they should be assessed. The company doesn’t measure employee capabilities using ratings, which they consider to be harmful to teamwork and inhibiting creativity.
Thus, by ensuring employees are truly free to create, the company’s products have become synonymous with creativity.
Performing (Stage 4)
Characteristics – The team clearly knows its purpose – it’s more strategically aware. Even without the leaders’ interference or participation, members can stand on their own, having a shared vision of the team. They are focused on over-achieving goals. However, the team makes most of the decisions against criteria agreed with the leader.
Advantages – The team exhibits a high degree of autonomy. Disagreements are resolved within the team, positively. Members make the necessary changes to processes and structure. They also attend to style, process and relationship issues while working towards their goal.
Leadership style – The leader delegates and has oversight. There’s no need for instruction or assistance. Only when asked by members would the leader assist with personal and interpersonal development.
At such a mature level, team members are literally looking after each other.
To illustrate, an example of this is the autonomy of Southwest Airlines’ employees enjoy in customer engagement. Employees are empowered to do whatever necessary to make customers happy. The company gives them ‘permission’ to go the extra mile to achieve that, instead of giving strict instructions on what to do and not to do. It works wonders, and as a result, their customers rave about the happy and friendly Southwest employees.
Adjourning (Stage 5)
Bruce Tuckman added the fifth stage, Adjourning, around 1975. It’s also called Deforming and Mourning.
Characteristics – This is a break-up of the team; hopefully, after fulfilling its purpose. Members feel good about their achievement as they move on to new things.
Challenges – If team members bond, this change can give them a sense of insecurity. That’s especially so for people with a strong routine and empathy style, based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI).
Effective team building skills require an awareness of and preparation to deal with internal and external barriers. Some challenges may be within your control and you can change them. However, you’ll have to find creative ways to work around challenges beyond your control.
Trying to build a unified team, you’ll quickly find that people always behave differently regardless of what you do. Their behaviour is largely influenced by how they prefer to think, which can be evaluated using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI).
HBDI or the ‘Whole Brain Model’ shows which areas we either prefer to think or not to think. It consists of a 120-question survey that produces a profile of your preferred thinking style. This conceptual representation presents basic thinking styles.
Take a look at our HBDI Infographic (you can click on it for a higher resolution):
Understanding your team members’ thinking preferences will help you appreciate how they learn, solve problems, make decisions and communicate. You can then communicate in a way they appreciate and structure the team to suit their preferences.
You’ll also know, beforehand, areas of potential conflict arising from people who are less likely to get along. Diametrically opposed quadrants (blue (analytical) and red (relational), or yellow (experimental) and green (practical)) fall in this category.
For example, a practical person (green) might say, ‘We need a plan’, and an experimental person (yellow) would dismiss the person as being anal about detail. To deal with this, each member needs a role that suits their strengths. For instance, the experimental person might be great in coming up with creative ideas, while the practical person creates reliable plans.
Lack of Teamwork Skills
Graduates coming from learning institutions often lack collaborative team building skills, having been encouraged to work individually in college. Hence, you need more extensive team training to orient such employees to team-mindset.
With increasing virtual workplaces, team members have less or even no physical meetings to build concrete relationships and trust. However, communication is still possible using robust technologies.
Globalisation adds the challenge of different cultures, languages and values to building teams. Hence, leaders must develop an in-depth understanding of the varied cultures, languages and values of their team members.
Mistakes can reduce or completely nullify the potential effectiveness of team building. You should be aware of the critical mistakes to avoid.
1. Showing Your Preference
Team leaders shouldn’t show members that they have a preferred employee. Such favouritism will discourage other members and make them lose motivation.
At ADT Corp, a company providing security services, sales reps perceived the preferential treatment of their managers compared to themselves. Glassdoor revealed that they felt treated more like secretaries than colleagues.
2. Doing Most Tasks Yourself
A leader who doesn’t delegate is missing the whole point of team building. Only when you have a team that autonomously handles delegated task can you build a successful business.
3. Accommodating Undisciplined Behaviour
Giving teams greater autonomy doesn’t also mean accommodating lack of discipline. Always discipline members who break the rules.
4. Not Trusting Anyone
You build great teams on trust. Without it, it’s hard to collaborate. You’ll also have a closer rapport with team members if you trust them.
The Dillard family’s hold onto the management of Dillard’s department store chain, even after it went public in 1969, for example, is perhaps a sign of the family not trusting anyone outside their bloodline to run the company. William T. Dillard founded the company in 1938 and, currently, four of CEO Bill Dillard II’s siblings are company executive officers. The senior vice president is the CEO’s son, William Dillard III.
Apparently, trusting others with managerial roles would have been a wise thing for the Dillard family, seeing that dissatisfied workers decry poor management practices, according to Glassdoor. Employees also complained of frequently unrealistic sales quotas.
Inevitably, the firm ranked among the worst companies to work for, having a 2.6 job satisfaction rating on Glassdoor, for five consecutive years.
5. Not Rewarding Performance
Incentives inspire better performance by team members. Hence, not rewarding your team for their achievement will stagnate or reduce their performance.
According to Glassdoor, complaints of poor pay and long hours at Family Dollar Stores are the main reasons why only 36% of employees recommended the company to friends. This also affects the team’s perception of its leader, with only 38% approving of the CEO.
Obviously, you cannot overestimate the negative impact of not rewarding your workers adequately.
6. Not Acting on Members’ Suggestions
Acting on members’ suggestions gives them a sense of ownership and belonging. The opposite would happen if you don’t act on their suggestions. Furthermore, the worst thing you can do is make members look foolish for giving foolish suggestions.
7. Neglecting Team Members’ Welfare
Kim Scott, in her book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, clearly states that minding your employees’ welfare is part of being a boss. Members of your team want to feel that you value them more than just the work they do. Moreover, if you don’t mind about your team members’ welfare they won’t develop a deep and lasting loyalty to the team.
Express Scripts, located in St. Louis, MO, is one company that neglected its employees’ welfare, according to Glassdoor. Although employees enjoyed flexible hours with substantial time-off packages, less than one-third cited poor pay and high pressure as the reasons why they wouldn’t recommend working for the company.
One Glassdoor review shows that ’employees are viewed as disposable’. Consequently, this is almost certain to negatively affect workers’ motivation.
8. Allowing Unhealthy Competition
Lastly, unhealthy competition can easily disintegrate a successful team. Only encourage healthy competition among members.
Evaluating Team Building Skills Effectiveness
During and after your team building events, you should assess the effectiveness of the actions you take.
MBM’s competency framework provides a clear template to evaluate the level of performance of your team. It will help assess whether your team is not delivering, in the early stages of delivering, showing some delivery, exhibiting a high level of delivery or fully delivering. Using the assessment, you’ll know what changes to make and improvements to apply.
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You can find further insight, detailed definitions and clarification of all the key Team Building Skills terms mentioned in this guide in our Glossary of Terms.
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About Daniel Nyairo
Daniel is a writer with the passion for engaging, delighting and inspiring with the right word at the right place in a sentence. He has been writing for the last four years about business management, content marketing, and technology.