Incito Leadership and Executive Coaching


Tips for Team Building that Actually Works

Tips for Team Building that Actually Works.jpg

While team building has a history back to the 1920’s, many teams are still trying to figure out the best way to become a high performing team.  At its core, a high performing team feels safe and secure with all of the other team members and also feels a sense of clear expectations and accountability within the team. 

In 1965 Bruce Tuckman identified five stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning.  What I often see is teams wanting to move right from Forming to Performing and jumping over the mess in the middle that is known as Storming and Norming.  We want to skip the hard stuff and just get down to work, but relationships aren’t built this way and we need strong relationships for team effectiveness. The unfortunate part is that this place of discomfort is where team members work through interpersonal differences and challenges to identify the best ways to work with one another’s styles and expectations.  Trust is built in slow increments over time, but you can speed the process by stepping intentionally into the storming part in team development and it works wonders to help teams get to healthy team norms if approached and facilitated correctly to enhance team effectiveness.

First, look at an exercise to create a sense of understanding the real person behind each role in the team.  An example is offered by Patrick Lencioni in sharing a significant personal accomplishment. This exercise is about sharing your greatest personal accomplishment and WHY it is your most significant accomplishment. Allowing team members the opportunity to share at their own level, but also something personal begins to open up the team to see one another beyond the work. It’s not as important what the team members choose to talk about but the why behind the accomplishment that helps the rest of the team really understand that team member.

Next, explore any activity with a debrief.  Sure you can go for beers, wings, a nice team lunch and they build the relationship, but not the norms of how you work together.  If you’re going to do a team activity, choose an activity that includes a facilitated debrief after to explore the learning and how it applies to your team tweaking norms to work more effectively together.

Another alternative is to engage in shared learning together.  A personal profiles assessment half day such as MBTI, DISC or Insights Discovery or perhaps learning coaching skills for leaders, emotional intelligence or how to give feedback more effectively.  These shared experiences help build the common language within the team and give you a baseline for creating effective norms together. 

Finally, don’t discount strategic planning retreats as another way to develop effective norms within a team. These planning off-sites are about digging into the work together but if facilitated well can lead to greater awareness of the norms within the team and decisions on how the team would like to engage in the future to become more effective.

Here are some tips to consider when planning your next team building activity:

Shared Learning

1.    Look for activities that can create shared learning and awareness about your peers 

2.    Consider workshops or experiences that help the team explore how they work together from multiple perspectives and identify next steps beyond the experience.

Consider Team Needs and Abilities

1.    Pay attention to the personalities, interests and learning needs of your team.  Choose activities that will help them focus in on the issues that really matter and activities that fit with the culture of your team.

2.    Avoid any activity that can create an embarrassment factor.  Be sensitive to what may be below the surface for some team members. For example, athletic activities where one team member may be physically unable to participate or feel less competent than the others. Keep it a level playing field.

Go Beyond Fun

1.    Consider engaging in value-add activities that can be debriefed afterwards.  These can include strategic planning with a skilled facilitator who will also debrief how the team engaged in the planning to take that learning into the workplace afterwards.

2.    Look for activities that will allow and encourage the team to talk through tough issues and make decisions rather than a focus on activities that are solely focused on the fun game factor.

3.    Limit forced social activities. If you hold a retreat, a group dinner is helpful in developing relationships or a games evening that is optional can also create connection but don’t make them mandatory participation.

Focus on Team Culture

1.    Consider creating a top 5 values for the team and behaviours that represent each top value. These could be the same values as the company, but often are values that are different yet important for how the team wants to work with each other.  Identify the values and the behaviours that the team will undertake with each other. 

2.    Don’t confuse team building as dealing with a toxic team member. If you have one derailing member of the team, spend time truly listening and engaging them to determine if they have valid feedback to help the team be more effective or if they’ll be a derailer to team performance.  If there isn’t a reasonable reality that they’ll get on board, strongly consider removing them from the team or you can’t expect the team to ever get to a higher performing level.

While team building is important, it’s expensive both in time and dollars invested. Well designed and facilitated team development will help move your team into high performance and will take the hard work out of working together. Ultimately, if you’re uncertain about the path forward to create strong relationships balanced with high engagement and accountability within the team, seek out a skilled facilitator to design the right approach.

Jenn Lofgren