Team Building

By Tim Haws


"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress,
and working together is success,"
- Henry Ford

Presently in the field of performance management there seems to be an increasing movement from the "I" culture toward the "We" culture. Several reasons exist to explain this shift (reduction of middle management, global competition, mergers and acquisitions, changing work realities), but the bottom line is, more and more people are working and learning together in teams, because teams leverage organizational strengths to offset new challenges (Gordon, 2002).

According to Diane Rawlings, "current business trends of globalization, accelerated growth, and reengineering are requiring more cross-functional collaboration and integrated strategies across organizations" (2000, p. 36). Rawlings contends that a new team paradigm is rising where management teams at all levels are being asked to work together with more interdependence, with shared accountabilities outside their typical function, and with higher levels of trust and participation (2000). It is in this environment that the necessity for team building interventions becomes apparent.

Team building ideally will create harmonious, efficient and productive work groups, but what exactly is "team building"? Arnold Bateman offers this definition:

Team building is an effort in which a team studies its own process of working together and acts to create a climate that encourages and values the contributions of team members. Their energies are directed toward problem solving, task effectiveness, and maximizing the use of all members' resources to achieve the team's purpose. Sound team building recognizes that it is not possible to fully separate one's performance from those of others. (1990, n. p.)

It seems a rather logical explanation, but certainly has critical concepts like interdependence, leadership, trust, goal-setting, understanding, creativity, ownership, motivation, respect, and most of all communication, "peeking" out from between the lines.

As an intervention, team building is simply a means to get either a new or poor performing group on track, generally with activities that strengthen those "peeking" critical concepts. Any team that has all those concepts and has them in balance will certainly be harmonious, efficient and productive while meeting their objectives and adding value to the organization.

So what's an example of a team building intervention? There are lots of them and they can be categorized along a sliding scale between two extremes, "fun" or "developmental" (VanZile, 2002). At the "fun" end, there are the icebreakers, ropes courses, camping trips, even scavenger hunts, that are generally used to bond together new teams or rejuvenate an already established team. At the "developmental" end, are the workshops and intensive team-building exercises that have very specific goals and are typically suited to a group of professionals already focused on addressing certain issues. In the middle are things like Outward Bound trips, that are adventurous, but still tackle serious objectives. For the ends and each of the gradients in between a "customized and tailored" approach is best and fortunately there are hundreds of team building companies out there dying to facilitate your team activity be it basket weaving or something akin to the next "Survivor" game show. A note of caution, while "fun" team building activities are tempting to recommend as a "quick and easy fix", (who wouldn't like to take off work, play and bond?), their use should always be supported by solid analysis.

In order to know what to expect with team building it is prudent to explore a few team building models. Though the models certainly vary they usually agree on two basic pretexts. First, that there are predictable stages every team goes through on its way to becoming a highly productive, efficient team. And second, that leaders and team members who are aware of these stages can improve the quality of their team's interactions during each stage. The arguably most famous and easy model to remember is that of Bruce Tuckman (1965), which designates four stages of team development:

  • Stage 1. Forming. When teams first get together, members are generally cautious and uncertain about many things. People explore, dabble, try something. During the forming period everyone tries their best to look ahead and think about all the things that need to be done. Leader must set the focus.
  • Stage 2. Storming. Inevitably the process begins to heat up under the pressures of work and conflicting perspectives. People jockey for influence. Patient and impatient people clash. Trust is tested, and confusions around goals and roles begin to surface. If there are heavy deadlines, this stage can be quite tense.
  • Stage 3. Norming. As people get to know each other, they reconcile and agree on things like decision-making processes, resources, timing, quality standards. A "norm" is something everyone understands. Norms are the formal and informal rules that make up the operating system of productive work.
  • Stage 4. Performing. The final stages of team development involve using all the experience and understanding with each other to get results for each other and the organization.


 

Authentic Examples - Team Building activities

  Caption Text

Coast Guard Surf Team - Chief Warrant Officer Young was anxious about being a member of the U.S. Coast Guard's prestigious Surf Operations Training and Advisory Group. The Group sets policy for the Search and Rescue crews that operate 47' boats in extremely rough seas (see picture right). Due to his experience and reputation, he knew he would be looked to as an informal leader of the team. While preparing himself, he found the Tuckman model. Since the team was made up of diverse personalities of different ranks, he sought some sort of professional team building exercise to help orient the team. After introductions, he coordinated an exercise, where teams of two would write down and explain the stages they expected the team to go through. Some folks had 20 stage lists, other focused more on coffee and lunch breaks. Mr. Young then posted (Figure 1) and explained Tuckman's stages of development to the team, aligning their stages where appropriate. The result -"They all knew what to expect, that validated the process and got us to the performing stage fast".


Figure 1. This model was posted the duration of the workshop.
Some referred to it as the "search pattern" and would ask
"where are we in the pattern with this discussion?"

Golf Cart Scavenger Hunt-Tracey Fogarty is the sales/services director at La Casa del Zorro Desert Resort, Borrego Springs, CA. She encountered a recent team building event, involving Toyota of El Cajon, CA, staging an annual gathering of managers who normally don't work in daily contact. "They like to re-establish their connection with one another and refine their team-building skills," she says. "We did a golf cart scavenger hunt. It's a little bit crazy, not your standard deal, but still a real fun way to re-connect and talk a little shop." It is a fun event that still has an objective-relationship building.

References

Bateman, A. (1990), Team building: Developing a productive team, In Nebraska Cooperative Extension CC352. Retrieved February 16, 2004, from http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/misc/cc352.htm

Gordon, J. (2002) Team building. Journal of American Academy of Business, 2(1), 185-189.

Rawlings, D. (2000). Collaborative leadership teams: Oxymoron or new paradigm? Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research, 52(1) 36-48.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384 - 399.

VanZile, J. (2002). Team building. In Corporate and incentive travel. Retrieved February 16, 2004, from http://www.corporate-inc-travel.com/CIT/Archives/stories2002/stories-jan2002.htm#five

Author Note

 

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