Team building refers to a wide range of activities, usually in a business context, for improving team performance. Team building is pursued via a variety of practices, and can range from simple bonding exercises to complex simulations and multi-day team building retreats designed to develop a team (including group assessment and group-dynamic games), usually falling somewhere in between. It generally sits within the theory and practice of organizational development, but can also be applied to sports teams, school groups, and other contexts. Team building is not to be confused with “team recreation” that consists of activities for teams that are strictly recreational. Teambuilding is an important factor in any environment, its focus is to specialize in bringing out the best in a team to ensure self development, positive communication, leadership skills and the ability to work closely together as a team to problem solve.

Work environments tend to focus on individuals and personal goals, with reward & recognition singling out the achievements of individual employees. “How to create effective teams is a challenge in every organization”[1] Team building can also refer to the process of selecting or creating a team from scratch.

History of Team Building

  • Sigmund Freud (1921, 1960) discussed a theory of group dynamic termed identification with the leader which is the foundation of group formation[2].
  • McDougall (1920) tends to be credited for being the first team builder and suggested five different conditions needed for a high functioning group.
  • Taylor (1947) discovered how group norms impact performance.
  • Lewin (1945) founded the Center for Research in Group Dynamics and laboratory studies were conducted.
  • World War II brought increased research/attention to team performance.
  • During the 1970s theory and methodologies were available for large-scale team building. However, work culture tended to not be supportive of teamwork and rather rewarded individual behavior.
  • From the early 1980s until 1990, the United States began to rethink business and viewed teams differently given the economics with inflation rising and significant international debt. Team-based reward systems were implemented.
  • The years 1990 to present are considered the era of high-performance teams. Consulting firms developed methods and tools to help organizations with the transition to team-based organization.
  • Ben Aldham (1979) developed a mathematical rule to explain the improvement in team cohesiveness with relation to team alcohol consumption. It was published in 2003 as the “Rule of Ben”

What does a Team Building Consultant do?

A team building consultant is responsible for each component of a team building intervention. A team building consultant will likely interact with the team once, or for a limited number of times. During this relationship, the consultant will actively work to assess the team, make recommendations, and provide activities (exercises that compose a team building intervention) for the team. These responsibilities usually require a team building consultant to write a proposal after his or her evaluation of the organization and the team, indicating how he or she would go about improving the team’s performance. Once the organization and consultant determine which recommendations to utilize (if not all), the consultant is then responsible for providing a useful intervention that will transfer back into the organizational setting. This responsibility usually requires the consultant to create a detailed plan of events, while allowing for flexibility. After the intervention has been employed, the consultant will typically evaluate the team building program and communicate the results to the organization.

Things a Team Building Consultant might ask

What does your organization want to get out of the exercise? The organization should make their goals clear to a team building consultant or facilitator. This will allow the consultant to more effectively work with the organization to find the best exercises that fit their needs.

What are the needs of the current team? Sometimes an organization will not know exactly what is wrong with a team. The team itself may have some clear ideas about what they need to improve on. Again, a consultant or facilitator will be able to assist the team better if they are able to get this kind of information. With this information, they can tailor the team building and individual exercises to best help the team.

What is the general age of the participants within the team? Some team building exercises are designed for younger groups. These exercises are not appropriate for older groups and could cause the organization and the team members to think that team building is a waste of time. In addition, some exercises are simply beyond some individuals physical capabilities. It is important to make exercises all inclusive, so that all individuals within the teams can participate.Reasons for Team Building

Reasons for Team Building include

  • Improving communication
  • Making the workplace more enjoyable
  • Motivating a team
  • Getting to know each other
  • Getting everyone “onto the same page”, including goal setting
  • Teaching the team self-regulation strategies
  • Helping participants to learn more about themselves (strengths and weaknesses)
  • Identifying and utilizing the strengths of team members
  • Improving team productivity
  • Practicing effective collaboration with team members

What are Team Building Exercises and what is their purpose?

Team building exercises consist of a variety of tasks designed to develop group members and their ability to work together effectively. There are many types of team building activities that range from kids games to games that involve novel complex tasks and are designed for specific needs. There are also more complex team building exercises that are composed of multiple exercises such as ropes courses, corporate drumming and exercises that last over several days. The purpose of team building exercises is to assist teams in becoming cohesive units of individuals that can effectively work together to complete tasks.

Who can benefit from Team Building Exercises?

Team building exercises are useful for all kinds of teams. Some exercises are designed for smaller teams, some for larger teams. Some are designed for new teams, others to focus on specific areas of an established team to be worked on. In addition to this, team building exercises also are for different age groups. In addition to this, some team building exercises are intended primarily for a specific age group. It is possible that some team building activities designed for younger teams being misused with more mature groups has contributed to the negative stigma frequently associated with team building exercises.

Types of Team Building Exercises

Communication Exercise

This type of team building exercise is exactly what it sounds like. Communications exercises are problem solving activities that are geared towards improving communication skills. The issues teams encounter in these exercises are solved by communicating effectively with each other.

• Goal: Create an activity which highlights the importance of good communication in team performance and/or potential problems with communication.

Problem Solving/Decision Making Exercise

Problem Solving/Decision making exercises focus specifically on groups working together to solve difficult problems or make complex decisions. These exercises are some of the most common as they appear to have the most direct link to what employers want their teams to be able to do.

• Goal: Give team a problem in which the solution is not easily apparent or requires the team to come up with a creative solution

Planning/Adaptability Exercise

These exercises focus on aspects of planning and being adaptable to change. These are important things for teams to be able to do when they are assigned complex tasks or decisions. • Goal: Show the importance of planning before implementing a solution

Trust Exercise

A trust exercise involves engaging team members in a way that will induce trust between them. They are sometimes difficult exercises to implement as there are varying degrees of trust between individuals and varying degrees of individual comfort trusting others in general.

• Goal: Create trust between team members

Methods for Team Building

Team building events often take participants out of their regular work context, and use the new context as an enabler of change and development – allowing team participants to get to learn more about each other in a new (non-work) context.

3 Components of a Team Building Exercise

Part 1: Instructions

This part of a Team Building exercise involves introducing the participants to the instructions for the exercise.

Part 2: Activity

This part of the Team Building exercise is the exercise itself. This is when participants utilize the instructions and begin to participate in the actual activity.

Part 3: Debriefing

This is likely the most important part of a team building exercise. The facilitator will close the exercise with a review of the purpose for the exercise and how the team accomplished it. A debriefing is important to reiterate the purpose of the exercise and to keep participants focused on the positive outcomes from the exercise.

The methods of doing this vary widely, including

  • simple social activities – to encourage team members to spend time together
  • group bonding sessions – company sponsored fun activities to get to know team members (sometimes intending also to inspire creativity)
  • personal development activities – individual programs given to groups (sometimes physically challenging)
  • team development activities – group-dynamic games designed to help individuals discover how they approach a problem, how the team works together, and discover better methods
  • psychological analysis of team roles, and training in how to work better together

(and combinations of the above)

Team interaction involves “soft” interpersonal skills including communication, negotiation, leadership, and motivation – in contrast to technical skills directly involved with the job at hand. Depending on the type of team building, the novel tasks can encourage or specifically teach interpersonal team skills to increase team performance.

Models of Team Behavior

Team building generally sits within the theory and practice of organizational development. The related field of team management refers to techniques, processes and tools for organizing and coordinating a team towards a common goal – as well as the inhibitors to teamwork and ways to remove, mitigate or overcome them.

Several well-known approaches to team management have come out of academic work.

  • The forming-storming-norming-performing model posits four stages of new team development to reach high performance. Some team activities are designed to speed up (or improve) this process in the safe team development environment.
  • Belbin Team Types can be assessed to gain insight into an individual’s natural behavioral tendencies in a team context, and can be used to create and develop better functioning teams.

Team Member Qualities

Emotional stability

  • Adjustment
  • Self-esteem


  • Dominance
  • Affiliation
  • Social Perceptiveness
  • Expressivity


  • Flexibility


  • Trust
  • Cooperation

In breaking down these dimensions, it was generalized that past research has been consistent when it mentions that emotional stability, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are all related to team effectiveness. Within extraversion, dominance was found to be a negative attribute in team members where they are not working independently and not collaborating with others. (Driskell & Salas, 1992). Adjustment and flexibility were noted to be important facets for team members to have where adjustment to situations is needed. Clearly for teams to be successful there has to be a balance between the personality dimensions. This provides well-roundedness for a person to bring to a team.

Organizational Development

In the organizational development context, a team may embark on a process of self-assessment to gauge its effectiveness and improve its performance. To assess itself, a team seeks feedback from group members to find out both its current strengths and weakness..

To improve its current performance, feedback from the team assessment can be used to identify gaps between the desired state and the current state, and to design a gap-closure strategy. Team development can be the greater term containing this assessment and improvement actions, or as a component of organizational development.

Building a New Team

The process for creating a new team is different from developing an existing team.

Topchik identifies 10 steps for building a new project team [3]

  1. Get upper-management support
  2. Define the purpose of your team
  3. Identify time frames
  4. Select team members
  5. Classify team-member openings
  6. Share the overall purpose
  7. Decide team name
  8. Create the team mission statement and goals
  9. Determine core team issues
  10. Establish team norms

Self Managed Work Teams

Self-managing work teams (SMWTs) have been rising in popularity since the beginning of the 1990s. These team members are responsible for themselves. Although more organizations are implementing SMWTs, employees have been resisting them. Three variables at the individual-level are potential reasons for resistance to SMWTs. These variables include trust, cultural values and low tolerance for change.

Managers should implement SMWTs with procedural and distributive justice. Also, managers should address concerns regarding trust, and accountability. They should provide clarity regarding who is responsible for what and how the employees’ careers and opportunities for development will be affected. Managers should work to encourage employees having a positive organizational outlook.

Things Related to Team Building



Team Training

Cross Training

Coordination & Adaptation Training

Guided Team Self-Correction

Succession Planning



Notes and references

  1. ^ How to Build Powerfully Successful Work Teams
  2. ^ Freud, Sigmund: Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego, 1921/1960.
  3. ^ Topchik, Gary S.; The First-Time Manager’s Guide To Team Building, 2007

Cohn, J.M., Khurana, R., Reeves, L. (2005). Growing talent as if your business depended on it. Harvard Business Review, October, p. 1-9.

Driskell, James E., Goodwin, Gerald F., Salas, Eduardo, O’Shea, Patrick G., & (2006). What Makes a Good Team Player? Personality and Team Effectiveness. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice. 10, 249-271.

Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C., & Curphy, G.J. (2009). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Humphrey, Stephen E., Morgeson, Frederick P., Mannor, Michael J., & (2009). Developing a Theory of the Strategic Core of Teams: A Role Composition Model of Team Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 48-61.

Kirkman, B, L., Jones, R. G., & Shapiro, D. L. (2000). Why do employees resist teams? Examining the “resistance barrier” to work team effectiveness. International Journal of Conflict Management, 11, 74-92.

Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C.S., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G.F. (2009) Does team building work? Small Group Research, 40(2), 181-222.

Lussier, R.N. & Achua, C.F. (2007). Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development (3rd ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.

Leonard, H. S., & Freedman, A. M. (2000). From scientific management through fun and games to high-performing teams: A historical perspective on consulting to team-based organizations. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 52, 3-19.

LePine, J. A. (2003). Team adaptation and postchange performance: Effects of team composition in terms of member’s cognitive abilities. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 27-39.

Miller, B. C. (2007). Quick activities to improve your team: How to run a successful team- building activity. The Journal for Quality and Participation. 28-32.

Newstrom, J.W., Scannell E.E., (1998). The big book of team building games: Trust building activities, team spirit exercises, and other fun things to do. Two Penn Plaza, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Salas, E., & Cannon-Bowers, J. A. (1997). Methods, tools, and strategies for team training. In M. A. Quinones & A. Ehrenstein (Eds.), Training for a rapidly changing workplace: Applications of psychological research (pp. 249–279). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Salas, E., Nichols, D. R., & Driskell, J. E. (2007). Testing three team training strategies in intact teams: A meta-analysis. Small Group Research, 38, 471-488.

Senécal, J., Loughead, T. M., & Bloom, G. A. (2008). A season-long team-building intervention: Examining the effect of team goal setting on cohesion. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 30. 186-199.

Svyantek, D.J., Goodman, S.A., Benz, L.L., & Gard, J.A. (1999). The relationship between organizational characteristics and team building success. Journal of Business and Psychology, 14(2), 265-283.

Williams, S. D., Graham, T. S., and Baker, B. (2003). Evaluating outdoor experiential training for leadership and team building. The Journal of Management Development,22(1), 45–59.

Wright, J. (2005). Workplace coaching: what’s it all about? Work, 24 (3), 325-328.

Retrieved from “

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s