Team building

The US military uses lifting a log as a team-building exercise.

Team building is a collective term for various types of activities used to enhance social relations and define roles within teams, often involving collaborative tasks. It is distinct from team training, which is designed to improve the efficiency, rather than interpersonal relations.

Many team-building exercises aim to expose and address interpersonal problems within the group.[1]

Over time, these activities are intended to improve performance in a team-based environment.[2] Team building is one of the foundations of organizational development that can be applied to groups such as sports teams, school classes, military units or flight crews. The formal definition of team-building includes:

Team building is one of the most widely used group-development activities in organizations.[3]

Of all organizational activities, one study found team-development to have the strongest effect (versus financial measures) for improving organizational performance.[4] Recent meta-analyses show that team-development activities, including team building and team training, improve both a team's objective performance and that team's subjective supervisory ratings.[1]

Four approaches

Salas and his team describe four approaches to team building:[5][6]

Setting Goal

This emphasizes the importance of clear objectives and individual and team goals. Team members become involved in action planning to identify ways to define success and failure and achieve goals. This is intended to strengthen motivation and foster a sense of ownership. By identifying specific outcomes and tests of incremental success, teams can measure their progress. Many organizations negotiate a team charter with the team and (union leaders).

Role clarification

This emphasizes improving team members' understanding of their own and others' respective roles and duties. This is intended to reduce ambiguity and foster understanding of the importance of structure by activities aimed at defining and adjusting roles. It emphasizes the members' interdependence and the value of having each member focus on their own role in the team's success.

Problem solving

This emphasizes identifying major problems within the team and working together to find solutions. This can have the added benefit of enhancing critical-thinking.


This emphasizes increasing teamwork skills such as giving and receiving support, communication and sharing. Teams with fewer interpersonal conflicts generally function more effectively than others. A facilitator guides the conversations to develop mutual trust and open communication between team members.


The effectiveness of team building differs substantially from one organization to another.[7] The most effective efforts occur when team members are interdependent, knowledgeable and experienced and when organizational leadership actively establishes and supports the team.

Effective team building incorporates an awareness of team objectives. Teams must work to develop goals, roles and procedures.

Effects of team building strategies on all four outcomes, with 10% and 90% credibility intervals [8]

Effect on performance

Team building has been scientifically shown to positively affect team effectiveness.[9] Goal setting and role clarification were shown to have impact on cognitive, affective, process and performance outcomes. They had the most powerful impact on affective and process outcomes, which implies that team building can help benefit teams experiencing issues with negative affect, such as lack of cohesion or trust. It could also improve teams suffering from process issues, such as lack of clarification in roles.[3]

Goal setting and role clarification have the greatest impact because they enhance motivation, reduce conflict[10] and help to set individual purposes, goals and motivation.

Teams with 10 or more members appear to benefit the most from team building. This is attributed to larger teams having – generally speaking – a greater reservoir of cognitive resources and capabilities than smaller teams.[11]

Challenges to team building

The term 'team building' is often used as a dodge when organizations are looking for a 'quick fix' to poor communication systems or unclear leadership directives, leading to unproductive teams with no clear vision of how to be successful. Team work is the best work.

Teams are then assembled to address specific problems, while the underlying causes are not ignored.

Dyer highlighted three challenges for future team builders:[12]

Application of team building


Diana and Joseph claim that instructors can motivate students to develop teamwork skills and provide a guideline on how professors can help students build effective study/project teams.[14] This approach emphasizes examples of job situations that require teamwork skills.

Instructor guidelines:


Team building in organizations is a common approach to improving performance.

Fun is an important component to team building, but the intent is become productive, focused, and aligned. Purely recreational activities can be helpful, but must be timed and consider the capabilities of team members (e.g., sports are not for everyone). Other activities geared toward creating a learning environment, exceeding results and engaging employees must be presenty.

Employee engagement exercises allow teams to create solutions that are meaningful to them, with direct impact on the individuals, the team and the organization. Experiential learning and ramification methods are effective ways to engage millennials in the workplace. Employee engagement is effective because:

Outdoor activities can be an effective way to engage the team.

Competitive activities allow teams to own their actions by producing meaningful results. Collaborative team building activities push teams to work together to produce results.

The best team building experiences are the ones that allow passionate, dedicated and talented people to give their best towards a common goal, towards a shared vision of success.[15]


Team building was introduced in sports in the 1990s. A 2010 study that analyzed the effects of team building[16] found that team building activities increase group cohesion.

According to Yukelson, "In sports, teams are made up of a collection of interdependent individuals, coordinated and orchestrated into various task efficient roles for the purpose of achieving goals and objectives that are deemed important for that particular team".[17]

Team building in sports develops behaviors and skills that increase team functioning. One of the fundamental strategies is to emphasize team identity. This can be done by instilling a sense of shared destiny.

A study examined whether a team building intervention program that stressed the importance of goal setting increased cohesion:[18] 86 high school basketball players were studied. The hypothesis employed season-long goal setting. Participants were asked to individually assign targets for the team and negotiate with other team members to finalize a goal score for the team.

In the control branch, the coach occasionally encouraged participants to cheer for and support other team members. The research concluded that at the beginning of the study, all the teams had the same level of cohesion, but the team with the season long goal setting intervention program performed better.

The level of team cohesion did not increase as a result of ceiling effect with the intervention program, but the level decreased significantly for the control group. This was attributed to the lack of emphasis on team goals.

Core components for building a successful sports team:

See also


  1. 1 2 Salas, E., Diazgranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C. S., Stagl, K. C., Goodwin, G. F., & Halpin, S. M. (2008). "Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis". Human Factors: the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 50 (6): 903. doi:10.1518/001872008X375009.
  2. "Creative Team Building Activities and Exercises". Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  3. 1 2 Klein et al. (2009)
  4. Macy, B. A., & Izumi, H. (1993). "Organizational change, design and work innovation: A meta-analysis of 131 North American field experiments, 1961–1991", pp. 235–313 in W. Pasmore & R. Woodman (Eds.) Research in organizational change and development. Greenwich, CT: JAI.
  5. Salas, E., Priest, H. A., & DeRouin, R. E. (2005). "Team building", pp. 48–1, 48–5 in N. Stanton, H. Hendrick, S. Konz, K. Parsons, & E. Salas (Eds.) Handbook of human factors and ergonomics methods. London: Taylor & Francis.
  6. Salas, Eduardo; Priest, Heather A.; DeRouin, Renee E. (2004-08-30). "Team Building". In Stanton, Neville Anthony; Hedge, Alan; Brookhuis, Karel; Salas, Eduardo; Hendrick, Hal W. Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods. CRC Press (published 2004). pp. 465–470. ISBN 9780203489925. Retrieved 2015-09-22.
  7. Sanborn, Lee O. & Huszczo, Gregory E. (2007). Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. pp. 788–90. doi:10.4135/9781412952651.
  8. 1 2 Salas, E., Diazgranados, D., Klein, C., Burke, C.S., Stagl, K.C., Goodwin, G.F., & Halpin, S.M. (2008). "Does Team Training Improve Team Performance? A Meta-Analysis". Human Factors: the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. 50 (6): 903. doi:10.1518/001872008X375009.
  9. Shuffler, M. L., DiazGranados, D., & Salas, E. (2011). "There's a Science for That: Team Development Interventions in Organizations". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 20 (6): 365–372. doi:10.1177/0963721411422054.
  10. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). "Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: a 35 year odyssey". American Psychologist. 57 (9): 705–717. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.57.9.705. PMID 12237980.
  11. Halebian, J., & Finkelstein, S. (1993). "Top management team size, CEO dominance, and firm performance: The moderating roles of environmental turbulence and discretion". Academy of Management Journal. 36 (4): 844–863. doi:10.2307/256761. JSTOR 256761.
  12. Dyer, W. G., Dyer, W. G., & Dyer, J. H. (2007). Team building: Proven strategies for improving team performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bas
  13. 1 2 Oertig, M., & Buergi, T. (2006). "The challenges of managing cross‐cultural virtual project teams". Team Performance Management: an International Journal. 12: 23. doi:10.1108/13527590610652774.
  14. Page, D., & Donelan, J. G. (2003). "Team-building tools for students". Journal of Education for Business. 78 (3): 125–128. doi:10.1080/08832320309599708.
  15. Team Building Tools
  16. Ravio, E., Monna, A.B., Weigand, A.D., Eskolar, J., & Lintunen, T. (2010). "Team building in sport: a narrative review of the program effectiveness, current methods, and theoretical underpinnings". Athletic Insight Journal. 2 (2): 1–19.
  17. Yukelson, D. (1997). "Principles of effective team building interventions in sport: A direct services approach at Penn State University". Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 9 (1): 73–96. doi:10.1080/10413209708415385.
  18. Senécal, J., Loughead, T. M., & Bloom, G. A. (2008). "A season-long team-building intervention: Examining the effect of team goal setting on cohesion" (PDF). Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 30 (2): 186–99. PMID 18490790.
  19. Martens, R. (1987). Coaches guide to sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
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