Effective Team Building

Whether you are in L&D, OD or other areas of HR, at some point or another you will have been asked to provide some form of “team-building” activity by a department within your organization… a request to deliver some form of exercise or event to inject some motivation, energy or sense of fun into what might be seen as a team that requires a boost.

It is this mindset of generalist, one-size-fits-all approach to team build that creates a counter-productive effect from implementing a fun day, a treasure hunt or another type of team-building activity. As people professionals, we need to ensure the “training cycle” hat is firmly on the head before proceeding with making any plans against such requests.

From needs analysis through to evaluation, we need to create a robust process so that senior managers in our businesses understand the various reasons behind the need for a “team build” through to the results they are looking for afterwards. Too often, the primary of stage of “delivery” is all that is being focused upon, with the other three stages of the cycle under-utilized or ignored altogether.


I have devised and used a simple tool that prompts questions to evaluate a business need for a team intervention. The key sections of this tool can be found below:

Scenario – i.e. what is the current situation of the team that has initiated the need for an intervention? Possible answers to this question are:

• It is a new team that requires a “forming” exercise to help bring them together

• It is a team in transition that requires a sense of stability to help them through an uncertain period

• It is a team going through significant change that requires support, cohesion and maybe increased motivation to help shield them against the disadvantage of the change

• It is a team with a new leader who wishes to understand the team and start introducing his own personality, practices and ideals

There are many other possible scenarios. But the key message is that a “team build” isn’t a generic exercise that can cover all situations in the same manner.


Once you have analysed and understood the team background and current situation, you then need to proceed with the design journey. Now even if you are not the most creative of individuals and wish to use off-the-shelf materials, there are still some key questions that need to be asked before deciding upon the correct exercise or intervention.

Speaking with the team leader, armed with these questions will ensure the correct choice is made:

• What… do you want the session to look like? How long do want it to last? Will it be an outdoor or indoor event? Is it part of a wider team event? What is the budget and scope of the intervention?

• Why… are we doing this team build? We understand the current team situation from the analysis stage, but what specific reasons are there? Are there any specific individuals we need to engage or bring together? Is there a specific business need or performance issue that requires addressing? This will give more context, and provide you with the opportunity to choose more specific tools for specific messages of for example, performance, team cohesion, customer service, sales, communication etc.

• Tools… once the above questions have been answered, you will then have the required information and context to decide upon tools to use. For example, do you go with further analysis tools such as team climate surveys? Do you use team psychometrics such as Belbin? Is implementing the Tuckman model relevant? After this, what type of team exercises, games or events do you utilize? Again – this needs to go back to the context and required outcomes


I’m not saying that we need to fully utilize each level of Kirkpatrick – but in the current climate of needing to demonstrate returns on most investment, there needs to be a strategy to illustrate that a team build has delivered the required effect.

We can obviously use basic tools such as feedback forms and have conversations with team members once back to the workplace – but there is a lack of scientific measurement in such tools.

If there have been subsidiary outcomes such as sales or service to focus upon, then we can look at the movement in such metrics. If we have used Tuckman or team climate surveys, then again, we can look at the movement in the sub-topics within these types of questionnaires, after a given time period to implement the learnings from the event.

Effective analysis and context building at the start should provide you with clear SMART outcomes that can be measured afterwards. But again, that is assuming you take a more scientific or training cycle approach to arranging team builds.

I will leave you with one message. “Team building” arranged internally often is treated less seriously than external (mainly due to significantly less capital investment). However if you as the people practitioner treat it as any other people strategy with an effective process to follow in planning and following up, you can demonstrate to the business that these events are not just a “fun jolly”! They are an important tool in any practitioner’s toolkit that can add value to individuals, team and the organization as a whole.

Chris Jones has worked in the learning & development space for 15 years, at all levels within a number of customer-oriented businesses. He has led L&D functions across the UK, European, Asia-Pacific and MENA regions, as well as holding roles as an independent consultant for world class automotive and FMCG organisations. He currently heads up the L&D function for Home Centre, a large concept within the Landmark Group spanning ten countries, while working part-time as an online tutor for the Global MBA at Durham Business School, UK.