Team Building - A Complete Guide

Adapted from

The foundation of all team building is having shared goals to which all team members are committed.

Team building can be productive if it establishes or builds on those goals. Check there is ownership of common goals as a first step, then progress to other forms of team building, otherwise your team building efforts may be be a waste of time/money, or even counter-productive.

In the Tuckman model of team development, the difference between the first stage (Forming) and the others (Storming, Norming, and Performing) is that each member of a Forming team is focused on his/her own objectives, perhaps guided by the manager, whereas in the later stages there is some commitment to the shared goals. For example, to go through the Storming stage can be an uncomfortable process, so for team members to persist with it they have to be convinced that it is worth engaging with other team members in a 'storming dialogue'. That is, there have to be shared goals that everyone thinks are more important than their own individual goals (or, for a management group, more important than the goals of the their own section).

Establishing shared goals and engendering commitment requires a particular set of skills that are more often associated with a transformational rather than transactional style of leadership. There is a frequent mistake made by transactional leaders think that if they have a group of self-motivated individuals then they do not need to engage in this type of work. However, this often leads to a pseudo-team - one that appears to be Performing but, beneath the veneer, it is only Forming. That is, the members are very effective at delivering their own goals, but they fail to capitalise on the potential of working collectively, they fail to exploit the "whole that is greater than the sum of the parts".

Another frequent mistake is to fail to appreciate the important difference between supporting others in the achievement of their goals with the commitment to a shared goal. Whilst the former can be an important component of teamwork, genuine teamwork involves capitalising on collective potential, rather than just maximising individual performance.

Once the foundation of commitment to shared goals has been established, there are many approaches that can be taken to improving teamwork. More information on these approaches can be found in our article on the choice of teamwork exercises. However, underpinning all these approaches is always the shared goal, and a general methodology that is similar to a force field analysis:

  • Establishing ownership of shared goals
  • Removing inhibitors/blockages to achievement of those goals
  • Introducing enablers (awareness, resources, information, processes, etc.) to help achieve those goals
  • Using health checks, performance management, 360 feedback, etc., in the correct sequence, to gradually raise performance, akin to climbing a ladder one rung at a time

The particular approach or technique that is most suitable for each team depends on the size of the team and types of issues it faces. There are four broad categories:

  • 1: Individuals.
  • 4-8: Intact teams.
  • >10: Team Islands.
  • >50: Organisational Culture.

The foundation of good teamwork is having a shared commitment to common objectives. Without this, all other forms of team building will have a limited impact. Therefore, before using any team building exercises and activities, or DescripciĆ³n: team buildinglooking at relationships in the team, or embarking on other forms of team building, you need to put this foundation of shared commitment in place by:

  • Clarifying the team goals, and building ownership/commitment to those goals across the team
  • Identifying any issues which inhibit the team from reaching their goals, rand emoving the inhibitors
  • Putting in place enablers to help the goals be achieved to higher standards
  • Using team processes in the correct sequence to help the team climb one rung at a time up the ladder of performance

Team Building is therefore not just a single event (though events can play a part), nor is it something that can be done by someone outside the team (though outside consultants can help). It is a task primarily for the team manager and the team members themselves.

Four Types of Team Building

Once you have established the basic foundation of shared commitment, the approach you then take to team building depends on the size of the team and the types of issues that may be inhibiting good teamwork.

DescripciĆ³n: Better teamwork is achieved through dealing with: individuals, small teams, team islands and the organisation.Individuals

In a project environment, where team composition is continually changing, the emphasis must be on selecting people who are self-starters and developing the skills in individuals to become effective team members very quickly. The 'scale' involved is 1 person, and the team building consultant or trainer is endeavouring to change the skills and abilities of the individual at operating within a team (or within multiple teams).

Small Teams

In teams where membership is static - typically in management teams - the motivational challenge is to align the drive of the disparate individuals around the same goals. There can be many inhibitors to performance - eg: personality, dynamics, processes etc., and how the individuals within the team relate to each other can have a big bearing on team performance. So, if a member leaves, or another joins, the dynamics of the team can be changed greatly and the task of team building has to start again. Here, the scale is small - say, 2 to about 12 - and the main priorities are to build the foundation of collective ownership of team objectives, and then overcome inhibitors through team bonding, facilitation, processes, etc..

Team Islands

A larger scale operates between teams. Where the teams do not relate well, they are called 'team islands'. The motivational challenge is to overcome the problem of "in/out groups" so that people have positive attitudes towards those in other teams. There are often many barriers between teams that inhibit team performance, but not all of them can be removed. The main task, therefore, is the bridging, or relationship, between the teams.

Large Teams

The largest scale is organisational culture change. With the exception of the senior management team, any changes to personnel have limited impact on the corporate culture. The key aim of company-wide team building is to change the behaviours and attitudes prevalent in the organisation, which are almost independent of who actually works there - new recruits who are 'different' often start behaving in accord with the existing culture.


  • A team is a group of people working towards a common goal
  • Team building is a process of motivating and enabling the team to achieve that goal
  • The stages involved include clarifying the team goals, building ownership, removing inhibitors, introducing enablers and using processes to move up the ladder of performance
  • The nature of the team building varies in terms of scale, and what you are trying to achieve:

Type of team building


What is changed


1 person

Who is involved in the project, and their individual skills/perceptions

Small Team

2-12 people

Orientation around the team goal, and bonding (relationships between people)

Team Islands

2 or more teams

Orientation towards higher goals, and bridging (relationships between teams)


15+ people

Commitment to the corporate mission, and the culture of the organisation