Apr 22, 2011

Planning Team Building Efficiently

One of the most intriguing features of some terms related to the educational and learning sphere is the fact that, however they are used and whoever uses them, they remain ambiguous concepts. That is the case of the term that gives this blog its eloquent title: team building. It is simply understood differently by different people. Training consultancies, e-learning providers, coaches,… everybody in the  L&D field talks about team building. Yet the first obstacles amongst these professionals arise when it comes to agree on “what we mean by it, and what we want to reach through team building”.


In a company where I worked years ago, a manager used to do team building actions by bringing colleagues play some bowling once every month. Along with general efforts to keep a cheerful work environment, that was all they said they did as team building. Was it? In some companies, management organizes dinners, in other, they held more corporate events showing results along with “visions and missions”, in other, they call team building social activities such as going to the movies altogether or calling a catering for a convivial colleague breakfast… Can informal gatherings, colleagues going out, friendly dinners, be considered as actions that actually build teams? Well… I would not say totally no, but I would not say yes either.

Why then can that kind of activities not be called team building? For team building being professional, a deep and wide analysis ought to be done.

First, because from a micro-level perspective, the effect of team building actions on personnel depends on a multiplicity of factors: as psychological science has been demonstrating for decades, individuals react differently to a same stimulus. Furthermore, the range of effects that different stimuli can have in a single but diverse group of people can be as wide as -sometimes- unpredictable.

Then, because the personality, experience, intrinsic motivation, preparation and material resources that the facilitators bring into it play a crucial part. So do their emotional intelligence (both management and expression of emotions), group time management, and imbued personal styles – and more unstable factors such as their status within the organization or even their mood at that moment!

Moreover, because there are variables beyond the individual, linked to organizations’ cultures and structures, that determine the context of the specific actions.  The voluntary vs compulsory nature of the activity itself (is that an optional or an obligatory training? have the participants come up with good ideas during its preparation? to what extent the groups wish to be involved?), the expectations around its outcomes (will that decide fundamental organizational changes? could it affect anybody negatively?), the managerial support given, its fit within a permanent training framework or policy… are all factors that can lead to either the success or the failure of a team building action, from a mezzo-level point of view.

Last, macro-level factors in the organization’s immediate business context, such as the current stage of the economic cycle, market competition or specific legislation, surround the development of team building actions.

Thus, analyzing these micro, mezzo and macro-level factors, will assist much in taking decisions around a particular team building (professional, needless to say) action to be made, improving the whole process from design to outcomes’ evaluation over time, increasing its whole efficiency and ROI ultimately.