When Should Managers Do Team Building?

Kevin P. Dincher

In a recent article about why team building efforts are often less than successful (Team Building?!?! Oh, No!) I said, “…effective team development requires knowing when to do team building—and when not to do team building.” Since the article was about failed team building efforts, I focused on knowing when not to do team building and identified some situations when managers often attempt team building but shouldn’t. Of course, that left the other half of the statement hanging: when should you do team building?

Do team building when you can clearly identify a need for improving the team’s performance.  Team building is about improving team performance—not about promoting a team environment. Effective team building changes the way your people work (both individually and as a group) so that the team is better able to meet its goals and achieve its mission.

Team building that focuses nebulously on “building a team environment” or “promoting teamwork” or some other “feel good” purpose rarely result in change—and are the type of team building sessions that tend to produce cynicism and resistance. No one believes anything will be different once everyone returns to the office—except perhaps that they will be further behind in their work after being away for a day or two. And they are probably right.

Effective team building addresses your team’s real needs and enhances the team’s ability to meet the needs of its customers, co-workers and other stakeholders—and needs to be designed to achieve tangible and important performance outcomes.

The need to improve performance may be internal to the team. Obviously, any breakdown within the teamwork indicates that a team needs help. Poor execution and troubled interpersonal relationships are frequent reasons that managers initiate team building. Dysfunctional behaviors like

  • Avoidance of team interactions (i.e., missing meetings)
  • Chronic complaining
  • Decreased communication, directness and openness
  • Absenteeism, apathy or lack of interest
  • Blaming others or undermining the efforts of others

keep people from working effectively together and may be signs of “team distress.”

Managers must determine if these are the behaviors of just one or two individuals or are widespread throughout the team. If they are the behavior of a couple of individuals, then the manager needs to address these behaviors on an individual basis. If, however, these behaviors are widespread, then team building can help address the underlying issues—but only if you pinpoint the specific issues and needs, establish clear performance goals for the team building effort, and design a team building effort that specifically addresses those issues.

The need to strengthen team performance may be strategic. Even if your team does not show signs of “team distress,” changes and circumstances can challenges your team’s ability to maintain its effectiveness or provide opportunities for your team to “up its game.” Team building can help with a wide range of these needs.  Just a few examples are:

  • You are new as the team leader or there are several new team members;
  • The team needs to agree on its strategic vision or clarify its shared values in light of changes in the company’s strategy;
  • The team needs to strengthen its relationship with internal and/or external customers;
  • The company is going through a major change—such as a merger or acquisition—that impacts roles, structure and lines of authority, and your team needs help shifting gears.
  • The team needs to form strategic alliances with another team and start to work more effectively across what had previously been clear boundaries.

Team building can help your team determine how to address these issues and ensure its ongoing effectiveness—although, just was with issues of team distress, only if you pinpoint the specific issues and needs, establish clear performance goals for the team building effort, and design a team building effort that specifically addresses those issues.

Identifying real needs helps build commitment. Since the expectation for team building is usually some change in the way people work, team requires a commitment by the team leader and by every member of the team. Everyone on the team needs to understand that the effort is about making changes and needs to commit to the resulting changes. When team building addresses specific needs that your people experience as real and when the goals of team building are clear, tangible and important, then your people are more likely to commit—and your team building effort more apt to succeed in improving your team’s performance.

So, when should you do team building? When you:

  1. Can identify a need for improved performance on the part of the team,
  2. Can establish clear, tangible and important goals for the team building effort, and
  3. Can plan a team building effort designed specifically to achieve those goals.

Kevin P Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.  Kevin currently provide services to non-profit organizations through a partnership with Professionals in Philanthropy.

LinkedIn: Kevin P. Dincher


Posted in Management, Organization Development (OD), Teams. Tags: , . Comments Off on When Should Managers Do Team Building?
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