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Team building in action: How to lead teams where people thrive

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You can assemble a group of people, assign them a common goal to work toward, and refer to them as a team, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll reap the benefits of teamwork. 

Effective team building is far more intentional than that. Putting together a successful team involves selecting team members with relevant expertise and skills that complement one another. It also requires helping those individuals forge a connection that’ll inspire creativity, problem solving, and collaboration. 

In this blog, you’ll learn why effective team building has advantages that extend far beyond establishing good rapport among a group. You’ll also learn how to build teams with intent, so you can improve everything from employee engagement to company culture and beyond.

What is team building, and how does it work?

Team building is a process or a set of actions that contribute to a group of people working effectively together as a team. 

When the phrase is used in a corporate setting, most people think of icebreakers, trust falls, or company-wide scavenger hunts, and although activities that promote team bonding are important, a comprehensive team-building strategy involves more than fun activities. 

The ultimate goal of team building is to create team cohesion. While it’s true that team-building games help foster connection, cohesion is a step above that—cohesion occurs at the intersection of trust, communication, connection, accountability, and productivity. Cohesion can eliminate obstacles that stand in the way of innovation by streamlining the many moving pieces involved with group work. 

An effective team-building strategy begins before a team is created and encompasses a variety of aspects, including selecting group members, choosing a team leader, defining the objective of the group, facilitating communication at team meetings, and supporting a deeper connection between team members.

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The role of team building in creating trust at work

Working together as a team requires a fine balance of independence and interdependence. 

Most of us are familiar with the frustrating challenges that surfaced during group projects in school—all too often, work ended up unfairly divided, with one person bearing most of the burden of actually completing the assignment. In a professional capacity, those conditions can quickly become the catalyst to create a toxic work environment

Productive teamwork requires that every member understands the objective and their role in achieving it, as well as that they’re confident their contribution fits into the eventual outcome.

Team building helps not only to design teams who have the desired experience and skills, but also to optimize that group to work well together. With the right team members, effective leadership, good communication skills, and mutual trust, each member of the group can focus on their own responsibilities and deadlines with the understanding that the individual pieces will all eventually fit together to achieve the desired result. 

The trust that comes with believing everyone on the team is working together toward a common goal and capable of doing their part helps reduce the friction that often happens when different personalities who have a variety of ideas and communication styles are tasked with working together. 

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Different types of team building

There’s no limit to the types of teams that can be created, and the actual process of team building may look a little different for each. 

A marketing team that works remotely will have vastly different needs than a cross-functional project team that meets in the conference room to brainstorm ideas for a new feature. Both will benefit from communication and a sense of connection, but the medium and methods for making that happen may vary. 

Understanding the objective of the team, the duration of the work, and how that work will be carried out are three of the most critical questions to answer before you can begin team building. 

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For in-person teams

There are a lot of team-building advantages to working together in person. Social connections happen more organically when team members run into each other throughout the workday, and communication often feels more effortless when you can just stop by someone’s desk for a quick chat. 

People who work in the same location tend to have a baseline of familiarity, which makes it easier to get to know one another and understand differences in communication style.

For remote teams

Remote work is on the rise, and many companies have had to figure out how to adapt to the changing landscape of the workplace. 

Distance doesn’t necessarily make team building more challenging; however, you may have to be more intentional and creative to smooth out logistical issues around communication and collaboration. 

Video conferencing over Zoom can help bring face-to-face interaction to remote team meetings, and messaging platforms like Slack facilitate communication while also providing a virtual “water cooler” for online team members to gather around. It’s important to remember that socializing isn’t wasted time at work; it’s essential to successful team building.

tug of war team building activity

Games and activities for team building

Team-building exercises and activities are a helpful and playful way to bring people together. Not only do these exercises promote bonding and build cohesion, but they also tend to spark creativity and encourage creative thinking. 

Fun team-building activity ideas include office trivia, a team vs. team game show, an escape room, board games, a cooking or painting lesson, and an improv workshop. A lot of those ideas can be altered to work as virtual team-building activities too (yes, even the escape room!). 

You can also incorporate team-building activities into regularly-scheduled team meetings by opening with icebreaker questions or a riddle written on a whiteboard; anything that helps inspire conversation or an exchange of ideas is a good start.

Group philanthropy is another recent trend in team building. Volunteering together is engaging, inspires teamwork, and gives team members a common outside interest. Choose a non-profit that’s accepting volunteers and spend a few Fridays working together for the greater good. 

Team building can be as complex as a company-wide conference in an exotic locale or as simple as hanging out together at happy hour. It’s really all about getting to know (and appreciate) one another. 

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Team building vs. team development

Team building is about strengthening relationships in an effort to create cohesion. By contrast, team development involves helping a team grow over time by evaluating and addressing problem areas and offering processes or training to overcome potential issues. 

The most successful teams have strong leadership, clear communication, diverse strengths and weaknesses, and a common goal. Team building can be a helpful tool in identifying or implementing these attributes, while team development may be necessary to provide ongoing support to instill these qualities or mitigate any shortcomings. 

Team building is more about how individuals on a team interact with one another to improve the team as a whole, whereas team development focuses on the team’s overall performance. 

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How PI can help and support team building

As a talent optimization platform, PI can help shift team building from an art to a science. 

Use PI Design to optimize your teams from day one. Design uses behavioral data to align employees and team goals based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Establish the ideal mix of communication styles within the group, and get actionable feedback to improve team collaboration and communication.

PI Diagnose’s science-based pulse surveys help improve employee engagement by taking the guesswork out of what’s working and what’s not. Prioritize open communication by giving team members the chance to anonymously share their opinions and suggestions on a regular basis, and use that data to figure out what’s causing employees to disengage. Use the results as a roadmap to identify additional team building or team development opportunities. 

With PI and the power of people data, you can assemble teams where everyone thrives. Understand your people on a deeper level, so you can build teams with the right balance of behaviors, skills, and expertise to overcome any business challenge. 

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Ashley McCann is a content writer who specializes in the things that matter most to people. She loves travel, the Oxford comma, and those tiny kitchen cooking videos.

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