For many people, the term team building has the connotation of company retreats and bonding exercises.  Such activities may indeed be part of an organization’s efforts to promote a cohesive team, but building one is larger in scope.  One useful definition from the Business Dictionary is the ability to identify and motivate individual employees to form a team that stays together, works together and achieves together.  The definition is straightforward; the process is not.  How can organizations ensure that their team-building efforts are successful?  Following are some tips:

Develop Clear Objectives

Successful teams know why they are working together, what they are supposed to accomplish, and how they are to accomplish it.  It is the responsibility of the team leader to clearly define the goals, engage members in the process for achieving these goals, and maximize the role each member plays in attaining success.   This initial phase of building a team is critical and should not be taken lightly.  The leader’s role is vital because it will provide the clarity of purpose essential for success.

Expect Initial Hurdles

The team leader should not expect smooth sailing from the beginning.  It will take some time for the group to become comfortable with one another and learn how to work together effectively.  The leader should remember that a rocky start is a normal characteristic of the team-building process.  There is even a name for this stage – storming – according to the five stages of team development identified by Bruce Tuckman, a researcher and theorist on group dynamics.  In his model, this stage involves resistance to group influence and task requirements and intragroup conflict.  The next stage of Tuckman’s model – norming – is when cohesiveness increases.

Give Each Team Member a Voice

A popular adage is that there is no ‘I’ in team.  Team leaders must understand when to lead and when to encourage others to step forward.  During meetings, every member should have the chance to voice his or her opinion without fear of criticism. It is important for leaders to establish a give-and-take environment during the first meeting and to encourage continuing dialogue in all team interactions.  If discussion becomes contentious, that is all right.  According to the late Harvard University professor of social and organizational psychology, J. Richard Hackman, “Conflict, when well managed and focused on a team’s objectives, can create more creative solutions than one sees in a conflict-free group.  So long as it is about the work itself, disagreements can be good for a team.”  Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, warns that without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. 

Encourage Accountability

It is important to stress each member’s accountability for the general good of the group and for individual activities related to team and company goals.  Each team member should provide regular updates on his or her progress toward a certain project goal and share honestly when conflicting efforts affect another member of the team.  Lack of dialogue can lead to misunderstanding and worse, destructive conflict over territories and who gets credit for accomplishments.  Failure to maintain accountability will quickly destroy team cohesion.  On the other hand, it is also critical for the group to celebrate its successes when appropriate.  Such celebrations reinforce behaviors that support the team which, in turn, improve motivation and engagement.

Review Lessons Learned

After a project is complete, a team should meet to review the outcome and discuss what did and did not work well.   The process of cultivating a team is an ongoing activity.  Priorities will change and new members may come and go, which makes it essential to periodically reset objectives and revisit ground rules for behavior. This will help an organization and the team leader build cohesive and effective teams in the future.

Successful team building goes beyond identifying people with complementary skills and bringing them together to accomplish a certain project or task.  It requires constant attention to group dynamics and a willingness to allow differences of opinion to be aired in a constructive manner.  The process is not simple, but the results of many people working together toward a common goal can be quite powerful and greatly impact business growth.


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