When faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, the best way to solve it is to get together a team of the best and brightest and work to eliminate and push forward. Teamwork isn’t always easy; people drawn together for a project aren’t immediately going to become team players, nor will they be invested in solving the problem unless they are given reason to. Creating functional teams that can truly work together efficiently and successfully can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. It’s important to understand the things that can bring a team together, functionally, to help them coalesce from individuals into a united front, such as Army team building activities.

Team Development Stages

One team-building philosophy looks at three stages of team development. Understanding these will help a leader form a long-term team that is invested in itself.

  1. Formation: Creation of the team. This involves the “team leader” (designated here to represent the person with the responsibility of bringing the team together), making good selections as to employees who have the right skill sets and personalities to fit the overall objective. This leader should then be sure to meet the team members, welcome them to the team and explain what their roles and responsibilities are within this team context.
  2. Enrichment: This is the stage where the team either gels or falls apart. To ensure this stage is successful, leadership should invest in group trainings, set reasonable group goals and be sure to listen to the team and ensure they have authority and advocacy.
  3. Sustainment: This is the final stage, where the team has come together with feelings of ownership and belonging. In this stage, leadership must ensure the team stays challenged and motivated, so that everyone stays engaged.

Five States of Team Development

Another theory presents five stages of team development, focused more on a team cycle looking at a shorter-term project or problem.

  1. Forming: Creation and orientation of the team. Members get to know each other and trying to figure out their roles in what’s to come.
  2. Storming: Most teams don’t start out smoothly. There are conflicts of interest, personality clashes and periods of competition and disagreement. Teams and their leadership need to work through this stage, because if the team cannot break through this original conflict, it will remain unproductive and eventually fall apart.
  3. Norming: Once initial disagreements are settled, the team starts learning to work together. This is the stage where cohesion starts to gain traction and members learn to cooperate and develop productive ways of working together.
  4. Performing: The performing stage hits once the team reaches stability. Members are engaged and productive, and the team is organized and functioning at its peak. Focus moves from individual goals to the team’s objectives. The goal is to hold at this stage as long as possible.
  5. Adjourning: This applies when a team is working on a project with a conclusion, or when a team is handing something off to a different group. The team works together to document and complete their final tasks. Eventually, the team may be assigned to a different project or may be broken back up into individual members.

Team Building Strategies

Both of the above philosophies start out with the formation and, hopefully, unification of the team. There are a number of important things to consider strategically when building a team.

  • Leadership: Teams need a leader who will ultimately make the decisions and give direction. The team leader can be a member of the team, but does not have to be; a manager or project lead can provide leadership and direction from outside the team structure. Leadership structure needs to be established and accepted by the team.
  • Goals: Is the team a department that will be working on a number of projects? Was the team assembled for a specific project? Define the desirable outcomes, with a focus on how they are meaningful to the individual team members. The clearer an objective is, the easier the team will find it to complete.
  • Roles: Just as the goals need to be clearly defined, each person’s role on the team should be discussed. The team will function more efficiently if they understand each person’s responsibilities and where to go for certain needs. It also helps each team member feel more involved and engaged if they know their role suits them.
  • Communication: The team needs to be able to communicate frequently, preferably on a preset schedule, to stay current with ongoing work. Barriers to this (anything from schedules to physical locations) will slow the team down.
  • Camaraderie: The best teams are made up of people who like each other and enjoy the teamwork because they like being together. This can be the most difficult aspect, as many individuals in the workplace focus on the tasks, rather than the social aspect.

Consider all Factors

Considering all of these aspects strategically will help create a team with the best chance of success. Many of the factors above can be easily addressed in the workplace, but camaraderie can be difficult to achieve. How does a manager make their team members like each other and like working together? There are a lot of factors out of management’s control, but the best approach to this is to let the team members get to know each other through a series of activities.

Team Building Activities

These days, most people cringe when team building exercises are mentioned; yes, some of the older team building activities may be embarrassing or intrusive, but in today’s industry, leaders have developed a larger selection of games, puzzles and activities to better appeal to the modern audience. A number of sites online offer lists of team building exercises declared to be fun and productive.

It’s important to understand why team building exercises might fail, to make it easier to select the best one for a specific team.

  • Embarrassment, Inclusion and Introverts: Not everyone is comfortable standing up in front of a group and acting out a charade or pretending to lip-sync in an imaginary workplace band. Embarrassment and humiliation are as equally likely to result as camaraderie, and can actually distance a team member from management and coworkers. Introverts – those who find their energy being alone, rather than in groups – are unlikely to thrive during any kind of extroverted activity. Likewise, not every member of the team may be able to understand or complete the tasks due to disability, language barriers or a lack of cultural context.
  • Unrelated Activities: Many team building activities are meant to be fun, and while enjoyment of the tasks is important, it’s easy to let the lessons slide once the activity is complete if the task had nothing to do with work. For example, the accounting team might get together and create a mural, but afterward, they’re going to go back to their desks and right back to their work. The tasks need to have underpinnings related to the work or project the team has been assembled for.
  • Condescending Messages: Employees of an organization are adult professionals. Asking them to engage in activities that are overly silly, simple or apparently meaningless will backfire, making employees more grumpy and less willing to collaborate.

Consider Desired Outcomes

In order to choose a team building exercise that will work for a specific team, consider what the desired outcome is. Consider the following possibilities within the context of the team, its members and its objectives.

Getting-To-Know-You Games

Consider activities that let employees learn a little more about each other to potentially find common ground and forge friendly ties. The key is to not expect or force any of the members to reveal anything they may be uncomfortable with.

For example, try brief meeting-openers like, “Tell us one thing we probably don’t know about you,” or, “Tell us one thing you did last weekend.” This lets individuals choose what they reveal, but still offers information to the team. Studies show that when employees know more about their coworkers’ lives (as long as it’s neutral or positive), they’re more interested in working with that person.

Military Team-Building Workouts

The military uses a set of team building activities involving strategic thinking, problem-solving and trust to help teams bond. Most of these activities are physical, so be sure to provide accessible options so all employees can take part. Team building military-style can include strategy games, like having to listen to a team or partner to try to hit a target blindfolded, or team exercises like paintball, capture the flag or obstacle courses.

Some activities can be easily modified for the workplace: for example, rather than having to work together to repair a tank, give the team a scenario where one member’s car has broken down and the team needs to work together to solve the problem. In these cases, the final solution is far less important than the process.

Team Social Events

Purely social events have their place in industry, as long as they aren’t expected to be the glue that holds a team together. Anything from a simple team dinner to a company-wide outing can work; it’s moving the team out of the workplace, to a space where they can relax somewhat, that allows them to chat and bond with other coworkers. The key is to focus on a fun, relaxing time, rather than expecting any concrete and measurable advantages from a picnic or coffee run. Letting the team take a break together can be incredibly productive.

Internally Focused Games

These types of games can be the most effective, as they end up much more related to the workplace. They involve presenting the team with either a challenge similar to the one they might face, or a sort of blank-slate scenario.

For example: Hang up big pieces of paper labeled with 6-10 different projects, themes or processes. Have teams (or individual members) start at one to write down ideas, then rotate around until everyone has built off of the previous ideas. This kind of activity not only helps generate actual ideas for the business but helps teammates to get to know different projects or work areas; encourage fun and creative responses as well as serious ones to turn it into a social event as well as an intellectual one.

Some Teams Are Incompatible

It’s also important to understand that not all teams are going to work. Occasionally, one or more members may have work styles that are just incompatible, or assumptions have been made about skill sets and availability that end up being not true. In these cases, the leadership needs to take a hard look at the team and evaluate the costs and benefits between forcing the team to continue and changing out personnel and goals.

The former can eventually encourage some employees to change, but most often results in shows of stubbornness and eventual problems; the latter sets the team back somewhat as they have to settle in to new members, goals or directions. The key is: it’s up to everyone on the team to make it work, and it’s especially critical for leadership to understand how and why teamwork comes together.