Team Building, Personnel, and the Workplace

Team Building, Personnel, and the Workplace

Team Building, Personnel, and the Workplace by Greg Santen

There are many important issues facing employees in the workplace.  One of the most crucial, and often overlooked, is team building.  Many employees and managers do not consider themselves as part of a team; probably because their workplace does not function as one.  If managers can see their workers as a team, train them in a manner that builds successful teams, and conduct their business to maintain this, their agencies would be happier, more productive workplaces.  This is especially true for agencies that provide team building for clients.  Any employee should learn the importance of this process and take it with them through their professional careers for when they become managers and leaders.  Just because someone was hired to be the manager of a company or business, does not make them good leaders or effective team builders.  If more managers were skilled at molding good teams, the American workforce would be much more effectual and successful.

According to the United States Department of Labor, there were over 150 million people in the American workforce in April of 2009 (www.wiki.answers.com).  That means that having a successful and conducive workplace, affects over half of the American population.  In terms of team building in the workplace, that is a lot of people to train to work as a team.

Literature Search

To find scholarly journal articles on this topic, the words team building were cross-referenced with several related terms.  These included philosophy, strategies, growth, facilitation, techniques, and leadership.  This proved to be somewhat challenging because there seems to be some ambiguity on the spelling of team building; namely, is it spelled team building, teambuilding, or  team-building?

Combining the two words into one compound word produced only 1002 articles on EBSCO Host and only about 5 million hits on Google.  Hyphenating the word found over 12,000 articles and 146 million Google hits.  Keeping the words separate located the most articles; almost 18,000 on EBSCO and over 26 million hits on Google.  And to make matters worse, the Merriam-Webster dictionary does not list the term in any form what so ever, which brings up the question: What is Team Building?

Defining a word that does not exist in the dictionary required the use of definitions of related terms: team, goal, teamwork, and leadership.  A team is defined as “a number of persons associated together in work or an activity; a group on one side associated in some joint action”.  Goal is defined as “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; an aim or an end.”  Teamwork is defined as “cooperative or coordinated work done by several associates, each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the group in the interest of a common cause.”  Finally, leadership is defined as “the office, position, or function of a leader; the capacity or ability to lead; an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction” (Merriam-Webster).  Surprisingly, most definitions of team had to do with groups of harnessed animals and none mentioned goal as part of their definitions.  The terms team building and team member were not found at all in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Based on the explanations of these words, the definition of teambuilding could be “forming a number of persons associated in some joint action, through guidance and direction, to cooperate and coordinate their work, produce results and achievements, and subordinate their personal prominence to the efficiency of the group and the interest of a common cause.”

Group Dynamics

The ability to form a successful team is a function of the type of people a manager is working with.  Knowing the people in your group is essential to forming a team.   Judith Holton cites two lists of team member roles.  She cites a list by Beblin (1981; 1993) that outlines nine specific roles of team members in three categories.  The action-oriented group has three types: 1) shapers, 2) implementers, and 3) completers/finishers.  People-oriented team members consist of 4) coordinators, 5) team workers, and 6) resource investigators.  The last group is cerebrally-oriented people who are the 7) creative or idea people, 8) monitors/evaluators, and 9) specialists (Holton, 2001).

Another list Holton cites is similar.  MacIver’s (1995) list of team members includes 1) realizers, 2) coordinators, 3) shapers, 4) creators, 5) resourcers, 6) evaluators, 7) team workers, 8) finishers, and 9) emoters (Holton, 2001).  Not every group will consist of all of these types of members at first, but people will assume these roles as a group goes through certain processes.  Once the roles are filled, each will help in balancing the group (Holton, 2001).

Which people fill which role is based on certain characteristics of the individuals filling the role.  John Darling (1990) said that there are two major crucial behavioral dimensions that people can fall under: assertiveness or responsiveness.  These categories form the two axes and four quadrants of the social style grid.  Differing levels of assertiveness and responsiveness an individual has dictate which quadrant they will generally fall into.  High levels of both land one in the Expressive quadrant while a person with low levels of both will tend to have an analytical social style.  Someone who is more responsive than assertive suggests an amiable social style and vise versa, a driving social style (Darling, 1990).  While these are broad generalizations, it helps to see, as a manager, what kind of styles you and your fellow team members tend to have, in order to properly fill the necessary roles of a successful team.  “While no one style is basically better than any other, versatility- the ability to get along with people whose styles differ from one’s own- has often been shown to distinguish the successful from the unsuccessful within a small business firm” (Darling, 1990, paragraph 6).

Bruce Tuckman’s Five Stages of Group Development

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman outlined his four stages of group development in the article, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.  His stages have become a widely taught subject in team building.  His stages are forming, norming, storming, performing, and adjourning; the fifth being added in a later article.  This linear progression of how a group changes through its development is crucial to understand how a manager’s team will respond to variables and changes it experiences.  The different stages are illustrated by a comparison to a natural human lifespan and the similar changes an individual can experience as one ages through life.

            This first stage of group development involves the group initially getting together and knowing one another.  This is the childhood stage.  A team member’s behavior is dictated by gaining acceptance, self-establishment, and gathering information about fellow team members.  Meetings and activities are quiet, polite, and most people do not have a lot to say or contribute.  The leader of a group in this phase will do most of the talking and directing.  Very little gets accomplished in this phase as the team organizes itself, decides who does what, when, and when, and the goals and objectives of the team are spelled out.  Team members try to avoid conflict or confrontation in this phase, as the group is still only a collection of people with no sense of individual or group spirit.  Individuals in this phase are quiet when it comes to their excitement about their membership on the team and their perceptions of their long-term commitment to the team is tentative (Tuckman, 1965).

The dynamic of a team becomes more chaotic in the storming phase of group development.  This could equate to the adolescence phase of human development.  Conflict is common here and the leadership of the group can be challenged for the first time in this phase.  Individuals feel more comfortable with their fellow team members and become more open and honest with them.  Members compete to fill certain group roles and their ideas compete for validation.  Various leadership models and group processes are attempted as power grabs between group members become common.  High functioning groups have the potential to quickly resolve their storming phase while lower performing ones can get stuck and never leave this stage.  These conflicts are necessary for the growth of a healthy team, much like a healthy teenager, but the storming phase can prove destructive if allowed to go unchecked.  These conflicts cause some team members who are reluctant to engage themselves in conflict to easily become frustrated with the storming phase and many begin to discuss ways to create group harmony.  Tolerance and open-mindedness are essential qualities of team members and leaders of teams in the storming phase.  This want of harmony leads teams who are capable of it to Tuckman’s third stage (Tuckman, 1965).

When the team eventually agrees on how they are to operate, the team has entered the fourth of Tuckman’s stages.  The norming stage could be compared to a more mature, however young, adult stage of human development, where group members are more organized and responsible.  The group has a feeling of positive acceptance and high levels of task accomplishment by this time.  Members deal constructively with conflicts and fill their leadership roles appropriately.  The team has clearly defined their goals and has agreed on the methods they will use to achieve them.  Team members are more willing to compromise and even give up their ideas for the good of the team.  The harmony achieved in the norming phase prepares teams to actually do what they set out to do and move up to the next phase of group development (Tuckman, 1965).

The performing phase is when a team puts their efforts into practice and effectively meets its set objectives.  There is a feeling of true accomplishment and the team member begins to reap the benefits of its labors, much like an individual in an older adult stage of their life.  Only well-functioning teams with high levels of interdependence are capable to reach this phase.  Leadership and workload are equally distributed by this time, and leaders take on a more participatory rather than supervisory role, as the team itself makes most of the decisions.  Because of this, team members are more independent competent, and have little need for supervision.  Individuals begin to assess themselves and their fellow team members in a way that confirms their favorable feelings toward the team as a whole.  Team member may actually enjoy each other on a social level, outside of the team or work environment, functioning more like a group of friends than coworkers.  There is still dissent and conflict, however it is more accepted and dealt with in a healthy way.  These conflicts can send a group back into a smaller storing phase, but a group will usually norm themselves and return to a performing phase again (Tuckman, 1965).

Tuckman’s continued his work with group development years later when he added a fifth stage: adjourning.  This phase breaks up and dissolves the group.  Team member must deal with breaking up the structure of the group and move on after their goals have been accomplished.  This phase sends the group out into the world knowing what the group did and how they did it, in order to make it a learning experience (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977).  Jordan says, “All groups cease to exist at some time.  Some groups reframe and reinvent themselves, while others simply dissolve.  This may occur gradually or abruptly.  In this stage some groups experience an over optimism about the power of a group (We can do anything!) followed by a denial of the impending dissolution” (Jordan, 2001, p. 89).

Tuckman’s phases of group development can be applied to the professional world.  If managers look at their workers as teams with defined beginnings and ends, and managers have an understanding of how their teams evolve through the group and team development process, they can better manage them and mold them into a productive and healthy workforce.

Debra Jordan adds a sixth stage and assigns a mnemonic device corresponding to each of Tuckman’s stages: GROUPD.  Getting to know each other is the forming stage, which is followed by Relationship Building in the norming phase.  Opposition and Conflict represent the storming phase, and then Jordan adds Unity as the reconciliation to move to the next phase.  Productivity is the performing stage, and Dissolution concludes the process as the adjourning stage (Jordan, 2001).  Each model illustrates a clear progression to a group’s changes as it grows and evolves.

Team Building Activities

For a manager to know the social styles, roles, and dynamics of its team members is only part of the battle.  Depending on the nature of the agency, the work itself may not be enough to form a cohesive team.  There are endless ways a manager can promote good teamwork and good team members by integrating team building activities into the agency’s trainings and even as a regular part of its annual schedule.  But there is a right and a wrong way to go about instituting a team building regiment into an agency’s culture.  There are specific types of team building activities that deal with certain areas of teamwork, as well as a natural, healthy sequence to what activities are facilitated when and in what order.  There is a connection to be made between the sequencing and facilitation cycles and the growth processes that participants go through with Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.  This is important to assure that your team building session challenges the team members in a healthy way and promotes proper growth.

            Types of team building activities.

            A good team building session is one that has a wide diversity of types of activities.  If there is a particular issue facing an agency, one type might be more crucial than another, but all are important.  There four main groups of team building activities: 1) Trust, 2) Planning/Adaptibility, 3) Communication, and 4) Problem Solving/Decision Making.  Many team building activities have elements of more than one or, at times, all four categories (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

            Trust activities.

These types of exercises rely on the trust of fellow team member to accomplish.  They can be physical in nature, involving the trust of one team member to keep the other safe, such as in the case of trust falls.  One member is the spotter and the other is the faller.  Through a series of commands, the faller leans backward (sometimes with their eyes closed and arms folded), and must rust their partner to properly and safely catch them.  This can be difficult for many individuals since the physical aspect may be more challenging to overcome than actually trusting their partner (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

            Planning/Adaptability activities.

Adaptability activities stress the importance to be able to change as a team member.  Versatility and flexibility are crucial skills to have in the workplace.  These activities can be complex in nature and may require that the participant take on a role that they are not used to filling.  Facilitating these activities underscores the importance of thorough planning before implementing a solution to a problem (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

            Communication activities.

Good communication is vital for the success of any team or agency.  These types of activities show the importance of not only expressing yourself clearly, but also being an open listener to other team members’ ideas and contributions.  A facilitator of communication geared team building activities has the option of taking away one or more participants’ power of speech.  This allows the less vocal or more timid members of the group to have a voice in the communication process (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

            Decision-Making/Problem solving activities.

Problem solving activities may present challenges to participants that at first seem physically or mathematically impossible.  These activities are of a higher level of difficulty and have elements of the previous three categories incorporated in them.  Therefore, these may require particular groups to have mastered them first in order to efficiently complete them.  Usually participants go through a series of small failures before completing the challenge using a combination of ideas from several of the participants (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

            Hierarchy and sequencing of team building activities.

            There is a logical progression to any team building session.  Starting a group out on a level they are not prepared for is detrimental to the development of that group.  Starting small and easy, even with a group of adults, can still be challenging to them.  Comparatively, staying on one level for two long can also have negative affects.  Knowing your group and what they are currently capable of can aid in creating a good sequence to team building.  Another aid is comparing them to Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development and using proper team building sequences to help your team progress through these stages in an effective way.


This first level of the sequence equate to the Tuckman’s forming stage.  It is used for groups who do not know each other very well or who are just starting out. These are light-hearted and fun in nature and are designed to loosen up the group and get people comfortable with each other before the real begins. Examples of icebreakers could be name games or activities that get people up out of their chairs and moving (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

Ground-based initiatives.

Ground-based initiatives (GBIs) involve the types of activities described in the previous section.  Communication, trust, and decision-making activities make up the bulk of the GBI part of the team building sequence.  A session of GBIs could be compared to the storming phase of group development when the team is going through a series of group challenges that force them to work together.  GBIs usually require some sort of equipment such as ropes, blind folds, or cones in order to facilitate (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

Low-ropes elements.

This part of the team building sequence involves high-level activities that get the participant up off the ground onto some sort of apparatus like a cable, rope, or platform that is no more that one foot off the ground.  Some low-ropes elements may require spotters for safety should a participant fall.  These are typically more difficult challenges to overcome and require more physical ability to complete.  The norming phase of group development is occurring here because only groups that have completed a successful session of GBIs will be effective at low-ropes elements (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

High-ropes elements.

This is at the top of the team building sequence because it has the highest level of challenge but also the highest level of benefits to offer.  High-ropes courses will require the participant to wear a protective harness and helmet and be clipped into a belay system for safety while they climb either a wall, pole, or tree to reach various traverse elements, high above the ground.  These courses offer many challenges for the participants and require them to be a cohesive team by this point in order to benefit fully from this shared experience.  With this high level of functioning, the performing stage of group development comes into play here when the group is all performing together and growing individually and as a team.

There are three types of challenges that any team building activity involve, but which are particularly evident when it comes to facilitating high-ropes experiences: 1) physical, 2) mental, and 3) social.  Physically, the participant will be moving, climbing, and using muscles in a way they perhaps never have before.  Mentally, being thirty or more feet above the ground, standing on a thing wire may be extremely taxing on anyone, and a challenge the participant must overcome.  Many never do.  Most of the challenges presented in a high-ropes experience could not be overcome without the encouragement of fellow team members, which for some, may be socially challenging (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

Gerstein’s Growth Process

            As a group progresses through a team building session, certain levels of growth are achieved and benefited from.  It is important not to allow an individual or team to move to quickly from one zone to the next or especially to skip a zone.  This does not allow for learning to take place.  Jackie Gerstein’s Work in Progress: Facilitating the Human Side of Experience-Based Training (2000), outlines her three zones of growth in this process and applications can again be made to Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.

            Comfort zone.

            The first stage of growth is the most familiar to the group.  They are comfortable with their position, role, and responsibilities within the group.  Their skill level is acceptable to them and they adhere to their usual behavioral patterns (Gerstein, 2000, p. 30).  Participants are in the forming stage of group development and icebreakers and a few low-level GBIs will persuade a group to move out of this growth zone.

            Groan zone.

Staying in one zone cannot teach a team anything.  Progression must be made and the comfort level of participants must be challenged in order to move up to groan zone in order for learning to occur.  Conflicts begin to arise and comfort levels must be compromised.  This is most like the storming stage of group development.  There exist a low level of fear and participants are challenged to use skills they are not used to (Gerstein, 2000, p. 30).  This level could be reached in the low or high-ropes course settings.

            Growth zone.

The Growth zone is comparable to the norming stage of group development.  A participant has gone out of their comfort zone, entered the groan zone, and now feels confident with the new skills they have learned.  There is also a desire to implement these new skills in their daily lives (Gerstein, 2000, p. 30).  It is important to note that when a participant has entered the growth zone and then re-enters the comfort zone, the size of their comfort zone has increased because learning has occurred and the participant has benefited from the experience.

            Panic zone.

Jones adds a fourth zone to Gerstein’s three.  The Panic zone is not a desired outcome of any level of team building.  The participant is not ready to be that far out of his or her comfort zone and no learning or growth is occurs.  This developmental step is too big and the participant must be brought back down to a lower zone before moving on (J. Jones, Personal communication, November 6, 2010).

Roles of Facilitators

Facilitators of team building activities, and thus agency managers and leaders, fill certain roles themselves in this complex process.  L. A. Daloz says that there are three main roles of a facilitator (manager or leader) of team building: 1) supporter, 2) challenger, and 3) visionary (Daloz, 1986).

As a supporter, a good leader must be an effective listener, maintaining an open, sharing environment for their team.  They must provide a structure for success and advocate for positive attitudes to make any experience worthwhile.  The challenger role of a leader is to keep the team discussing ideas, fostering healthy conflicts, getting involved in the decision-making process.  A challenger must also set high standards for success.  The visionary in every leader, according to Daloz, must model exemplary behavior, being a mirror for his or her team.  They must present fresh ideas that follow the agency’s traditions and road map for success (Daloz, 1986).


Using Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, a team building facilitator or manager of a team or agency can send their team through a healthy, educational growth experience that makes them and the agency as a whole function as a more effective and competitive team and provide better services to their clients.  Connections can be made from Tuckman’s stages to nearly every level or facet of the team building experience.  If the team building sequence and growth process are used properly, a group will naturally progress through Tuckman’s stages and become a well-rounded and effectual team.  If attention is paid to all aspects of the team building process, success is a fore-gone conclusion.


Agencies that offer team building and leadership development to its clients have a great responsibility to practice what they preach.  From a program quality perspective, if these programs have been facilitated well to their target audiences, then it should be assumed that the agencies are already cohesive, high-functioning teams themselves.  However when these agencies are looked at from the inside, examining how they train their employees, business operations, and inter-agency relations, this may not be the case with every agency in the industry.

If agencies who claim to offer good team building and leadership development programs would look to training their employees, running their operations, and interacting with fellow co-workers as a continuous team building exercise, these agencies would better reflect their mission statements and offer more effective programs.  Agencies that provide team building programs should be expected to function following the models and processes discussed here.  In short, good teams produce good teams.



Daloz, L. A. (1986). Effective teaching and mentoring: realizing the transformational power of adult learning experiences. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Darling, J. R. (1990). Team building in the small business firm. Journal of Small Business Management, 28.

Gerstein, J. (2000). Work in progress: Facilitating the human side of experience-based training. Oklahoma City, OK: Wood and Barnes Publishing.

Goal. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/goal

Guzzo, R. A., & Dickson, M. W. (1996). Teams in organizations: Recent research on performance and effectiveness. Annual Review of Psychology, 47.

Holton, J. A. (2001). Building trust and collaboration in a virtual team. Team Performance Management, 7(3/4), 36-47.

Jordan, J. A. (2001). Leadership in leisure services: Making a difference. State College, PA: Venture Publishing, Inc.

Lead. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lead

Leadership. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leadership

Team. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/team

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(5), 384-399.

Tuckman, B., & Jensen, M. (1977). Stages of small group development revisited. Group and Organization Strategies, 2(4), 419-427.




Translate »