Team Building in the Workplace


Team building has been the new trend in organizations that cater to the global environment. Team building is also known as clustering or the conduct of specialized groups to attain specific tasks, but which tasks are focused on one mission or objective. The connection between teams is performance.

“If the organization is to perform, it must be organized as a team” (Drucker, 1992, cited in Contu, p. 118).

Katzenbach and Smith (1993, cited in Contu, 2007, p. 123) propose that the importance and the impact of teams at work is dependent on how much they are not a simple new label attached by senior managers to old ways of working; they are not to be equated with well-intentioned teambuilding events proposed by management consultants and they are not the same as recipes presented in the popular management books making the best sellers list. Teams are identified as a distinctive form of organizational technology – i.e. a particular way of organizing work that is designed to achieve specific ends.

As Katzenbach and Smith (1993) put it, there is a ‘wisdom’ related to teams at work. To create ‘real teams (i.e. teams that reach high performance) managers need to learn a proper discipline which requires application, time and commitment.

Main body

Features of team discipline include adequate level of complementary skills, truly meaningful purpose, specific goals and performance objectives, clear working approach, and mutual accountability (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993, cited in Contu, 2007, p. 123).

Team formations are considered special features for improved organizational performance. Teams are identified as essential components of the implementation of the principles of total quality management (Oakland, 1996). They are building blocks of ‘excellent organizations’ (Peters and Waterman, 1982, cited in Contu, 2007, p. 125), key elements of the ‘learning organization’ (Senge, 1990) and they are critical components of virtually all high-performance management systems that build profit by putting people first (Pfeffer, 1998, cited in Contu, 2007, p. 125).

Synonymous terms given to this kind of clustering are responsible teams, self-managing teams, or semi-autonomous teams which are building blocks of new ‘post-bureaucratic’ organizational forms, but which are comparatively flat and agile because they have few hierarchical layers (Peters, 1988, cited in Contu, 2007, p. 126).

Teams tend to enhance organizational flexibility and learning as they can explore and react quickly to any problem or new challenge. Motivation is also greatly enhanced as teams are ‘empowered’ by giving the members responsibility and autonomy in performing organizational tasks, in contrast to traditional organizations with their tight rules of command, short span of control and coordination (Jenkins, 1994, p. 852, cited in Contu, 2007, p. 126).

Team working is also known as the ‘lean factory’. Womack et al (1990, p. 90, as cited in Contu, 2007, p. 126) conducted a five-year study on the status of the organization of work in the automobile industry around the world. They called it the ‘lean design’ because it defies traditional criteria of organization of production and management thinking. Its aim is to avoid waste, slack and redundancies. It is also known as ‘just-in-time’, a principle that refers to a short process. Here every point in the chain, from the suppliers to the producers and distributors, only delivers on demand, so that capital is not tied up in stock and product refinements that require new parts can be speedily introduced. The system is fast and efficient, with few errors, and this is what lean design aspires to achieve.

Team building has been applied in manufacturing and production to improve the workplace. This is also related to the Japanese kaizen concept which is known as “continual improvement”. Kaizen can be applied to design, production and manufacturing.

A team is defined as:

…a small number of interdependent people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. The team has joint, specific ‘collective work-products’ such as experiments, reports, products, etc. (Katzenbach and Smith, 1993, as cited in Contu, p. 120).

A selection of team members begins by referring to the list of skills, abilities, and experiences needed for team members in the charter. The team develops a membership matrix listing all the needed qualifications and the prospected qualified applicants or members. The members have to be screened by the responsible person or the manager, after which he/she may select a team leader for such a team. But first the objective of the team should be outlined first, i.e. why the team was established in the first place.

Team goals

Mackin (2007) relates team building with leadership, and says that leadership of an organization must recognize that teaming is a cultural change that will include: developing awareness of teams as both a tool and a culture shift, acquiring knowledge and understanding about how teams function, learning skills to perform new teaming behaviors, and internalizing attitudes and beliefs so that teaming becomes a way of life. (Mackin, 2007, p. 2)

Types of teams

According to Mackin (2007, p. 5), the different types of teams all serve a particular purpose and have their own characteristics and set of benefits.

Multifunctional Teams are concerned of the needs of the organization. These are concerned of the inside make of the organization to include philosophy, strategy, policies, and direction. This may refer to a council who is in charge of the direction of the organization.

Task-Force or Cross-Functional Teams are small teams of eight to twelve members who come from different sections or areas of the workplace, and are called for a particular purpose or mission. The groups meet together to discuss problems or topics that are of interest for the organization. They implement certain plans coming from the higher echelon of the organization. They also perform functions such as investigation, solving problems, or interactive functions that steer some existing jobs or functions. These teams perform functions similar to kaizen, which is originally Japanese in concept but which means continual improvement. The teams implement continual improvement in the workplace.

Improvement Teams are similar to cross-functional teams but the primary objective here is to focus on a particular problem and identify the solutions. They are restricted to within a department and exist only for that purpose. After they have solved the problem, the teams can be terminated right away.

Self-Directed Work Teams, also functional or value Stream, comprise an intact team of employees who work together on an ongoing, day-to-day basis without direct supervision. (Mackin, 2007, p. 6)

As to training and development, team development is designed to improve the effectiveness of people with interdependent jobs, where effectiveness refers to managing problems and accomplishing group goals. Woodman and Sherwood (1980a, as cited in Williams & Lillibridge, 1992, p. 128) used the terms team development and team building interchangeably, and said that team building is designed to improve team operation by developing problem-solving procedures and skills and increasing role clarity, thereby enhancing organizational effectiveness. Their perspective assumes that team building facilitates team processes which in turn influence team performance.

Woodman and Sherwood (1992) delineated the difference between team development and T-group training. They further identified 30 development studies conducted between 1964 and 1978, and categorized them according to the major types of team building interventions specified by Beer (1976). Team interventions were used more frequently with management teams than with lower level work groups, and were more common with established work groups than as a means of developing newly formed teams.

Training modules or instructions for team members wholly depend on what kind of purpose the team was envisioned to be. In a study, Sargent, Allen, Frahm & Morris (2009) outlined the development, delivery, and evaluation of a training intervention designed to build team-coaching skills in teaching assistants (p. 526).

The teams used practical methods of problem solving, with sidelights on applying experiential ways of improving skills. Student assistants benefited from this method of training.

Sargent et al.’s (2009) study ensured more effective student teamwork in large courses. They also developed coaching skills to the teaching assistants that would improve their immediate performance as teachers and potentially future performance as managers or faculty members. The training drew on team effectiveness literatures to develop a conceptually and practically rigorous training program. This training suggested that we can develop knowledge levels and improve the perceived functioning and effectiveness of student teams.

The students also reported higher performance when coached by a teaching assistant who had been trained. The materials for training are freely and publicly available online, with the aid of the Internet. Costs for training include those for training preparation by faculty, payments for attending training, and any additional payments for the hours spent in team meetings.

Training interventions can be focused on the development of individual skills or on the development of team skills. Individual task proficiency is related to team performance so training that enhances individual characteristics should contribute to team performance. Team tasks require more than simply well-trained individuals.

According to Steiner (1972) team performance is not only a function of the potential of team members to perform their assigned subtasks, but it is also a function of the ability of team members to coordinate their work flow and communicate effectively with one another. Although there has been little empirical research in this area, there is some evidence that training “team skills”, such as coordination and communication, should result in improved team performance. Some training interventions would affect team performance by enhancing the team process skills, while others would concentrate on enhancing team characteristics by teaching interpersonal skills and changing team climate.

Motivation and goal setting in team building can almost be similar because the two can enhance team effectiveness in several ways. First, establishing agreed upon output levels may clarify differences regarding what the team’s goals should be and may help elucidate what resources are needed to accomplish the goals. Second, individual characteristics can be changed; more specifically, participative goal-setting can heighten team member’s motivation and commitment (Latham & Yukl, 1975, cited in Tannenbaum et al., 1992, p. 127).

Studies have found that successful managers have stronger power motives than less successful managers. The human need theory asserts that people have urges relative to the three needs which are the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power (Firth, 2002: 86). The role of team leaders is to coach, that of the facilitator, not someone to play as superman (Armstrong, 1998, p. 8).

An organization has to encourage goal-setting of employees in the workplace. Locke (2001) argues that goals may vary and often come into conflict with the goals of the organization they are employed. The organization has to seek ways to balance workers’ expectations and the organization’s goals.

High performance in a job leads to high satisfaction. People always connect work with life’s fulfillment, and connect their satisfaction at work with their feelings and satisfaction of life, and happiness with their family. Satisfaction in the workplace means happiness at home and fulfillment in life. Work and life balance suggests a balance for life and what people do. There has to be a blending equality that includes work, family, pleasure, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

Motivation theories are linked to the needs theories by social scientists and scholars. According to Abraham Maslow (1943), our needs are arranged like a pyramid or ladder. At the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological needs such as food, water, oxygen and sex. As one set is met, the person moves up the ladder to the next. The next in the ladder are the safety needs such as security, stability, dependency, protection, freedom from fear, anxiety and chaos. Then we have the need for structure, order, law, and limits, and the need for strength in the protector.

If the physiological and the safety needs are already met, then is the love and affection and belongingness needs (Maslow, 1943, p. 233). Self-esteem needs include how we value ourselves, and our love and respect for ourselves and for others.

Keys to team building success

According to Beer (1976), there are four basic approaches to team building, including: a goal-setting, problem-solving model; an interpersonal model; a role model; and the managerial grid (Blake & Mouton, 1964) model. However, this initial conceptualization has since been reconsidered.

Buller (1986, cited in Klein et al., 2009, p. 185) proposed a general problem-solving model that incorporates a focus on task or interpersonal issues, goal setting, and role clarification, depending on the nature of the specific problems identified for the group under investigation. The problem-solving approach to team building is said to subsume each of Beer’s (1976) components, and, as perhaps evident by its title, emphasizes the identification of major problems in the team.

Keys to the success of team building can be aided using the RACI Chart. The RACI Chart is a valuable tool to use with self-directed teams and project teams. RACI stands for:

  • “R” Responsible – stands for the “doer” of the task, responsible for completing the task or making the decision. Multiple people/teams may have responsibility for completing a task or making a decision.
  • “A” Accountable – stands for the person or team held accountable for ensuring that the task/decision is completed on time and meets expectations.
  • “C” Consulted – stands for the person/ team who will be consulted with by the responsible (“R”) person/team before performing a task or making a decision.
  • “I” Informed – stands for the person/team who will be informed that a task or decision has been completed or made.

Conflict and Resolution

When a problem occurs in the team formation, it is best to look into the problem and provide all the details. This can be followed by identifying the alternatives available and the pros and cons of each; others will decide which to select. Any member can recommend a course of action for others’ approval. Then, report what the team intends to do, but delay action until approval is received. The next steps are: take action, report action, and report results. Communicate only if the action is unsuccessful.

Advantages of team building

Applebaum and Batt (1994, as cited in Klein et al., 2009, p. 182) reviewed 12 large-scale surveys and 185 case studies of managerial practices and concluded that team-based work leads to improvements in organizational performance on measures of both efficiency and quality. They argued that team-based systems benefit workers because of the higher likelihood of job enhancement, autonomy, and skill development associated with these systems. However, the simple existence of a team-based organizing structure is not enough to ensure that positive outcomes will result. Teams must be nurtured, supported, and developed. (Klein et al., 2009, p. 182)


Klein and colleagues (2009, p. 212) found in their study that the prospects of introducing team building are encouraging – team building does improve team outcomes. Process and affective outcomes were most improved by team-building interventions. Moreover, all the components, i.e. role clarification, goal setting, interpersonal relations, and problem solving, of team building had a moderate effect on outcomes but the goal-setting and role-clarification components had the largest effect. Large teams appeared to benefit the most.

Advantages of team building:

  • Improve production as there is continual improvement in the workplace.
  • Members are more responsible and accountable to the teams they belong, thus they work harder for the attainment of goals.
  • There is more cooperation and motivation in the workplace.
  • Tasks and responsibilities are shared among the members and the leader.
  • Members are more responsive to technological and other changes inside the organization.
  • Work is simplified.
  • Workers are more flexible and productive.
  • Workers tend to solve their own job-related problems instead of waiting for management to do the job.
  • Work-life balance is enhanced.
  • Communication amongst members and leaders is not a problem.

Disadvantages of team building

Meta-analytic results from one study have suggested there is no overall effect of team building on team performance (Salas et al., 1999). However, there was support for the role-clarification component of team building. Theoretically, one would assume that an intervention focused on improving team functioning would result in positive (as opposed to negative outcomes.

There are drawbacks of team building, and these are:

  • Require long-term investment of people, time, and energy
  • Appear confused, disorderly, and out of control at times
  • Can cause role confusion; members have difficulty leaving “hats” at the door
  • Are viewed negatively by “old school” people who like order and control
  • Require one to three years to be fully implemented
  • Require people to change, especially managers, who must learn to trust and let go. (Mackin, 2007, p. 5)


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Contu, A. (2007). Groups and teams at work. In D. Knights & H. Willmott (Eds.), Organization Behavior & Management. London: Thomson Learning. 118-150.

Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C. S., Lyons, R., et al. (2009). Does team building work? Small Group Research 2009; 40; 181. DOI: 10.1177/1046496408328821.

Locke, E. A. (2001). “Motivation by goal setting.” Handbook of Organizational Behavior, 2, 43-54.

Mackin, D. (2007). The team-building toolkit: tips and tactics for effective workplace teams (second edition). New York: AMACOM Books. 25.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. In G. Goble, The Third Force: The Psychology of Abraham Maslow. USA: Zorba Press. 233.

Sargent, L. D., Allen, B. C., Frahm, J. A., & Morris, G. (2009). Journal of Management Education; 33; 526. DOI: 10.1177/1052562909334092.

Tannenbaum, S. I., Beard, R. L., & Sales, E. (1992). Team building and its influence on team effectiveness: an examination of conceptual and empirical developments. In K. Kelley (Ed.), Issues, Theory, and Research in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. New York: Elsevier Science Publishing Company, Inc. 127.

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