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Team Building in the Workplace is essential for modern day businesses

With job satisfaction statistics from the CIPD showing the lowest levels for more than two years and a Global Perspectives survey from ORC International placing the UK 12th from 20 countries when it comes to employee engagement, there is something of a crisis for British companies.

And, with that, we've asked experts in their field, Shirley Gaston and Dr Julia Claxton what can be done to improve these issues? The easiest answer is team building. Forget the thoughts of boring videos or the lame reputation that team building has endured over the years, it could be the best investment your company has ever made – working to develop a better understanding between all members of staff.

What is team building?

Team building means different things to different people. To many, the term ‘team building’ can conjure up ideas of going on a ‘jolly’ where you spend a day shooting paintballs or getting drunk together.

However, there is so much more to such events and Shirley Gaston, Managing Director at experiential learning company Azesta, told us that she prefers to call it development rather than building.

“It is really important that new teams get together to get to know each other and get clear about what they are working on and how their roles interlink and overlap. It is also crucial that teams regularly check in together and evaluate their progress and I would generally call this team development.”, added Shirley.

The Mechanics of a good team

The make-up of a team is just as important as team building itself according to Dr Julia Claxton, Principal Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Development. Julia explained that a good team is an effective team which has gone through some process where team members are truly valued for who they are and what they can bring to the team.

An effective team does not usually become effective by accident but usually goes through a process of development. The forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning is a nice model but in practice few teams follow a model like this.

Every team is unique and to perform must have a purpose that all are clear on. Members should be just as concerned with the processes they follow as the actions they produce. There are numerous models around roles in a team – the one thing they all agree on is that balance and variety is a good thing. It is unusual for an organisation to be able to select a team from scratch, so working with where people are at is a key factor to success.

How does teambuilding benefit a team?

When done effectively, it can build trust, reduce conflict and increase both communication and collaboration to create positive relationships in the team. This would lead to more engaged employees, a more vibrant company culture and - as a byproduct - raise your bottom line through increased clarity on team purpose and goals.

Building trust in teams

Teams within organisations often spend a great deal of their time producing good work, yet development and reward schemes are often focused on the individual. One way of building trust in teams is to make them a safe place to be.

If the team is a safe place to be then team members will feel they can be more open around systems and processes that support effective working and obstacles to practice. They will more easily discuss fostering cultures that are helpful. Team coaching, where the team coach is a separate person to the team leader can be an effective way to help a team to build trust.

Using appreciative inquiry is also a way in which trust can be developed in teams.  Appreciative inquiry is a method of focusing on potential, what is working well and what people can envisage as a positive way forward rather than focusing on problems and methods to solve them.

Putting a value on team building

Whilst it’s difficult to put a figure on the value a good team brings, we can consider what an ineffective team can lose an organisation. Time wasted, hurt feelings, high stress levels, unclear goals, conflicting processes, ambiguous strategies and juxtaposed priorities are all traits of ineffective teams.

If employees are not sure of the role they have in a team and do not speak out for fear of conflict, talent can go unnoticed. An organisation that truly values diversity will also value diversity in ways of thinking and yet often in teams there is a dominant thinking type that will be valued above others.

Therefore, a person who excels in creativity might not be listened to in a team that has logic as the predominant thinking style and vice versa. To give your teams a competitive edge, they need to support and value every type of thinking so as not miss out on a new, workable ideas.

Do you need to use a professional company or can you do it yourself?

There are advantages to using an external facilitator, however, DIY team building can also be done effectively within companies. For that to happen, you need to pick someone to plan as well as design and facilitate the day.

On the other hand, any pre-existing dynamics can be harder to extinguish without a facilitator with no predetermined ideas on how the team and people should work. Shirley suggests: “A professional facilitator would be an expert in managing conflict and team dynamics and make the event far less risky as skills and expertise would definitely be harnessed and outcomes reached.”

If you are going to try the do it yourself approach, then you need to understand team building tasks that link to the core message you want to convey. In order to accomplish this, there's a few materials you'll need to invest in over and above the usual essentials such as team problem-solving tasks, pinboards and team diagnostic tests.

Download Azesta's DIY team development kit

Download Azesta's suggested DIY team development day outline

How much does it cost?

Typically, a team development event specifically designed for your organisation and team would come in at around £2000 or around £150 per person including all exercises, specialist equipment and follow-up.

Do’s and don’ts of team building



Take the opportunity to solve real team problems and deliver work outputs

Include highly competitive activities that cause more problems than they solve

Get the balance right between work and fun

Design events that exclude the less physically fit

Keep it a positive, upbeat experience

Squeeze the team into a tiny room (ignore the hotel’s recommendations and refuse anything under 8m square)

Use the positive energy to create action plans that are followed up

Think that one event per year will do

Capture and use all outputs and circulate photos afterwards


Get the balance right between work and fun


Should you hold days on-site or off-site?

In order to keep distractions to a minimum and make it feel like an important day, holding events off-site are known for being more effective. This allows people to fully concentrate and, as Shirley says: “When attempting to take a step back from the day-to-day operational work and look at things more strategically, it seems to help to be physically away from the place where the operational stuff happens.”

Top three ideas for in office team building:

  1. Use some professional team activities such as those produced by Metalog, MTa and RSVP. Be careful to think through where in the programme they will go, how they will be set up, reviewed and linked to pieces of work that you need to produce as part of your team day.
  2. Needs and offers exercise – for established teams who want to improve things, it can be really useful to run a session where individuals or small sub-teams each ask for something they need from other people in the team to make their job easier. They also offer to do something differently that will make someone else’s job or the team’s work easier. This provides a great ‘give and take’ kind of action plan.
  3. Use a simple psychometric tool such as a ‘colours’ questionnaire or MBTI (needs qualified practitioner) to enable individuals to understand themselves and tolerate each other better!

For more team building ideas and office games, check out our office team building game suggestions perfect for your workplace.

Our Experts

Shirley Gaston, Managing Director

Experiential learning company Azesta

Shirley Gaston

Shirley has been running an experiential learning company successfully for the past 17 years. Azesta employs 4 staff and has 10 associates and provides experiential team, management and leadership development to a diverse portfolio of clients including Yorkshire Water, Avant Homes, CalaChem, Yorkshire Building Society, Ongo and many more.

 Shirley values openness and creativity and these qualities are intrinsic to her programmes.  It is important to her to be really approachable and, although highly professional, her overt friendliness is part of her style. She has a first class degree in Education as well as a Post Graduate Certificate and Diploma in Professional Training and Development.

She writes and speaks regularly on the subject of experiential learning and is also the lead facilitator for Metalog, a German training tools company in the UK. She also holds numerous psychometric qualifications and is addicted to learning herself.

Dr Julia Claxton, PhD MSc SF.HEA

Principal Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Development (and researching in student engagement) Leeds Beckett University

Dr Julia Claxton

Julia has 3 decades of management, consultancy and academic experience and holds a leadership role in Leeds Business School leading all school staff in their research development, in particular in pedagogy, and leading the faculty research for 'Advances in HE Pedagogy, Responsibility and Integrated Learning'.

A focus of research for Julia is student engagement and development of students as well as employee engagement. She has consulted throughout the last three decades in developing bespoke programmes in organisational learning, leadership learning, action learning, change management and evaluating effectiveness.

Julia is currently Editor-in-Chief of Advances in Higher Education, Chair of European Research for European Network of Business and Languages including managing calls and reviews of papers etc. She recently published a Special Issue on Employee Engagement for Journal of Workplace Learning - a key journal for new developments.

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