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  The Six Deadly Sins of Team-Building

There is no question that the traditional workplace, with its emphasis on internal competition and individual star performers is undergoing a transformation. Management experts and researchers are suggesting that the successful organization is one characterized by effective teamwork, and leadership rather than management. Organizations are realizing the importance of developing teams that can work in a coordinated, efficient, and creative manner.

If you recognize the need for team development, and are planning some activities for that purpose, you should have some idea of the pitfalls of team building, and how to go about it. Whether you hire a consultant to help, or you lead the process yourself, you need to know what must be avoided. In this article we will discuss six deadly sins of team-building.

1. Lack of a Model

It is not uncommon for people leading a team-building process to focus on a single aspect of team functioning. Often the emphasis will be on communication practices, to the exclusion of other elements that are critical to team success and effectiveness. Teams just aren't that simple, and a team is only as strong as its weakest component.

It is rare that a team will benefit by focusing on only one aspect of team development. In fact, what may happen is that the one-dimensional team building process may increase frustration, and destroy the credibility of the process?


You need a model of how teams function, so that you can address all the factors that result in reduced team effectiveness. At minimum, consider that an effective team requires:

  • Clearly stated and commonly held vision and goals

  • Talent and skills required to meet goals

  • Clear understanding of team members' roles and functions

  • Efficient and shared understanding of procedures and norms

  • Effective and skilled interpersonal relations

  • A system of reinforcement and celebration

  • Clear understanding of the team's relationship to the
    greater organization

2. Lack of Diagnosis

Each team is different. Each team has distinct strengths and weaknesses, and team building must build on these specific strengths and address weaknesses. Without knowing these strengths and weaknesses, the team building leader runs the risk of using a process that will be irrelevant or useless, again resulting in lack of credibility for the process, and the sponsor (often you).


Diagnose as a first step in the process. If you are hiring an outside consultant, insist that they do a thorough team assessment as the first step. If you are leading the process yourself, consider using the Team Assessment & Diagnostic Instrument (TADI) included in this month's PSM Supplement.

3. Short Term Intervention

It is not uncommon for a manager to arrange for a retreat or team-building day, without developing a longer term strategy for team development. At best, a single day dangling on its own will result in a brief motivational surge that quickly fades. At worst, the day will bring to light issues that cannot be solved during that day, and are left to fester. Again, lack of credibility results.

Let's face it. Your organization or team has evolved its character over many years. It is not likely that one day, no matter how good, is going to make much of a dint in the norms, culture and practices of the team.


Plan a long term strategy for team building. We suggest planning for a full year.

4. No Evaluation of Progress

Since team building is a long-term process, you (and team members) need to know whether it is succeeding. It is common for team building efforts to take for granted that things are improving without putting in place a mechanism for regular evaluation of team functioning. However, it will be a rare situation where team improvement will occur smoothly...there are always glitches, but the team building leader must be able to identify barriers so that the team can work to eliminate them.


Plan regular evaluation of team progress. You can use the TADI in the PSM supplement as a pre-post measure. We suggest you use it as a first step, then use it a regular interviews to see if the results have changed.

5. Leadership Detachment

It is unfortunate that management sometimes enters into a team- building enterprise in a somewhat detached way. The detached manager looks at team development as something that will help others change, so that the team will function more effectively.

However, the most influential person in most teams is the formal leader or manager. Like it or not, you set the tone for the team, whether intentionally or intentionally, and it is inevitable that team effectiveness cannot be improved unless the manager is willing to look at his/her contributions to the team. Management usually has to change too.


If you aren't willing to hear from employees how your behavior impacts the team (negatively or positively), don't do team- building. The worst thing you can do is start the process and refuse to acknowledge that you are a key player in the process.

6. Doing It All Internally

Team building generally will not succeed unless conflicts and problems can be brought into the open and dealt with properly. The problem is that poorly functioning teams are characterized by a climate of blame, defensiveness, and a lack of ability to deal with conflict. Poor teams lack the ability to improve themselves.

There are times when an outside consultant may be required. While a consultant may bring specialized skills that are lacking in the organization, the most important reason for using an outside consultant is that the "outsider" has no history with the organization, no preconceptions, and may have more credibility than someone who is perceived as having his/her own agenda.


Consider hiring an outside consultant to help. However, the team should not become dependent on the consultant, and must ultimately develop the ability to improve on its own. Look to a consultant if there is a high degree of negativism about the team, or there are unresolved conflicts or emotions related to the team, or management.


Whether you are leading team building activities, or hiring someone, it is important that you stay away from the six deadly sins. Lousy team building is worse than doing nothing. Improperly thought out efforts are likely to increase negativity, reduce team functioning, and reduce management credibility. If you are a manager, your own personal reputation, and the degree to which your employees have confidence in you will depend upon your making effective team building decisions from day one.

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