So what is the difference between team working and team building? Are they 2 phrases for the same thing? I have seen the terms used interchangeably in articles and in the workplace, but does that help or hinder?
In our article on collaboration how is it different from team work we explored the definitions of some terms. It often helps to start with some commonly accepted definitions:
Definition of Team Working
Team Working, The earliest definition I could find is:
Source – Planning office space Francis Duffy, Colin Cave, John Worthington Architectural Press, 1976
My Concise Oxford English Dictionary says:
Teamwork – the combined effective action of a group
Definition of Team Building
The earliest I have traced the term “team building” to is to the late 1940s. However “team building” seemed to take hold in the late 1960s. Until that time, the common term was “team spirit”. A phrase that has dropped from favour in recent years.
One of the first people to write about this in any detail is James Lincoln in his 1951 book “Incentive Management”. Whilst he does not use the term “team building” in the way we do today, he talks about its importance. He says:
“We have the use of the organization as a team with the team spirit for the common end sought by all. Such organization is very helpful. Such unit action perhaps could be obtained in no other way.”
“Get the new workers of the firm to feel that they are part of the team playing a worth-while game. Make sure that the purpose of the activity is one that will appeal to the members, then make them a part of it.”
Lincoln was putting this in the context of incentives and productivity. In a modern organisation the same is true to a greater or lesser extent. Today his book is hard to find, but a full text version is available – https://archive.org/stream/lincolnsincentiv00linc/lincolnsincentiv00linc_djvu.txt
Since this writing in 1951, others have built on it. One of the earliest was in the book How to Make a Habit of Succeeding By Mack R. Douglas.
My Concise Oxford English Dictionary says nothing about the phrase “Team building” , but of Team Spirit it says
(Team spirit) feelings of camaraderie among the members of a team.
Thus we can say that Team Building is the process of developing Team Sprit in the members of a team in order to improve relationships and productivity.
Thoughts of others on the difference between team working and team building
Some have written to the effect of:
Team building focuses on the formation of groups, while teamwork concentrates on the function of groups; both are vital for success.
To some extent I agree with this, but the nature of teams are that in my experience team building is not just a formation step. It is a continuous process.
Team relationships and team processes
I tend to take a different approach. I believe that team building is the relationship part, and team working is the process or mechanics of how the team cooperates.
The Team building has to come first. A team needs a sense of “spirit” or comradery. A team without a common set of understanding or relationships is not a team but a group. For a team to be effective, each member needs to understand the personality of each other as well as clarity on the end goal or result. Their strengths and weaknesses as human beings. The relationship between each other.
Team work is the processes and mechanics the team use to achieve their goals, the structure, the “ruler”, the culture. A well-formed team will go out of their way as humans to help other team members, This is how we get exceptional performance in teams towards a common goal.
Time to go back to the future?
The term “Team Building” has long been miss understood, Having been encouraged to write this piece to develop clarity around teams, I am now of the mind that it is time to bring back the old term of “team spirit“. It is more easily understood, and in many ways is more measurable. It is easy to see if there is or is not team spirit in a group of people, than it is to say “they are a team”.
Team building activities and events
Talk to 10 different psychologists or learning professionals and they will give you 11 different activities to build teams. A search on the internet provides over 11 million results. In my practice as a consultant i have been contracted countless times to run events and activities to build teams and to encourage team working.
99% of “team building activities do not work
Here is the killer…99% of “team building activities do not work”. As much as I love techniques such as Lego Serious Play (LSP), MTA Experiential Learning and many other such tools, they do little for real team building. They are great for creativity, problem solving, team working… BUT NOT TEAM BUILDING.
Real team building happens in SOCIAL situations. Where the WHOLE TEAM do things together that show off personality. Where people can relax, have fun and get to know each other. Charity activity like garden clearing for vulnerable people, decorating community spaces etc. Yes these activities can be facilitated, and it is about spending time together. There is no real short cut. Even weekly/ monthly social events for the whole team can mage a big difference.
Effective Team Building Interventions
A good team building intervention will have some structure (but not always led) and lead to improved team bonding. Having a facilitator can help, but it is not essential. Where having that “expert” input is in the design and timing of the interventions rather than actually having a professional facilitator lead the events specifically. Of course many team facilitators/ psychologists will dispute this! If you want a REAL TEAM, the “team Leader” needs to be a part of the team and NOT the lead in these development interventions!
Effective TEAM WORKING, and issues within the team can be highlighted and addressed through the team tools mentioned above. but this is not team building. Effective activities can help to accelerate team building, done badly, they can also slow up team building. Competitive activities such as bowling can also have negative effects, unless sub teams work together in these activities.
So there you have it. A little of the history and origins of team building and team working. An exploration of the Difference between team working and team building. The important but subtle differences between team building and team working, and some of my thoughts on how to develop these attributes in teams.
I would love to hear your views on this. Please comment below