To build or not to build?

Posted 14 June 2021 by
Kevin Wood

See why team building and team development are not the same

“We did a team build last year. It didn’t change anything”

Even if you’ve never said this yourself, there’s a fair chance you’ve heard someone else say it. A colleague, perhaps. Or, if you’re a practitioner or a facilitator, a participant in one of your workshops might have said it.

The implication is that the event was (probably) a waste of time. Nothing changed. The event failed. 
Didn’t it?

Maybe. Maybe not. If there were no behavior-changing elements in the program, how could it fail at something it wasn’t built to do? 

The issue here is expectation. What was the event designed to do? What did participants expect to get from it? 

If those points aren’t aligned, team events will fail on some level. So, to prevent that happening, let’s explore the difference between team building and team development. Then we know exactly what’s what.

When building isn’t working 

Here’s a description of a team build, taken from LinkedIn. In their article, a team build is usually:

Some events are even lighter than this. If social or recreational activities feature heavily then it probably qualifies more as team bonding than team building.

But let’s go back to the above list and expand on three core areas for our build v develop discussion. Team building and team development are different—here are the pieces that set team development apart: 

Purpose. For any performance improvement to take place, we cannot be generic in purpose. We need a specific goal. A team needs to know where it is and where it wants to end up. Basically, something like, ‘We’re looking at X so we can do Y and be Z’. This is overly simple, but it at least sets a direction (Y) and a destination (Z).   

Duration. A development program that ends on the same day it starts isn’t developing anything. The very essence of development and development is ongoing. It requires regular commitment from the team and the facilitator. It’s the difference between having coaching and having a lesson.

Content. This needs to be challenging in some way. Otherwise, what’s the point of the program? That’s not to say it has to create conflict or confrontation. But it does need to address a barrier to performance, which might be a little difficult. And to do this, it needs to go below the surface. Often, it’s the unseen thoughts and drivers of behavior that cause tension and block performance.   

This brings us to two more points we believe are critical to any development program. Without them, behavioral change is impossible. 

Why the MBTI is often preferred for team development

The need for reflection is one reason why MBTI type theory lends itself to development programs. The MBTI assessment is rooted in self-awareness which, as we know, is the starting point for behavioral change. 

MBTI type theory also automatically covers another of the key points above—the need to go deeper than surface behaviors. This is the essence of MBTI type. It helps everyone learn that different people’s preferences come out in different ways. And that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get. 

The inclusion of MBTI type in a team program sends a very clear message. It says, ‘This program is a development program. It’s not just a bonding exercise, it’s not just a team build.’

Continuity = development

In a 2009 Harvard Business Review article, psychologist and link management expert J Richard Hackman talks about why teams don’t work. It includes five points, taken from his Leading Teams book, that are key to effective teams. They are:

The last of these points ties in with what we’re talking about today. 

Hackman says, “Most executive coaches focus on individual performance, which does not significantly improve teamwork. Teams need coaching as a group in team processes—especially at the beginning, midpoint, and end of a team project.”

So, we’re getting the idea that an improvement in team performance requires much more than showing up for a team day. Unfortunately, many ‘team builds’ are exactly that—one-off events with little or no depth, and zero chance of making a lasting impact. 

To build or not to build? That was the question. Now, we have the answer.

To better your team, let’s develop instead.