Team building pays big dividends

By Gale Mote / Guest Editorial

Teamwork is to business like gears are to a machine. When they are well-oiled and aligned, everything turns smoothly and great work gets done. Communication is clear and timely, creative ideas flow seamlessly, productivity soars and engagement peaks as people love what they do and who they do it with.

The foundation of great teamwork is trust. Trust has three components: competence, commitment and compassion. Team members must grow to be vulnerable and real with one another. A lack of open dialogue leads to misunderstandings, false attributions and wasted effort.

Team building builds trust. Taking the time to engage in activities that encourage openness, collaborative problem solving, creativity, appreciation and valuing differences pays huge dividends for improving team performance.

My experience, however, is that teams rarely take the time to practice teamwork. And yet, you would not expect the Iowa Hawkeyes or Cyclones to take the field or basketball court without engaging in strength training, practice drills or scrimmages.

The biggest excuse I get for not taking the time for team building is exactly that – time. Teams are busy doing real work, and these activities are seen as fluff and non-essential to team performance. I could not disagree more.

When facilitated effectively, team building is anything but fluff, and when spread out, a large investment of time is not required. A getting-to-know-you activity here and a team challenge there, over time, can help the team to communicate and collaborate at a higher level.

Here are two simple activities to get you started:

Go with the Flow, by author Paul Tizzard

The point of this activity is to help groups examine how they communicate with each other and which way communication flows. It takes about 15 minutes. Use a flipchart or wall-mounted paper to make it visual for all team members to see.

Begin by drawing symbols, with enough room in between, to represent each person on the team. Now draw lines from one symbol to another to represent communication flow. Use different colors for different types of communication, such as email, phone and face-to-face. Use arrows on the lines to show the flow of information. Encourage everyone to draw this together, then debrief with questions. What patterns emerge? Where is the team strong in communicating with one another? What are areas of concern? Are we overusing or underutilizing any forms of communication? How can we improve?

Bag of Questions, by author Tom Heck

Create a document with a list of questions that require team members to share information about themselves that may not be known to the rest of the group. I usually create a mixture of low, medium and high-risk questions.

Questions like “What is your favorite vacation spot and why?” and “What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?” are low risk. Moderate-risk questions probe a little deeper: “What is your definition of success?” or “Why is your best friend your best friend?”

Higher-risk questions require team members to be more vulnerable: “Tell us about your most frightening moment.” “What is the biggest mistake you ever made, and how has it shaped you as a person?” “What activities do not come easily to you? Where are you going to need more support from your team?”

Now separate the questions into single strips of paper. Fold and put them into a gift bag. Make enough questions so that every team member selects four. Then instruct the team members to choose two of the four questions that they feel safest answering in front of the group. It is important to give participants a choice of questions.

Next, go around one at a time and ask each team member to share the question and their response. I usually ask the team leader to begin. Keep rotating until everyone has responded to the two questions they chose. If time allows and others want to weigh in with their responses to the different questions, allow for the open discussion.

Here are some additional resources and thinkers you can reference to find team-building activities. Remember that it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel.

  • Tom Heck, founder of International Association of Teamwork Facilitators;
  • Brian Cole Miller, author of “Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers” and “More Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers”
  • Adele Lynn, author of “Quick Emotional Intelligence Activities for Busy Managers”


Building trust and developing teamwork skills pays huge dividends in overall performance. Making teambuilding a priority is like taking your car for a routine oil change – pay me now or pay me later.




Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at