Team1Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

You Say, They Do?

Leading and managing a team is not a simple matter of "you say" and "they do." People are not programmable robots and computers that react and function according to a preset instructions or computer code. Every team member must be understood as an individual and the team as a collective of individuals. Creating a productive team requires a leader and manager to be aware of the personalities and behaviors of each team member and their motivations, their strengths, weaknesses, and ability to work together as a productive group. Remember that old saying that there is no "I" in "Team" - well that's your goal, to work with your team to remove the "I" mentality and strive for the "Team" mind-set while still letting each member feel recognized and appreciated as an individual. Team building is an essential skill whether running a business, managing a project, program, product, service, general management or when and where ever someone is leading a group of people towards a common goal.

Team2Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

What do we mean by a Team?

For our purposes we mean, a group of individuals, whether a directly associated group or an extended group, that must work together in order to accomplish established goals and objectives. This will usually include everyone that has a role in performing and completing tasks necessary to bring about the completion of a project, program, objective or overall goal. Team members may be organic to the organization or may include human resources from outside the organization. As an example: a business is striving to create a new product and will assign a few people in a fulltime direct role for the project, some members may be in functional roles thus in a part-time role to the project and some may be outsourced consultants-contractors. In fact, it's quite common that the project manager is a contractor along with some of the direct support technology specialist.

Team Organization

If at all possible co-located the team members; it's easier for the leader to monitor team morale, recognize problems, react and solve problems quickly. Co-locating team members will also improve communications and assist team members' support for each other in the performance of the work.

Getting Buy-In; Let the team know the big picture

Help them to understand the vision, mission, objectives and strategy. Let them know how they fit into that picture and why they are important to the end result. Let them participate in meetings that discuss or present the performance and tracking of their teams tasks. Team member's tend to take the progress of a project more to heart when they can see where the fit in the project's progress. Most team members will appreciate knowing the - who, what, when, where, how, and why of the task completion, progress performance, problems, risk, etc. Let the member's feel like they mater.

Reporting Structure

Have a clearly agreed upon and understood reporting structure for the team and the business organization's hierarchy. The leadership above the team must also agree and support this structure as well as be available to help the team leader with conflicts that may arise from functional managers that may not be fully bought-in or read-in to the purpose and priority or the team. There will always some conflict in time commitment from personnel not directly assigned or attached to the team; thus, some level of buy-in by from the functional manager will have to be sought by the team's leadership for time commitment for the benefit of these extended team members.

Signs and Symptoms of Troubled Teams

Leaders and managers must be observant of signs of frustration, personal conflict, a lack of trust or confidence in project manager, unproductive meetings, and negative synergy. This signs will inevitably adversely impact the project progress to include schedule slippage.

Evolution of the Team: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

Team3Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

Forming Phase is when team members first find themselves in a group. They will need to adjust to their roles on the team. Conversations between new members will tend to be general and non-personal nature. They will need to have the tasks and job defined so they can begin the mental process of accepting their team function. The leader needs to approach the issue of group and individual behavior as it relates to meeting the goals and objectives of the team or project. This is the point where the team leader needs to communicate the vision, mission, objects, goals, communication requirements and reporting structure. Team games are a good way to start "breaking the ice" between members.

Storming Phase team members may experience some level of conflict and confrontation, resistance, opposing attitudes, personality conflicts, arguments, defensiveness and competition. Leaders must be aware and observant of these and react appropriately. This is a time to reiterate each individual's role in the project. Help and guide the members toward their commonality and necessary dependency of each other - and for each other in order to make the project, the team's mission successful. Spend time with each member. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Identify the unofficial leaders and determine whether they can be a valuable help or a hindrance due to negative influence on the other members. Team games that focus on building trust and member reliance upon each other will help accomplish this goal.

Norming Phase will be the team's evolutionary point that members build and demonstrate a desire for cooperation, are receptive to constructive criticism, begin and see goals being met, develop or improve "friendliness" and accept their place a members of "the team."

Performing Phase, the money making phase, the phase when the team is productively working together. The leadership and the team members understand the team's strength and weakness. The team members understand and demonstrate the ability to solve problems in a systematic way. Confidence amongst the team members solidifies. Team building games and activities should be directed towards fun, amusement, "blowing-off-steam" and reward.

Benefits of Team Building Games and Activities

Team4Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

A time for coaching - that's team building and relationship building. Sometimes when team members only see their differences they need to be shown that they aren't so different. A "getting to know you" exercise is a good starting point for a first team activity. The benefits of using team games and activities are in helping the group get through the evolution process with fewer bumps and bruises, enhance individual and group success, allows cooperative decision-making, responding to the challenge of change, enhancement of creativity, may help to smooth over troubled teams.


"So Much In Common:" One of the first ways to start team building is during the team forming stage. You can use games to get people acquainted informally and to see that they all have some things in common which adds to the strength of the group. It will also show differences which allow people to understand how each person is unique. It gets the group formed and moving on to the next stage of development. Have them team up with someone they don't know. Instruct them to write down everything they have in common with that person. After 2-3 minutes, have them switch partners and repeat the exercise. Do it so everyone does it three times. As a group discussion these questions: How many of you found more than eight things in common? What were some of the unusual items you discovered? How did you uncover these areas of commonality? Is it likely that in most situations you could always find something in common with another person? What implications does this have for us as members of a team? As team leader, summarize the value of the members as individuals and how their individuality benefits the collective group.

When to Conduct Games and Activities

Incorporate team building in project activities like: Project kick-off meetings, project or product design sessions, work breakdown structure sessions, plan development, status meetings, and team coordination meetings, even at the final project close-out meeting. Team building is a continual process. Every project meeting can be a team building meeting. Simply discussing the importance of team effort and emphasize importance of communication and team member contributions during the project lifecycle will serve to build the moral of the team.


  • Who is who?

Go around the group and have everyone say two true statements about themselves and one false. The rest of the group has to guess which one is false. If participants find it hard to think on the spot, give them index cards and let them write it down. Then, toss the cards into the middle of the circle so you have to guess who the person is and what is false. It's a fun way to start getting to know each other.

  • Replication - Working together

This game usually takes about half an hour. The organizers of the game begin by finding multiples of objects. If you plan to have three groups, then find four objects (i.e. four staplers, four notebooks, four pens, four palm size rocks, and or any other items in set of four etc.). Then, where none of the participants can see, arrange one set of the objects. Maybe place the pen horizontally in the middle of the notebook open to page four and put the rocks centered above the binder. Then gather the participants, split them up into three groups, and explain the game. Each group has two builders, one runner, and one observer.

The observer of each group gets to see the original model. Each group's builders get a pile of the objects in a space away from the other teams' builders. The interaction works like this: The observers look at the original display and go halfway to the builders' location, where the runner will be positioned. The observer tells the runner all of the details he can remember about the model.

Then, the runner goes to builders. When the runner(s) get(s) to the builders, the builders can only ask the runner yes or no questions. "Does the pen go here? Is the notebook open? Or closed? Is it open to a particular page?" When the runner can't remember any more details or wants to confirm a detail, he goes back to the point where he or she can meet the observer. He/she can converse freely about the details. This goes on until all of the groups feel they are done or are pretty much done.

Then, everyone gets together and looks at each groups finished model. Replication builds communication skills and is a good team building effort. This is always good for some laughs and to exercise communication skills within the overall team.

Team Building and Warm-up Games

Five Team Building Exercises

Indoor Activities

Turn the sound low. The music might be a bit annoying.

Final Comment

Teams must be managed and led properly just like a project must be managed properly. Projects can live or die by the performance, or lack of performance by the team. Leaders, regardless of whether they are project managers, functional managers, supervisors or team leaders, have the same responsibility for developing and nurturing a goal, objective, mission oriented group of people, all pointing their efforts in the same direction. Emotions, confusion, broken-communications, task failure, resource shortfalls and personal differences will happen. However, the project manager MUST lead by example, stay above, and not participate in mud-slinging, and take every opportunity to coach and mentor each member of his/her group.