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Team Building 101 – Three Levels of Team Building

Team Building 101 – Three Levels of Team Building

The term ‘Team Building’ is used to describe many things these days, and not all of them are what could strictly be called actual team building.

We nickname the very basic breakdown of team building ‘Team Building 101’ and it’s defined by three distinct levels of delivery.

Bottom Tier – Interactive leisure-based group experiences.

Middle Tier – Structured business games / experiential learning.

Top Tier – Real team building / development.

In our humble opinion matching the wrong level to the wrong brief, team or group is akin to hammering that proverbial “square peg into the round hole”.

Team Building does mean different things to different people.

Our advice is to give careful thought to what you are seeking to achieve and then pick the right level of delivery.

Square pegs into round holes can be the result when unrealistic expectations are placed on lower levels of activity.

1 - Bottom Tier

Interactive leisure-based group experiences

In a nutshell:

These are simple group activities and experiences for having some fun and filling some time.

Typical Rationale / Purposes:

That ubiquitous 1 – 2 hour slot in a meeting to break the monotony of presentations. Help justify a desired experience within an available budget by writing it up as a team building session. Prelude to a dinner, or adjunct to a dinner. Interactive entertainment. Ticks the boxes of time, space, logistics and budget but without too much thought given to any other implications.

Typical Methods:

Amazing Race / Treasure Hunts. Paintball. Go Karting. Quiz. Art or Cooking classes. Beach games. Modified sports contests. Drumming. Zumba. Lawn Bowls.

Typical Outcomes:

Fills required timeslot with an interactive experience. Fun. Networking. See people out of work in a new light if things go well. See people in a poorer light if things don’t go so well or competitive spirit gets out of hand. There is also risk that any approaches that require physicality or fitness may discriminate, isolate or marginalize those not wishing to get physical or are incapable of doing so.

Typically sourced / selected by:

An execute PA, event planner, conference organizer, conference committee.

Level of Importance / Required Delivery Level:

Usually these have a quite a low level of importance to the organisation.

Decision-making is often purely theme driven or by personal desires on the part of a decision-maker for a particular type of experience that suits their taste, the venue or theme

Reality TV parodies often have some popularity at this level.

Providing it’s safe and on time, poor delivery won’t be the end of the world as long as some personality / charisma is present from facilitators.

Enthusiastic and friendly presenters will do the job just fine.


This level is typified by simple activities, games or experiences that whilst often called ‘team building’ are rarely if at all designed to address any genuine team building / team development stages and processes.

A team may experience these together, and have a great deal of fun together doing them, but any natural benefits arising from them with respect to enhanced bonding, relationship development etc (however useful) are largely accidental.

If poorly structured or facilitated, there are actually real risks that relationships can be damaged, and that certain individuals may physically or psychologically dominate an activity format that has little or no relevance to the desired workplace behaviours.

2 - Middle Tier

Structured experiential learning / business games

In a nutshell:

Have some fun, fill some time with a team-based experience and yet also make some meaningful links to the workplace.

Typical Rationale / Purpose:

Make use of a relatively short period of time (3 – 6 hours), and have some fun, but also make a meaningful linkage to a business, organizational, behavioural or cultural learning outcome.

Typical Methods:

More complex and sophisticated team-based challenges. Often tailored to suit required outcomes. These may still be themed and interactive (even a great deal of fun), and will have more clearly defined rules and constraints demanding genuine team and leadership behaviours to be deployed effectively for success (or on some occasions perhaps not so effectively for de-brief purposes).

Typical Outcomes:

The event will fill the required timeslot and allows people to have fun and to bond, and it can simultaneously address selected learning outcomes and themes at greater depth. Has far more design and thought put into how the format will actually mirror or address workplace behaviours or problem solving (albeit often with novel themes and activities).

Typically sourced / selected by:

Managers, Leaders, Human Resources, Organisational Development.

Level of Importance / Required Delivery Standards:

Medium to High level of importance to the organisation.

Whilst theme and activity style may still loom large in the decision-making process, at this level, quality of outcome and linkage to real world messages must come into play. Whilst it often needs to fit a designated timeslot, budgets allocated may be higher / more flexible as there are discernible outcomes at stake and so quality of delivery is more important.

Must be delivered by high quality facilitators who not only offer charisma and personality, but also the credibility to make quality linkages to business and organizational aims.


At this level, failure is less of an option.

In addition to the session being delivered on time and professionally there will be a requirement to intelligently and meaningfully link experiences to real world scenarios and behaviours.

The tightrope of balancing fun and interaction, with meaningful de-brief and review will need to be walked carefully. This requires proven skills and ability in the field.

Failure to achieve client expectations will be far more noticeable at this level and have a greater impact on the end users.

3 - Top Tier

Real team building / development

In a nutshell:

Achieve genuine behavioural outcomes and business performance improvements.

Typical Rationale / Purpose:

Targeted at accelerating and / or enhancing the actual team development process. Needs to achieve meaningful and measurable outcomes with respect to behavioural awareness, development and change with teams and leaders.

Typical Methods:

Highly tailored approaches that blend accurate diagnostics, evidence based behavioural profiles (such as the Belbin Model), interactive workshops and real-world follow-through. Elements may be done at meetings and off-sites, but most likely will be straddled by workplace sessions as well.

Typical Outcomes:

Enhances individual and collective understanding (at depth) of behavioural strengths and weaknesses in a workplace context. Delivers individual and collective strategies for what individuals, teams and leaders need to actually sustain, improve and fix back at work. Is anchored in evidence-based profiles and reports. Follow through should deliver lasting value with teams and leaders seeing continuous improvement from insights and steps agreed to from this process. Real business improvements and enhanced engagement should follow this process.

Typically sourced / selected by:

Managers, Leaders, Human Resources, Organisational Development.

Level of Importance / Required Delivery Standards:

The depth of insight and impact at this level warrants a high level of importance to the organisation.

The decision-making process is now driven almost entirely by what will actually be achieved opposed to simply matters of theme, duration and bells and whistles alone.

Selection of facilitators and standards of delivery become absolutely critical as failure at this level will have deeper consequences for the participants and decision-makers.


At this level we are working with very core behavioural drivers of what makes people, teams and leaders tick.

Whilst we can still deploy some fun interactive experiences and meaningful experiential learning tools to enhance the overall process, the entire process itself is anchored in evidence-based profiles and reports that go far deeper than any stand-alone activity can ever hope to.

The highest level of facilitator is required here.

A facilitator must be proficient across the entire delivery spectrum and possess a capability to deliver not just any activity content with flair and charisma, but to also be in possession of credibility and depth of experience to deal with senior teams. They need to manage the trickiest of questions and scenarios with regards to genuine team / leadership behavior.




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