Justifying Teamwork?
Pain and Pleasure -- What creates change?

The Mirage of Team Building

A mirage is an optical illusion.  Think of a guy crawling across the desert, slowly dieing of thirst.  He  sees an oasis with a beautiful cool source of water.  The mirage gives him hope and makes him feel good - temporarily.  And then reality hits when the oasis turns out to be a mirage.  The struggle continues.

Oasis1Many teams are like the guy crawling through the sand, struggling (unnecessarily).  Then, in an effort to ease the pain, someone says "let's do some teambuilding" and the mirage is created.  A day of teambuilding is offered up and team members become hopeful and then... poof!  The day of teambuilding is over (the mirage disappears) and everyone is back at the office crawling along.

A reader of this blog offered up this excerpt from the Harvard Business Review (March-April 1993) called the Discipline of Teams: "But people use the word team so loosely that it gets in the way of learning and applying the discipline that leads to good performance. Groups do not become teams simply because that is what someone calls them.  The entire work force of any large and complex organization is never a team, but think about how often that platitude is offered up."

A group of people does not become a high functioning team simply because they've participated in a team building activity (or a day of activities).  The activities are part of a "disciplined" approach to building a high performing team. 

A high performing team starts with the organization's mission and vision and core values - - and I'm not talking about just the words they have on paper... I'm talking about how these are experienced and lived every day within the organization.  And it starts with the leadership acting as the role model.  Every system within the organization must support high performing (win-win) team consciousness - - these systems include but are not limited to: the training system, the planning system, the communication system, the budgeting system, the information system, and the compensation system. 

Here's a metaphor:   
-- Karen eats a salad at lunch and believes it will help her live a "healthy" life.  But she eats at McDonalds 5x/week, doesn't exercise, hates her job, has no friends and watches 40 hours of TV a week (a national average).  Karen is chasing a mirage.

-- Sally has committed to living a healthy life.  She eats a diet based on the advise of a wise nutritionist (who has completed several in-depth surveys of Sally's health), she has many deep and loving relationships with quality people, she laughs a lot, she loves her work, exercises regularly (and has fun doing it), read books that inspire her and enjoys nature.  Sally is living a healthy lifestyle through discipline.

I see a lot of companies that act like Karen.  I'd like to see more companies like Sally but it takes an enormous amount of discipline to follow that path (which, by the way, provides HUGE pay-offs).

Are you a team leader who is ready to become the example for your team to follow?  Are you ready to learn how to lead your team in a disciplined and conscious way?  If yes, then I urge you to consider membership in the IATF where you'll join a community of like-minded Teamwork Facilitators intent on building strong and vibrant teams.  CLICK HERE to read the benefits of IATF membership and join today!


Barry Zweibel

Nice Posting. Just like there are salesmen (read: use car salesmen) and Salesmen (re: GOOD salesmen), there are teams (re: a loose collection of temporarily assigned, but otherwise unconnected individuals)and Teams (read: a well-functioning entity working toward a common goal).

But then again, we have faux diamonds, the superficiality of network television programs, artificial flavorings, and countless other "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" attributes of our culture. So why *wouldn't* teamwork suffer from the same type of affliction?

There are obvious things a (capital L) Leader can do about improving teamwork, but what do you suggest, Tom, for those assigned to be team MEMBERS?


mohammed shakir

Dear TomHeck
Your articles are excellentkeep it up


Greetings Tom. I found the "Florence Nightinggale" spirit,somewhere else, of course. Your useful info help me to rally my team. I got a good eval too. Thanks Again


Interesting articles and thoughts, which I enjoy reading and learning from them.

The word is spelled:
dying not dieing


This is a very intresting article.Yes I agree that groups are completely different from TEAMS which are bound togather by passion in commiting to the common vission and goals.

Tim Patterson

Another excellent article, Tom, keep it up. I especially like the 'metaphor' descriptions which paint vivid images and make your concept very easy to understand.

Desraj Sharma

Hi Tom,
What a nice and practical explanation! A team is a group of people but a group is not necessarily a team. Your excellent articles help to expand our knowledge. I hope, your this practice will continue.
Desraj Sharma

Graham Lind

Thank you for your continued emails and resources which you share. We find them extremely useful in our work environment.
Graham Lind South Africa

David G

"Team" is a much abused word.
A section of a hierarchical organisation is not necessarily a "Team" - contrast a Formula 1 or Football "Team" - common metaphors, so why is it so misunderstood in the workplace ?

MIchael Goldman,

A high-performing team sometimes comes across in mythical proportions - 'able to leap tall buildings in a single bound'! Yet, for most organizations, just having teams that 'perform' well together is key, Better yet just having teams that are
'sustainable' and 'functional' are keys to healthy organizations. I totally agree that team 'on its way to becoming sustainable, starts with the organization's mission and vision and core values. For me, 'values' play an important part in not only defining critical 'operating guidelines' for how we interact (on an interpersonal and operational level), but can be used as metrics for team performance management, and ultimately, incentives. I spent almost 2 months traveling across Canada helping a large company cascade down it's core values to each regional office by facilitating "what does this value mean to you on a daily basis? How does it play out?" In this conversation we identified concrete behaviours and incorporated them in to the performance mgmt of the employees (who came up with the guidelines in the first place. In this way we build local teams, but because the values come from the top, disperse teams became more aligned to one another. AND, dare I say, had a common objective which brings them closer to ALL functioning like '1' team!

Sushil Bhasin

I am highly inspired by Tom. Having worked in the Indian Army for 34 years I have experienced Leadership and Team Work under varying conditions. Now a team work facilitator for over 8 years and having conducted over 450 Leadership and Team Building camps, I find that these observations are not confined to a region or a country, they are universal. Most companies are like Karen. They are vague and ambiguous about training. many of them think its enough to go and do a 2 day team building session and then expect to become super performers.
I often tell them in my closing session that the programme starts now.
It will depend on how u implement this on the ground.
I am willing to exchange more ideas on the subject

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