Team Building

The  fact  that  groups  can  influence  outcomes important  to  both  the  individual  and  the  group has been recognized for decades. One group variable that has been proposed to be important in this regard  is  the  member’s  perception  of  the  group’s cohesiveness—staying  with  a  group  to  achieve goals or for member satisfaction. Numerous studies  have  emerged  illustrating  that  perceptions  of cohesiveness  are  associated  with  a  multitude  of factors that impact individual (e.g., adherence, satisfaction) and group outcomes (e.g., team success, collective efficacy). While recognition of these relationships is important, there is an equally important question  for  those  interested  in  behavior  change. How   may   the   cohesiveness   of   the   group   be enhanced?  One  established  group-based  intervention  used  by  coaches  and  exercise  leaders  to enhance cohesion is team building. Although it has been defined in numerous ways, team building in activity  settings  typically  refers  to  programs  that use  group  dynamics  principles  to  increase  cohesiveness, which then enables the group to function more effectively.

Team-building  programs  have  been  used  in both exercise and sport settings but typically look to  target  different  outcomes.  In  the  sport  setting, the  focus  is  usually  on  the  process  of  locomotion occurring  within  groups,  with  the  flow  moving from  team  building  →  increased  cohesiveness  → improved group effectiveness. In contrast, the other key process occurring within groups, maintenance, is often the focus in exercise settings. Research questions  typically  surround  how  to  keep  individuals adhering to their activity regime. The flow is captured as team building → increased cohesiveness → increased group maintenance. Given their different outcomes,  team-building  programs  take  different forms  across  settings,  and  these  differences  will be highlighted in this entry. Further, it also is evident that team building transcends the stereotypical notion of having teammates go to a movie or theme park together.

Team Building in the Sport Setting

team-building Sports Psychology In  the  sport  setting,  with  its  emphasis  on  creating  a  more  effective  team,  the  results  of  a  meta-analysis   by   Luc   Martin,   Albert   Carron,   and Shauna  M.  Burke  revealed  the  use  of  four  different  forms  of  team-building  programs.  These included,  in  ascending  frequency  of  reported  use in  the  field  setting,  interpersonal  relations,  goal setting,  adventure,  and  omnibus.  In  the  interpersonal  relations  framework,  the  focus  is  on  building  an  interpersonally  competent  group,  with the  assumption  being  that  this  will  translate into  group  cohesiveness  and  effectiveness.  This approach  works  well  in  situations  when  there  is a requirement to improve poor personal relationships  or  poor  communication  among  members. Within  the  goal-setting  framework,  the  focus  is on helping group members develop individual and group  goals  and  the  actions  required  to  achieve them.  This  approach  is  typically  used  when  the team’s  goals  are  not  clear  or  the  actions  required to achieve the goals are not clearly identified. The development of cohesion derives from the group’s focus on its conjoint goals. The adventure framework approach proposes that engaging team members  in  an  adventure  or  outdoor  experience  will enhance group cohesion and ultimately team effectiveness. The adventure experience can range from providing a challenge in an outdoor environment or  gym  wherein  members  must  work  together cooperatively  to  solve  some  problem  to  having team members go on an extended trip where they spend  concentrated  blocks  of  time  together.  The omnibus  framework  is  underpinned  by  the  idea that the enhancement of cohesion and team effectiveness is created when members are exposed to a number  of  protocols  derived  from  group  dynamics principles, such as creating uniqueness, making sacrifices for the group, or clarifying roles.

The  results  of  the  meta-analysis  revealed  that team-building  protocols  that  focus  on  goal  setting are of longer duration and target individual type  sports  like  track  appeared  most  effective. In  terms  of  the  relationship  between  the  overall team-building interventions and specific outcomes, positive  relationships  with  performance  effectiveness,  adaptive  cognitions  like  self-efficacy  or  satisfaction,  and  to  a  lesser  extent  social  cohesion, have  been  reported  for  those  exposed  to  team building than those not. Given these interventions were primarily directed toward enhancing performance  effectiveness,  ostensibly  a  task  focus,  the emergence  of  social  cohesion  (orientation  toward maintaining social relationships within the group) might  be  perplexing.  One  possible  explanation might  be  that  many  of  the  identified  protocols involved  collaboration  as  in  the  goal-setting  protocol where members had to agree on a common goal, and this need for collaboration was reflected in social cohesion.

Team Building in the Exercise Setting

As noted above, outcomes in most exercise settings that  employ  team-building  protocols  typically concern  the  maintenance  of  the  group,  whereby interest  is  directed  toward  enhancing  the  adherence of individuals. Unlike the sport setting, where multiple  frameworks  have  been  employed,  one model  has  served  as  the  foundation  of  numerous interventions  conducted  in  the  exercise  setting.  It is  the  four-stage,  team-building  model  developed by Bert Carron and Kevin Spink that uses the exercise  leader  as  the  agent  of  delivery.  The  efficacy of this model has been demonstrated across many exercise  settings  and  age  groups  ranging  from adolescents to the elderly. The stages in the model include  introduction,  conceptual,  practical,  and intervention. The first three occur in a workshop conducted by a team-building specialist such as an exercise psychology consultant working with exercise  leaders.  The  final  stage  involves  the  leaders going  back  to  their  group  and  implementing  the team-building strategies that were formulated during the workshop. The specifics of each stage are presented next.

In  the  first  stage,  which  focuses  on  establishing a rationale, exercise class leaders are presented with  a  brief  overview  of  the  benefits  of  cohesion specific to their setting. For instance, if the leaders run  exercise  classes  for  older  adults,  the  positive relationships  that  have  been  established  between elderly  exercisers  who  perceive  their  group  as more cohesive and as having better exercise class attendance are mentioned.

The second stage provides a frame of reference for the leaders. This is accomplished by introducing  a  conceptual  model  that  outlines  how  to  use group  dynamics  principles  to  enhance  cohesion. In the model, cohesion within the group is viewed as an output (or product) of conditions that arise from three different categories of group characteristics.  Two  categories  are  the  environment  of  the group and the structure of the group (inputs), and one  category  is  group  processes  (throughput).  It is  assumed  that  specific  elements  in  the  environment and the structure of the group will contribute to  enhanced  group  processes,  which  in  turn  lead to  member’s  increased  perceptions  of  cohesiveness  in  the  group.  Furthermore,  within  each  of the three categories, specific factors are identified that  have  previously  emerged  as  being  associated with  enhanced  group  cohesiveness.  These  include highlighting  group  distinctiveness  (group  environment),  fostering  group  norms  and  individual positions  (group  structure),  and  increasing  communication or interaction and individual sacrifices (group processes). By way of illustration, to highlight the factor of distinctiveness, leaders are told that  when  something  in  the  group’s  environment is somehow made distinctive (e.g., all group members  wear  the  same  T-shirt),  members  develop  a stronger sense of we, can more readily distinguish themselves  from  nonmembers  of  the  group,  and ultimately  develop  stronger  perceptions  of  cohesiveness. This procedure of presenting the leaders with a research-based rationale justifying the inclusion of each factor continues until all the factors in the model presented above are addressed.

The practical stage is the final part of the workshop.  The  purpose  is  to  have  the  exercise  leaders  become  active  agents  in  developing  practical strategies  that  they  will  use  in  their  own  group settings. This is done by having them use the conceptual framework to brainstorm as many specific techniques  as  possible  to  be  used  for  team  building in their own groups. The leaders are asked to use distinctiveness, norms, positions, sacrifice, and communication  or  interaction  as  frames  of  reference. From the lists of suggestions generated, each leader  is  free  to  take  the  suggestions  thought  to work best.

In  the  intervention  stage,  the  leaders  take  the team-building protocols they have developed at the workshop  and  introduce  them  into  their  groups. Examples are now presented to illustrate the outcomes  that  have  resulted  when  this  intervention has been used in the exercise setting. The purpose of  the  initial  studies  into  team  building  using  the Carron and Spink model was simple—to determine if  cohesion  in  exercise  classes  could  be  enhanced using  the  principles  in  the  model.  The  results  of numerous  studies  revealed  that  use  of  this  teambuilding intervention significantly enhanced group members’ perceptions of task cohesion in exercise classes across the age span. The emergence of task cohesion (orientation toward achieving the group’s goals) was consistent with the fact that the teambuilding protocol used in this model targeted task cohesion.

This   positive   relationship   also   has   been extended  to  another  key  outcome  salient  to  the exercise   setting—adherence.   Results   generally revealed that those exposed to team-building protocols report better attendance, less lateness, and a lower probability of dropping out of the exercise group  than  those  not  exposed  to  such  protocols. Cognitive outcomes, such as satisfaction, also have been  examined  in  some  of  these  exercise  studies, with  those  exposed  to  a  team-building  condition reporting  higher  levels  of  satisfaction  with  the group  experience  than  those  not  exposed  to  the team-building protocol.

Delivery of Team-Building Programs

A  closer  examination  of  the  team-building  programs reveals that the protocol can be delivered to group members either directly or indirectly. In the indirect approach, which is the predominant mode of  delivery  in  the  exercise  setting,  the  program  is filtered through the exercise leader. Specifically, a team-building  specialist  works  with  the  exercise leader  to  develop  a  team-building  protocol  based on group dynamic principles each leader will implement with the particular activity group. While the indirect approach also has been used in the sport setting, most sport interventions have used a more direct  form  of  team  building,  in  which  the  intervention is presented directly to the team members. In  direct  approaches,  the  individual  responsible for implementing the intervention (e.g., sport psychology consultant) works directly with the team members to provide them with greater insight and greater  independence  in  applying  the  appropriate group dynamics principles. It is assumed, through the  contact  and  education,  team  members  will become  more  intrinsically  motivated  to  develop team  bonds  as  a  result  of  their  enhanced  competence and self-determination. Of interest, comparisons of the direct versus indirect approaches in the sport  setting  have  revealed  that  both  are  equally effective  in  generating  the  expected  positive  outcomes.

While the effects of team building are typically perceived  to  generate  positive  outcomes,  there is  one  form  of  team  building  that  may  not  be  as effective as commonly assumed, and that involves hazing. Hazing is the use of harassment, abuse, or humiliation  as  a  way  of  initiating  new  members to a group (e.g., having rookies wear odd clothing in public places as a type of team initiation). It is often  assumed  that  team-building  behaviors  such as hazing serve to build team cohesion. However, there is little to support this conclusion as results have  revealed  that  athletes  who  report  doing  or seeing more hazing-type activities also report that their teams were less cohesive.


  1. Brawley, L. R., & Paskevich, D. M. (1997). Conducting team building research in the context of sport and exercise. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 11–40.
  2. Bruner, M. W., & Spink, K. S. (2010). Evaluating a teambuilding intervention in a youth exercise setting. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 14, 304–317.
  3. Bruner, M. W., & Spink, K. S. (2011). Effects of team building on exercise adherence and group task satisfaction in a youth activity setting. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15, 161–172.
  4. Carron, A. V., & Spink, K. S. (1993). Team building in an exercise setting. The Sport Psychologist, 7, 8–18.
  5. Carron, A. V., Spink, K. S., & Prapavessis, H. (1997). Team building and cohesiveness in the sport and exercise setting: Use of indirect interventions. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9, 61–72.
  6. Martin, L. J., Carron, A. V., & Burke, S. M. (2009). Team building interventions in sport: A meta-analysis. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, 5, 3–18.
  7. Spink, K. S., & Carron, A. V. (1993). The effects of team building on the adherence patterns of female exercise participants. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 15, 39–49.

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