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Team Building



PROBLEM: This psychological phenomenon occurs when a team seeks consensus and is so conflict avoidant that they are not able to engage in critical decision-making. New ideas are less likely to be shared and are quickly tossed aside if the other team members do not immediately support them.

STRATEGY: The team leader needs to set the tone by actively seeking out new ideas. This approach requires allowing the space for people to voice ideas without an immediate scrutiny about the validity or viability of the idea. When people voice ideas but receive only a polite nod or a fast shut-down, they are less likely to use their energy to share opinions in the future. The additional value of respecting different ideas is that it teaches the team that differing perspectives are accepted and lays the groundwork for successfully engaging conflict.


PROBLEM: This psychological phenomenon can be readily seen if one sends a group email. The knowledge that twenty other people may solve the problem or share an opinion lowers the sense of responsibility for each person receiving the email.

STRATEGY: Allow each member of the team to choose the tasks that align with his/her interest and skills. This strategy increases a person’s sense of ownership and pride in the goal at hand. Ensure that team members understand how their part is critical in the overall outcome. Understanding that their contribution matters not only boosts performance but also increases morale. One of the biggest complaints I hear from team members is that they are just putting in time and do not feel that their contributions matter. A solid coordination of skills, tasks and goals is more likely to produce a high-functioning AND happy team.


PROBLEM: Sometimes the physical environment or nature of the project does not facilitate adequate opportunities for team members to connect with each other. Connection and bonding is crucial as it increases members’ trust in each other. Increased trust speeds decision-making and decreases distracting social factors such as gossip, hurt feelings, and competition.

STRATEGY: The strongest team cohesion occurs when team members feel they all have something in common—“we’re all in this together.” This concept is called “universality” and is the groundwork for the most effective group processes. Working at the same place or on the same project is not enough commonality to create the sense of universality. It necessitates a feeling. If everyone on a team hates a project, one of the best strategies is to first acknowledge that everyone hates the project. The shared feeling allows everyone to feel on the same page, even if it is a negative one. From there, the leader can help the team strategize on how to navigate the project successfully.


“Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

–Patrick Lencioni


The team leader sets the tone for the group and begins the creation of a social norm. If the team leader respects others and “calls out” disrespect, the team will form a norm that automatically neutralizes potentially negative people. Toxic people need to be fed in order to thrive. Setting  the social norm you want for the team requires one to be aware of the precedent you set while the group is still forming. Praise the behaviors you want, in front of other team members. Thoughtful attention to precedents can help the group establish positive norms related to communication, punctuality, courteousness, innovation, collaboration, respect, and all other factors that are influenced by social dynamics. Note: It is unrealistic for a leader to expect the group to rise above his/her own weaknesses in these areas.


People trust each other based on perceptions of similarity and experiences of vulnerability. Bonding occurs when people know each other at a personal level. Feeling that “we have this in common” or “I understand where she’s coming from” helps people form a group identity and navigate differences more easily. The sharing of life challenges and good news is more than just “water cooler time wasting”; it forms the foundation for the loyalty and trust that enables team members to run fast together. When team members support each other on a personal level, they invariably are more effective at a professional level.


Team members never complain that they receive too much clarity on expectations, roles, and tasks. On the contrary, the most common complaint is the amount of time and efficiency lost because of unclear communication. At the other end of the spectrum is a team culture of fear or carelessness that causes everyone to “reply all,” which creates an equal amount of overwhelm and confusion. Formulating an effective communication process requires much more than the use of the medium (email, phone, face-to-face). Rather, an effective process requires that each team member understand what information should be communicated to which team members, and the expected time-frames for responses. Establishing a clear flow of communication allows team members to work at a faster rate and with more synergism.


When teams formulate their own goals, they develop a culture of ownership and collaboration to reach them. It is important that the goals are not simply those stated by the organization. Organizational leadership may set forth a goal, but this evokes a different psychology than a goal that is developed and owned by the team. When teams do not have a goal that they all buy into, each team member will tend toward the default behavior of spending more effort on his/her own interests rather than the collective goal.

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