The Wonders of the Workshop: Types of Team Building Workshops and How They Can Benefit Your Team

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When most people think of team building, they think of team building activities–games, ice breakers, escape games, trust falls, etc. Indeed, these activities are the center-points of team building activities, and they are usually the most memorable. 

Many team building programs these days also contain another component: the workshop. Workshops are usually supplemental programs to the main activity. Almost like a shortened seminar, they consist of a lecture on a topic related to team building or team roles, followed by extra team building activities.

Here we will give you a rundown of some of the different workshop topics that you can choose from. As you will see, many of them deal with models of team building taken from organizational theory or cognitive psychology. Others are based on newer frameworks or methods that deal with how teams can be more creative and open.

Hopefully, this post can be a useful guide to help you choose the workshop that is right for your team. It’s important to remember that different teams have different needs, and may be at different stages of development. There is no “perfect” team, and likewise there is no “perfect” workshop for all teams.

Each workshop/model has its own strengths and blind spots. Workshops can help teams but they cannot fix all their issues. The goal is to integrate the model and/or approach that the workshop lays out with the structures you have in place in order to move your team forward.

1. Belbin Team Roles 

Good for: Assessing overall team dynamics, getting team members to try out different roles on their team

Raymond Meredith Belbin was a researcher and management consultant who came up with an inventory of team roles during the 1980’s. His model uses 9 team roles as a way to assess the makeup of teams and the roles that individuals play on those teams, which you can see here below: 

  1. Resource Investigator–searches out new ideas and projects.
  2. Plant–highly creative, searches for new ways to solve problems.
  3. Shaper–provides drive to the team to help them stay focused.
  4. Team worker–helps the team to stay united, uses diplomacy to help solve team issues. 
  5. Monitor Evaluator–makes impartial judgments and provides a “neutral” eye to make judgements.
  6. Implementer–creates strategies for completing projects and helps teams carry them out.
  7. Coordinator–delegates work and helps teams to focus on objectives.
  8. Specialist–has detailed knowledge about a particular aspect of the project.  
  9. Completer Finisher–acts as quality control at the end of a project, ensures that the finishing touches are made. 

Each of these roles has different strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Plant might be highly creative and good at coming up with ideas, but might not be good at communication, and may even be absent-minded. The Specialist might be really knowledgeable about a key aspect to the team’s success, but may be too technical or narrowly-focused. 

By assessing each role’s strengths and weaknesses, team members can also see what roles they play and how they can change their roles and try different ones. The Belbin model is different from personality-based models (see MBTI below) in that anyone can occupy these roles, regardless of their inherent traits. In fact, at Invite Japan, we often encouraged team members to try different roles in the activities.

One weakness of the model is that team roles are also a function of other members’ perception. For example, someone might think of themselves as a shaper, but could be perceived by others as more of a team worker. 

A good way to counter this is by leaning into this perception gap. By comparing each member’s view of themselves with how they are viewed by other members of the team (through an anonymous survey), you can map out and discuss the differences in perceived roles. Assessing these results can be good at determining any imbalances in roles and how they can be filled.

2. PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act)

Good for: Establishing good team habits when it comes to successfully accomplishing goals and improving results

PDCA is an iterative methodology whose origins can actually be traced back to Japan and the Tokyo Institute of Technology in the late 1950’s. It is connected to the “lean manufacturing” methods of the time, which sought to reduce wastes in production and supply lines.

Nowadays, the PDCA method is used in all different kinds of companies and organizations, not just manufacturing, and has been adopted for team building as well. Its focus on careful observation of processes and results has wide applications.

The method is broken up into four stages (Plan, Do, Check, Act) that are pretty straightforward. In the first stage the team establishes their goals and lays out their design for accomplishing them. In the “Do” stage, the team implements their plan. In the “Check” phase, the team gathers the data from the project, and–this is key–compares the results with their objectives. Finally, in the “Act” stage, the team acts on these findings by adjusting their plan and/or goals. 

By repeating this process over and over again, teams can improve their performance and teamwork each time. It is a useful method for teams to learn, and can help them substantially when it comes to understanding how to improve and become more effective.

However, PDCA lacks a certain human element. It is mostly focused on projects and improving team-wide performance. So we would not recommend it for teams that are looking to focus on improving relationships or learning about trust.

For teams that have good relationships but are looking to learn more ways to think about their methods, this would be a great supplemental program, especially when combined with multiple team activities that force the team to use the method repeatedly. 

3. GRPI (Goal, Roles, Process, Interaction)

Good for: Assessing dysfunctional areas on teams and aspects that need to be worked on

GRPI is a conceptual framework for diagnosing issues within the team. The model was developed by organizational theorist Dick Beckhard, who was a pioneer in the field of organizational development. 

In the model, the categories above are viewed in order as a pyramid, with Goals at the top and Interaction (e.g. Interpersonal Relationships) at the bottom. When teams are having difficulties, they should move from the top of the pyramid to the bottom, and assess whether the main issue lies within each category. 

Once the correct location of the issue has been identified, teams can then work at fixing or improving that aspect of their team dynamics. In essence, it is a way for teams to rationally break down their team’s structure and locate problems and inefficiencies without tearing the whole edifice down.   

While GRPI can be useful for any team, there are some weaknesses to the approach. For example, the model doesn’t really address the changes that teams go through over time. The model is static in the sense that it only captures a picture of a team at one moment in time.

GRPI also doesn’t seem to illustrate how these areas are interconnected with each other. In other words, GRPI can address specific issues, but not improvement as a function of overall, dynamic issues of team development.

As an exercise in assessing issues and problem areas though, GRPI is an excellent tool, and can be a useful model in post-activity discussions to help teams understand where they may have gone wrong during the main activity.

4. MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator)

Good for: Assessing individual team members’ personality and giving them tools for personal growth

MBTI has been around for quite some time. The indicator was first published in 1944 by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. They ostensibly developed the indicator in order to help women enter the labor force, and to find jobs that were most comfortable to them. 

You’ve probably seen the Myers-Briggs Personality test before. It is very famous worldwide, and there are hundreds of books and websites dedicated to helping people understand its results and each personality type. 

The MBTI consists of sixteen individual “types” of personalities. These are based on four “preference” categories with two choices for each category:

  • Extraversion/Introversion (Focus is outward or inward)
  • Sensing/Intuition (How you take in information)
  • Thinking/Feeling (How you make decisions)
  • Judging/Perceiving (How you live your outer life)

Individuals take a test which asks various questions about likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies, intellectual pursuits, etc. These answers are mapped onto the preference categories above. The result is a four-letter personality type with one letter from each category.

For example, if an individual gets an “ENFP” type, this means that they are (generally) extroverted, use intuition to take in information and feeling to make decisions, and live their outer life by perceiving (e.g. empathy). 

Of course, what this actually means for individuals and how they can use this information is not often intuitive. That’s why there are so many supplemental resources for helping people understand the method and their results. 

Needless to say, MBTI is better at explaining individuals than groups. Understanding the various categories, types, and how they interact with each other takes some time and study to truly master. 

However, teams can use MBTI to better understand team members’ motivations and reasons for acting the way they do. Learning about MBTI and each members’ type together can be a good activity for building better understanding on the team.

MBTI is also sometimes used (at least in America) for interviews and hiring processes to better place employees within the company or team. As mentioned above, it might be better for managers to really understand the method before attempting this, however. 

There is also some pushback to MBTI due to its lack of rigorous scientific backing. It relies on a test which is taken individually, so results can vary based on individuals’ mindsets or how they want to be perceived. Putting people into “types” can also create self-fulfilling prophecies.

Our suggestion is to use MBTI lightly and for fun. Finding out team members’ types together and doing some activities based on them might be a good way to explore this model and its implications. However, using it as the basis for team building in general or how your team is structured might take some more research.

5. Tuckman’s 5 Stages of Team Development 

Good for: Focusing on norms, taking into account the lifespan of a team

The Five Stages is a way to model group development, conceived by Bruce Tuckman, a theorist in group dynamics in 1965. He modeled 5 distinct phases that all high-performing teams go through:

  1. Forming–a period of orientation 
  2. Storming–a period of conflict and competition
  3. Norming–the resolution of conflicts and establishment of consensus
  4. Performing–a cooperative, well-functioning team emerges 
  5. Adjourning–the team’s goals have been accomplished, the team can wrap up its work

The key inflection points are the Storming and Norming stages. Teams that survive and thrive are the ones that have successfully navigated their period of conflict and contention. As the model suggests, the best way to do this is through norms as a way to form consensus.

The focus on norms is what makes GRPI highly useful as a framework. Many teams don’t, at least consciously, think about the norms of their team that provide the backbone and structure for their actions and motivations.

Norms include things like how people interact, how decisions are made, how goals are set, etc. This makes centering norms a productive way of talking about teams without getting mired in the specifics. In other words, it means we can assess teams based on how they decide their goals and go about attaining them, rather than on the goals themselves. 

The GRPI model also takes into account the full lifespan of a team. A lot of models don’t talk about the fact that teams inevitably end. The project is complete, the goals are finished and the team disperses.

Or, the team as currently constituted changes in some way–maybe a team member resigns or a new team member joins. These personnel changes can also start the process over again and require some awareness as to how to adapt team norms to and with them.

Of course this can also be seen as a limitation. If your team already has strong, supportive norms in place, it may not need a workshop focused on them. Likewise, for teams nearing the end of their term, a workshop that maps out the lifespan of the team is not so useful.

6. Psychological Safety 

Good for: Focusing on building trust and open communication 

Psychological safety is a relatively new team building framework, especially when compared to the others mentioned in this list. It first appeared in academic literature in the 2010’s. Because of its newness, it is sometimes misunderstood, but this also brings a freshness to its approach which may be highly valuable to teams looking for newer team building ideas.

Psychological safety aims to replace fear, distrust and anxiety in the workplace with respect, trust and open communication. Psychologically unsafe environments place excessive burdens on team members that reduces their energy, productivity and creativity. Creating psychologically safe teams can therefore unlock team unity and mutual understanding, allowing the whole team to improve together.

One common misconception about psychological safety is that it rejects conflict writ large. Conflict is actually central to the premise of psychological safety, in that team members need to be able to share their opinions openly and honestly without fear of reprisal. Critical feedback is also important to maintaining psychological safety on the team. 

The difference though, is that in the psychological safety framework, conflict is managed. It is harnessed to promote better discussion and mutual understanding, but it is not allowed to get out of control. 

One limitation of psychological safety is that it needs to be combined with high standards in order to really change team effectiveness. Psychological safety on its own may lead to complacency on the team if there isn’t some challenge or higher goal to achieve. 

Nevertheless, Psychological Safety can provide a strong foundation for a team to be able to succeed, and can challenge productive teams to think about ways to make their workplace environments more healthy for all members. 

Psychological Safety can also be easily combined with other topics like Anger Management, Conflict Resolution and Effective Communication to really hone in on certain aspects that may be more useful to teams.

Overall, Psychological Safety is a great framework for developing trust and thinking about communication in a new way.

7. Improv 

Good for: Teaching teams to think on their feet, think creatively

Improvisation is a method of training actors that goes back for many many years. Recently though, it has been applied to team building, as a way to get teams to think spontaneously, to open them up to bursts of creativity, and in general to have fun and let loose.

Improv workshops generally use a wide variety of activities, some of them dealing more directly with acting than others. None of the activities are about “performing” per se. Rather, they are about reacting naturally and quickly to a given situation, and in relation to their partner(s). 

An illustrative example is the game “Yes Let’s!”. In this game, a team member shouts “Let’s….” followed by a specific action (e.g. “Let’s eat ice cream”). The team members that want to do the activity respond enthusiastically with “Yes let’s!” and then mime the action. The ones that don’t drop out of the game by falling down dramatically. 

As you can see, improv games work on multiple levels. There’s thinking of an action on the spot, responding in an enthusiastic and timely manner to another team member, and refusing/accepting the refusal of an idea. Each of these could be its own workshop or team-building activity. 

Improv therefore combines a lot of useful team building ideas into one. But it’s most unique benefit is unlocking creativity and spontaneity. Improv really makes the mind work in different ways than usual, and encourages participants to share this creativity in a safe space with peers. Of course, communication skills are also improved in the process, and team members learn how to adapt to changing situations. 

Improv workshops, however, are very much activity-based and open-ended by design. There is no model or theory to follow necessarily, like with the other workshops on this list. This makes it more difficult to use for teams that are in need of more concrete direction and guidance.  

Because of this, improv workshops are recommended for teams that have a decent basis of trust (and psychological safety). Teams that feel “blocked” creatively or are looking for new projects and ideas will also benefit greatly from improv workshops.

Conclusion

Workshops are a great way to supplement team building activities, and add an extra educational component to provide context and depth. As you can see, there are many different workshops out there, and each one has its own peculiar strengths and weaknesses that will work better or worse for different teams. 

In choosing a workshop, it’s important to be aware of your team’s needs, as well as the team activity that it will be paired with. Knowing your teams and what it needs to further develop is an integral part of this process as well.

So, if you’re looking for an extra umph of intellectual stimulation or inspiration for your team, think about adding a workshop next time you plan a team building event. 

Invite Japan offers a wide range of workshops for you to choose from, along with our team building activities. Contact us for more information and consultation!

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Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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