Conflict Resolution

Team Building

Guy Kingston asked:

It seems probable that more has been written on the subject of “team building” – or, if you want to be formal about it, “group development” – than any other aspect of management.

There is something about the subject that attracts academics like bears to honey, and all want to build their own model and make up their own buzz words.

As early as 1965, Bruce Tuckman was able to collate no less than fifty previous models and studies.

Needless to say, the good Professor Tuckman could not resist the opportunity to add a fifty first.

His is the model which divides group development into four phases: Forming; Storming; Norming; and Performing. To this he later added a fifth phase, Adjourning… obviously.

There have been many, many more since then.

If Professor Tuckman’s buzzwords are not buzzy enough, there is always Tubbs’ Orientation, Conflict, Consensus, and Closure… or Fisher’s Orientation, Conflict, Emergence, and Reinforcement… or McGrath’s Inception, Technical Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution, and Execution… and so on…

Most of these are cute little internally consistent systems with little relevance to the outside world.

They might provide neat categories in which to fit what has already happened, but it is very doubtful if any team leader has ever said, “So that concludes the Technical Problem Solving Phase, we now move on to the Conflict Resolution Phase”.

Part of the problem is that the sheer bulk of the literature means that there is confusion about the very definition of basic concepts. Different models often use different words for the same thing. Equally, the same words may mean different things in different models.

Even the expression “team building” has become ambiguous.

In academic circles, it refers – correctly – to the whole process of group development, but in popular business culture it has become synonymous with group dynamic games, bonding sessions, trust exercises and the like.

At the risk of adding yet another model to the overlong list, the simplest, and therefore the best, way to approach team building is as a two stage process.

Stage one is the recruitment, selection, and organisation of the team in the first place. This obviously happens before the team ever meets.

Stage two is everything that follows, the meeting of the team and getting it to work.

The problem with much of the academic literature is that it only starts at stage two. By that time, it is already too late. If the wrong people have been recruited and selected, or even if the right people are there but have been put in the wrong organisational framework, the damage has been done.

No amount of team building exercises can make up for a having the wrong people or the wrong structure.

Indeed, part of the problem with the narrow definition of team building, and with many of the academic models, is that they distract attention from the really important issues of recruitment, selection, and organisation.

If the people are wrong, no amount of paintballing is going to get them to work together successfully.


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