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March 3, 2017

Team Building

Great teams share a sense of purpose – they’re in it together. But how do you create a great team? Here are some practical tips on team building.

Team Building

What makes a team?

Great teams share a sense of purpose - they're in it together. They share a culture, a way of doing things and treating each other. They're all pulling in the same direction and everyone has a place and feels valued. A great fundraising team knows that raising money for the cause is more important than which cost centre the income goes in and any competition is friendly and healthy. A great team encourages those who are struggling and pitches in when someone is overwhelmed with work. They're interested in each other's work and can't wait to share and celebrate their successes.

Creating a great team

Sometimes you're lucky enough to inherit a great team when you join a charity. In that situation your role is to understand the team culture as well as possible and find your role within it.

  • Spend time observing how people communicate with each other, and with you and why it works.
  • See if you can collectively capture the values and behaviours that drive the culture - that will help you induct other new people into the team in the future.
  • Adapt your leadership style to the team and organisation rather than sticking to how you have always done it - the last thing you want to do is disrupt a team that is preforming well.
  • Be careful with how you give people your time and attention - make sure you're not biased towards particular people or areas as that can create tension.

Sometimes it is your role to create a better sense of team and get everyone working together more effectively. So where do you start? 

Team formation model

If you are creating a new team, or bringing new members into your team it can be helpful to know that there is a process that many teams go through. There is a model called Tuckman's stages of group development and it says that teams go through 4 stages - Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Forming - people are polite and friendly whilst they get to know each other. The leader tends to play a more dominant role and some team members may feel anxious about the new situation.

Storming - tensions arise as people push against the boundaries, experience personality clashes as they approach things differently and everyone wants to know where they stand in this newly formed team. If people are unhappy they may question your authority or the effectiveness of the new team.

Norming - people settle down into their roles and get to know each other better.

Performing - people are now performing well together and need much less of your time and attention.

It can be reassuring to know about this process if your team is in the storming phase and it can also be helpful to understand that your team will need you less once they are working well together.

The informal bit

There is also a lot you can do informally to build a team by creating the right environment. Researchers at MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory have found that social conversations outside of formal meetings are vital to team success. Their experiments showed that social time turns out to be deeply critical to team performance, often accounting for more than 50% of positive changes in communication patterns, even in a setting as efficiency-focused as a call centre.

Getting your time spending time together outside of formal meetings can make a big difference to the cohesiveness of your team. Open plan offices (and limiting use of headphones for when you need quiet time) are an effective way to encourage face-to-face interaction, and people pick up what's going on around them. I worry about fundraising teams when I walk into their offices and it is deadly quiet. Fundraising is a relationship-based job for many income streams and we should all be talking to each other and on the phone to supporters rather than relying too much on email.

I've always sat in the open office because it allows me to be part of the team, hear what is going on (the good and the bad) and get to know people better. It's also lonely in an office on your own (though handy for meetings). In small and medium sized organisations I would encourage fundraising leaders to sit with their team rather than in a separate office.

Here are some simple ideas that I've seen work well.

  • Lunch/breakout area
  • Sofas where people can sit and chat in a less formal setting
  • Picnic lunches where everyone brings some food and you all eat together or teams take turn to host the lunch
  • Walking meetings and meetings outside in the park in summer
  • Social committees who plan monthly activities
  • A buddy system for new staff members
  • A power-walking lunchtime club
  • Volunteering together

I was really interested to hear from Alan Gosschalk how Scope encouraged team building.

"Obviously we want people within specific teams to support each other, and they're likely to be closest to each other - as opposed to people in other teams - but then also we get people socializing together to feel like a whole Fundraising division. There's a softball team, which is mostly made up of Fundraising and External Affairs staff. I also organize a work-choir, and there's a concrete garden up here and some people have formed a gardening club. There's a cocktail club that people go to about once a month. There are quite a lot of fun and different things that people can engage in.

Work needs to include some fun. People work pretty hard and are under pressure and so having some fun is a vital release. I've always done a lot on the social side and on celebrating success, for example. We have 'Fundraiser of the Month' here and you can nominate your colleagues for going above and beyond in their job or putting some of the five Scope behaviours into action. The winner gets a £10 M&S voucher and a little cup to put on their desk for the month and people absolutely love it. Those sorts of things are really important in getting people to feel like they are a team with a communal aim."

About the author

Carla Miller is a coach, consultant and facilitator, who works with charities and companies to create growth and develop happy, high-performing teams.


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