Team Building: Building and Bonding

Meeting Planning

Raise your hand if you know the difference between team building and team bonding. Is there really a difference? It seems reasonable to assume that some bonding will occur during team-building activities, but, conversely, bonding alone can hardly be counted on to build a productive, winning team.

According to New York Times best-selling author Christine Comaford, whose latest book is entitled SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, the most productive group experiences combine both team building and team bonding.

“We use a team-building event in order to further the ability to work together,” Comaford says. “Gaining new skills, fostering trust, shifting behaviors and designing a shared future are characteristics of a team-building event. We are investing in building and enhancing the performance of the team.

“Team bonding is an opportunity to build deeper relationships, play and let off steam. Here we are investing in the team’s understanding of and connection to one another via a shared experience.”

Comaford is a columnist for Forbes.com and has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, FOX Business Network and PBS. The leadership guru has popularized neuroscience techniques that have helped hundreds of business execs see into their blind spots, expand their visions and influence outcomes. Her latest book is noteworthy for meeting professionals, who are often called on to create corporate magic through team building.

“My preference is that team building and bonding are joined,” Comaford says. “For example, when we train a team in the neuroscience of leadership, participants are all learning new skills to enhance their ability to perform both together and solo. And since we know that connection between human beings fosters improved performance, health, happiness and emotional engagement, we simultaneously incorporate team bonding. Team members bond powerfully when they create safety, belonging and mattering with one another, and when they have an emotionally engaging shared mission, vision and set of values.”

In order to determine whether your group is in need of some serious team building, a little bonding or a hybrid experience, Comaford suggests that planners use one of her favorite neuroscience-based tools called the Outcome Frame. Before you start to plan an event, figure out what your group needs by answering the questions below. (For the full version of Outcome Frame, see SmartTribes.)

  • What would you like? (outcome desired)
  • What will having that do for you? (how you will feel/benefits)
  • How will you know when you have it? (proof/criteria)
  • Where, when and with whom do you want this? (timing/who else/scope)
  • What are your next steps? (time to get into action)

If your group is in need of greater focus, clarity, accountability, influence and sustainability, then you definitely need to hone in on the team building. “When teams learn together they form a more solid form of tribe, learn shared rituals and customs, and create goals and meaning together,” Comaford says. “We are meaning-making machines. It’s essential that we work together and learn together for the greater good, and that we understand what the greater good is.”

Comaford addresses team bonding in Chapter 2 of SmartTribes, pointing out that the key is creating a safe environment in which team members feel a sense of belonging, that they matter to the team and begin to develop trust in coworkers. “Sometimes bonding is what we need. We’ve worked hard all day and it’s time for R&R.”

Comaford typically pushes for a combination of team building and team bonding to help businesses and organizations achieve their ultimate goals. She says this one-two punch is ideal “when you want to design the future together; forge a leadership code of conduct; refine mission, vision and values; or do any sort of learning/brainstorming/creation where helping the team to connect as human beings is essential for a positive business result.”

Visit Oceanside, Calif., offers a team-building program called “Hero for a Day,” which uses elements of Navy SEALs and U.S. Marine Corps training to encourage communication, quick thinking, perseverance, teamwork and overcoming obstacles. “With our close proximity to Camp Pendleton and rich military history, the new offerings are a perfect fit for Oceanside,” says Leslee Gaul, CEO of Visit Oceanside. “It’s not only a fun way to bring people closer together but it also helps showcase the city’s natural coastal beauty and variety of recreational activities.” (Go to visitoceanside.org for more information.)

An emotionally charged team-bonding opportunity is offered by Songs of Love Experience, which sets up mobile recording studios so groups can create “songs of love” for sick children. “Virtually every time we have presented this program we have been told by employees of companies that it was the best team-building program that they have ever been a part of,” says John Beltzer, president and founder of Songs of Love Foundation. “Some kids who received their ‘songs of love’ have smiled for the first time in months. The songs have uniquely impacted the lives of children in ways that no other gift could achieve.” (To learn more, go to songsoflove.org.)