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Pre-emptive Team Building Events for New Teams ~ Legitmate?


Here’s a question that came up recently on the CTP programme I manage.

“If all training should be preceded by a Training Needs Analysis (TNA), is it legitimate for a new team which has not worked together previously and is only just about to come into existence to be given a team building event to kick it of?” And if so what performance problems will it be addressing if no performance has even commenced?

It’s an interesting question isn’t it? If a team doesn’t exist and no performance issues have been identified is it appropriate to design and deliver a team building event to prevent potential problems, even though we have absolutely no proof or evidence that such problems will come into existence? Problems might or could exist everywhere, but we don’t deliver training based purely on speculative assumptions. A new piece of software will require knowledge to use it, a new piece of equipment skill to employ it. In these cases a clear analysis of the training needs required can be precisely determined.

Is a team building event a special case, should it be granted greater latitude in terms of omitting a real TNA process? Or do we conduct TNA based on what is typically or foreseen as problems within new teams? Can a pre-emptive strike so to speak in training terms always be appropriate? Is a team build event at the start of team’s life a preventative measure based on generic issues and anticipated challenges?

If the purpose is to impart values, methodologies and culture is a team build event the best way to go to do this and if so, why?

Either way it’s a ‘get out of jail free card’ in terms of evaluative strategies isn’t it? No problems in advance which the delivery mechanism is to specifically address and absolutely no proof that without the event the team wouldn’t have performed just as well. Can you imagine doing training for anything else based on this premise?

Garry Platt

7 Responses

  1. What a great question
    Hi Garry
    What a great question!

    Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t!

    It is a bit like induction – how many organisations carryout a TNA on new starters before they start? We know there are things that people will not know, but many organisations ‘fill out’ induction with all sorts of other ‘useful stuff’ which is not possible to evaluate.

    If we approach it from an organisational development point of view rather than a training one, we know that people working together for the first time tend to go through a ritual dance of getting to know each other, and this takes time. (Tuckman, Kuber Ross etc). We also ‘know’ that creating certain experiences for a team in its formative time can help to accelerate this process. If we have evidence inside an organisation that it takes (say) 4 weeks for a team to form, and we can cut that to 2 weeks by using a Team building intervention, then this can be a justified investment.

    To take this to another level this then creates an interesting challenge, in latter stages do we run team building or team working events?

    Evaluation is a great TOOL but to me it is not a mandatory part of a developmental process. There are times and places for evaluation, and different levels of evaluation are required depending on the level of investment.

    Some time ago when I was Training Manager for a company going through Investors in People. We had the assessor come in and challenge me on our limited use of evaluation. In particular one particular training course for a senior manager. He had not been performing and I identified an ‘assertiveness programme’ for him costing some £2500. When challenged about the evaluation of this expenditure I pointed out:
    1) the individual was on final warning before the training
    2) (post training) they are still employed and performing their job well
    3) cost of recruiting a replacement – £3500
    4) Time to undertake ‘proper’ evaluation – 2 days of my time, his time and his line manager (estimated cost of the time alone £2000)

    Well you get the picture.

    If a line manager is satisfied the money spend was worth while in many instances this is all the evaluation required. Now if we were talking about a customer care programme for all staff – or a comprehensive manager development programme for many of the organisations managers’ then this is a considerable spend and justifies time and money spent on the evaluation. When the cost of the evaluation is more than the investment of the training STOP!

    Mike Morrison

  2. New team build
    This is a cracking question that could open up a wider debate.
    I think that it is a good idea for a new team to be thinking about how it should form, what the ground rules might be and to get the channels of communication going well right from the outset. If a ‘team building’ event is anything it is about these very things.
    The idea of a TNA to identify problems is very much a deficiency model – which has its place. However, training (or in this case team building) should not be solely about problem solving, or, as it is often seen, the elimination of incompetence. It should also be about the propagation of excellence.
    I think I would approach this in one of two ways. Firstly, I might do a forward looking TNA – finding out what the needs are of the individuals to help them form as a team and what will help them hit good levels of performance at an early stage. Alternatively, I might do that as part of the day and facilitate them through a process of getting to where they want and need to be. Either way, I think it is important to agree beforehand the purpose of the event and what success would look like (and therein lies the potential source of evaluation).
    This all raises a bigger question: just how vital is a TNA? Well, my bias is towards saying that it is very important in most training contexts. However, I think this example throws up the importance of thinking about TNA in a very broad sense and, for me, it highlights that the main criteria should be whether there is genuine potential value in an event and not whether there is a problem to be solved. It is about being proactive and not just reactive. But I do accept that getting evidence beforehand to prove the potential value may be tricky. No more tricky, though, than for any other form of investment appraisal.
    I will be interested to see what others think.

  3. does “team building” count as “training”?
    Good question, Gerry

    If you look at the sort of content we would be putting into a team building event (see Graham’s answer) then the team building event is NOT “training” but part of the planning process.

    If we accept this then not having a team building event would be like not having a plan; almost doomed to have problems.


  4. Training is not only to solve problems
    Training is not only meant to solve problems. When an organisation is going through a transition, they don’t wait until after the transition when everybody is experiencing problems before conducting the training. They do so beforehand, so that people know how to function within the new world. The training in this case could serve the dual purpose of preparing people for the role of their team in the larger organisation, and kicking off the bonding process between team members.

  5. Team Building – Try new mindset
    In the scenario painted by Garry of a new team being formed, I think the people doing the forming and the team members would need to adjust their mindset.

    Instead of doing a Training Needs Analysis (TNA), try doing a Business Needs Analysis (BNA). Start with the questions, why has this team been formed, what is its purpose, what are the expectations the business has of it, how will it be measured?

    Once those areas have been addressed and understood then the team can start the process of being built. The foundations can be put in place by the team, and if appropriate, with the help of a facilitator.

    I am sure the foundations are well known to you but would include; a team vision,clear team and individuals’ goals, team values and agreement on “how we will work together”, an inventory of members’ skills etc. etc.

    Once all questions have been asked, then it may be appropriate to run a TNA but with the intention of filling any gaps in skill, knowledge etc so the team can meet the Business Needs already laid out. The TNA looks forward to success and is not an inquest as to why the team is failing. If the foundations are laid well then the need to re-construct should be minimalised.

    What do they say about proper planning??

    Ray Loftus

  6. Stages of Team Development
    Hi Garry

    Using Tuckman’s model of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing, as has been stated, teams go through a natural development process. A pre-forming event could be used to make people aware of this process and look at ways of minimising the negative parts of the process by good communication, setting goals, and being clear about their purpose etc.


  7. Training New Teams
    This is a great question. I would agree with the comments below that TNA needs to consider the wider issues of the business, and this is critical when we are providing PROACTIVE training rather than just REACTIVE. It is, IMHO, the right mix of these two that makes for successful learning and develoment in an organisation. That way you can try to “head off at the pass” some of the problems and issues before they arise, which is often more effective in both ££ and people terms (stress, upset, arguments, management time spent soothing ruffled feathers etc etc). You also need to react to business changes and provide solutions to issues which weren’t foreseen.

    If more organisations considered proactive training, costly people issues may be avoided.



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