The Best of Team Building

group of people glassblowing

Discover three cornerstones of team building in the workplace: flexibility, trust and communication

By Katherine Clauhs, MS

What is the first image that comes to your mind when you think of the term “team building?”

Icebreakers in the conference room upon one’s hire or lunch workshops with a small activity for a unit? We sign-in for credit, complete an activity with people who work nearby and then go about our day when the activity concludes. Do we really understand the purpose of the team-building exercises? Can you recall debriefing after the activity to understand the purpose?

Team building is about making the connection with others and getting groups to work well together. The dictionary gives examples such as working together through an exercise or games, as noted previously. How can a group of people come together to solve a specific problem? That is where team building comes into play. Team building encompasses many components but for the purpose of this article we will cover three areas: communication, trust, and adaptability.


Communicating effectively saves time, enhances safety, and allows for the growth of a healthy workplace culture. Team-building activities can be a great way to enhance employee communication and employee connections. With better communication between staff comes higher productivity in the workplace.1 For example, exercises such as recreational “escape rooms” engage groups in teamwork, problem solving, mental flexibility, and communication in order to escape from a locked room.2

The players can be complete strangers or a group of friends. In the study, Trapped as a Group, Escape as a Team: Applying Gamification to Incorporate Team-building Skills Through an ‘Escape Room’ Experience, investigators collected data from a group of 10 participants (eight second-year residents, one third-year resident, and one faculty member) from an Emergency Department (ED). The group needed to escape the room in under 60 minutes. The study reported after one “escape the room” experience, 9 of the 10 players reported the activity motivated them to learn more about teamwork, such as navigating conflicting personalities and overcoming barriers in the workplace.2

9 out of 10 participants reported similarities between the social interactions in the escape room and their job in the ED. The similarities included settling differences in opinions, providing timely updates, and managing stressful situations between multiple people.2 By actively communicating, these individuals were able to escape their room. When a team can communicate effectively, trust is not far behind.


When you build trust in a co-worker, you are building a reliable team. You have someone talk to, someone to cover your shift if you call out, and someone who understands your day-to-day schedule. In a healthy coworker relationship, this trust should be a two-way street. Your team members should be able to rely on you as well, hence, solidifying your team. This creates a “we” mentality, showing your clients, families, and the community that you are a “well-oiled” team. Managers can be the example for the level of trust a team can expect. By utilizing their position, a manager shapes the team through communication and building trust between employees.

As trust is a key leadership competency, it is also important for one’s manager to have the team’s trust. It is essential in building and maintaining healthy relationships in the workplace when involving patients or community stakeholders.3 Trust is positively correlated with a feeling of safety. When team members feel safe to express themselves and ideas without fear of criticism, teams can collaborate more effectively on projects.4 In our previous example of the escape room, members had to trust their group to solve problems and come back with reliable solutions. They adapted to their new environment to come together as one unit.


Adapting to a new environment can be challenging to say the least. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many healthcare workers adapted their day to day lives to our ever-changing environment. As the resilient humans we are, we have changed the way we provide healthcare services within a two-year span to meet the needs of our consumers while continuing to follow new safety protocols. Reflecting on the past example of the escape room, the 10 participants who engaged in the escape room had to adapt to new surroundings and make quick decisions as a group (similar to the ED setting they work in). Players used flexible communication strategies to assign problem-solving tasks to appropriate individuals.2

By utilizing trust, adaptations, and effective communication, one can provide practical strategies for team-building activities. Next time you find yourself in a new place of work or in charge of leading a team building activity, reflect on the purpose of the activity. As one builds social relationships within school, the workforce, or in our example, an escape room, they could be using various interpersonal skills learned in team-building activities. These activities encourage individuals to exercise unique skills to find alternative ways to solve problems and create a smooth and enjoyable environment.2

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1Ali M, Li Z, Khan S, Shah SJ, Ullah R. Linking humble leadership and project success: The moderating role of top management support with mediation of Team-Building. Int J Managing Projects in Business. 2020;14(3):545-562. doi:10.1108/ijmpb-01-2020-0032

2Zhang XC, Lee H, Rodriguez C, Rudner J, Chan TM, Papanagnou D. Trapped as a group, escape as a team: Applying gamification to incorporate team-building skills through an ‘Escape Room’ experience. Cureus. 2018. doi:10.7759/cureus.2256

3Wilkins CH. Effective engagement requires trust and being trustworthy. Med Care. 2018;56:S6-S8. doi:10.1097/mlr.0000000000000953

4Pollack J, Matous P. Testing the impact of targeted team building on Project Team Communication using social network analysis. Int J Proj Management. 2019;37(3), 473–484.

Katherine Clauhs

Katherine Clauhs, MS, CTRS, CDP, is a graduate of Temple University’s MS in Recreational Therapy. She resides in Pennsylvania full time working in a physical rehabilitation hospital. She can be reached at

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