As facilitators at MDF Asia we are often asked to do team building sessions. I have personally done many, in many different countries. From China to South Africa. Reflecting back I ask myself: is there a secret to turning a group of colleagues or staff members into a real team? Can anyone actually build a team in a few days? What makes a team a team?

What is team spirit?

‘Good team spirit!’ is often the first thing people say when asked what makes a team a team. Yes. But what does that mean? It’s not tangible, can not been seen or heard. So how can we build on it? It does not let itself describe easily. Team spirit is like a genie in a bottle

Team values

At MDF we know a few characteristics of well performing teams. One of them is joint team values. Respect! Unity! Transparency! People have no problem coming up with these kinds of desired team values. But we always throw the ball back: What do these values actually mean?


Dos and dont’s

Let’s dissect a value like ‘respect’. Of course everyone in a team likes to be respected. The question is how we can achieve mutual respect. ‘Which mechanisms or actions can you think of to instill respect?’, I often ask. I suggest a brain storming. The group remains quiet for a few minutes. Then: We can agree to be kind to each other. And polite’, says another. Yes, and encourage and help each other. Give each other a compliment. And when we make a mistake, we admit it, and move on. And we share information. If we’re unable to do a certain task, we should be open about it, and ask for help. And we should never scold or scream, or bully. The list of dos and don’ts gets longer and longer.


From value to behavior

It is important that everyone in the team gives their suggestions. Even the more quiet or shy team members. The next step is to process these values. We have several options. We can ask for prioritization. We can develop a Code of Conduct. We can write key values posters or stickers.  The team in South Africa decided on ‘Give each other a compliment’ sessions. In China the team started a mobile phone text group to share good news. Anything can work, as long as values have been 1) pronounced out lout, 2) agreed on by everyone and 3) processed into actions. Results can be amazing, if you think out of the box. Or in team spirit terms: out of the bottle.