Skip to main content

The 5 Levels of Team Building

How to Understand and Communicate the Value of Team Building + Tips for Success

Ever wondered what the value is in team building?  Have you ever thought about what makes a team building experience successful?   Even if you think you know, you may have a new perspective after reading this article. Learn how to choose an appropriate service provider and make the most of your next team building experience by discovering the 5 levels of team building, each with common questions and tips for success.

This article offers a new perspective about the value of team building through explaining the various types of what is commonly referred to as “team building.” The 5 Levels of Team Building is a framework, which will help you determine what level of a team building program will be most beneficial. This framework was developed by utilizing over twenty years of in-field research by Grand Dynamics International through feedback from participants, event planners, business leaders and practitioners. This article is written from the experience and perspective of Tim Walther, Grand Dynamics President, and the influences of our contractors and customers.

As you work with your team building service provider, use these guidelines to communicate expectations and increase the odds for a successful team building experience. Remember, each level has value, which can be enhanced by understanding your intentions and desired outcomes, communicating with everyone involved and planning properly.

Here’s to successful team building and beyond!

This article is written by Tim Walther, President, Grand Dynamics International


Visualize a lawn mower. Are you picturing one in your garage, your neighbor’s lawn mower, or the one you pushed as a child? I am thinking about three of them:  An old school Snapper, an auto-propelled craftsman and a riding mower.  All three formed my perception of a lawn mower based on my experience. What do you think your friend would visualize?  How do you know what a lawn mower is worth? Or how about the investment of outsourcing the mowing?

My point is that we all have different perceptions, which are based on our own experiences.  Team building is no different. Our individual perceptions of “team building” may vary vastly.

Have you ever had a “team building” experience? Was it a ropes course day, museum day or scavenger hunt?  Maybe it was an intense facilitation with a management team that resulted in amazing breakthroughs or perhaps a series of unique challenges that had impact for years to come. Maybe it was highly valuable.  Maybe it was not so valuable.  How do you know if it was valuable or not? Your experience, connections with others, or perhaps insights you gained, learned or transferred to your personal or professional life?

What Team Building is NOT – AKA: Group Recreation

Team building is not a group of people getting together for recreation simply because of recreation. This type of event is not really team building because one the most basic criteria for team building is the intention to improve workplace performance, employee engagement or commitment. For example a group of friends getting together to go skiing would not be considered team building.  The results of that experience may create a bond between the group members, but not for the purpose of improving their work together, unless of course, that is the intention.

Level 1 Team Building – AKA:  Team Bonding

A Level 1 Team Building program is most typically characterized by relationship building, getting to know other employees and having a shared bonding experience. Activities at this level are comparable to events such as a company picnic, a meal out at a restaurant, bowling, golf, museum trip or even rock climbing. There is little or no pre – or post program design time that goes into the event because the event is already created.  A well-designed Level 1 experience will include novel experiences that are all inclusive and safely delivered.

The intention and framing of the outing to improve workplace productivity differentiates this level from a recreational outing with no particular purpose other than having fun. Although there may be a competition involved in this type of an event, more often than not the focus is on success, and failure is rarely addressed. The idea of valuable return on investment is based on the idea that if we reward employees and have them spend time together, they will more engaged, loyal, and happier at work simply because of the experience of getting out of the office in a fun, and different way. It is the shared experience that bonds employees together.

Level 2 Team Building – AKA: Purposeful Activity

A Level 2 team building program considers the design of the event in an effort to enhance the experience for the participants. This is a very common definition of “team building” as referred to by meeting planners and hotel representatives.  The common scenario is commonly a half-day event at a corporate retreat or off-site, designed to support the retreat objectives without any real specific business objectives. The overall desire to to improve workplace functioning.

As in the Level 1 example, the trip to the museum can be framed around discovering the intricacies of team values in the sculptures or paintings, designing that scavenger hunt so that it requires specific communication or taking the time to process the various team elements required to climb the rock. The selection of the appropriate type of framing, facilitating and debriefing principles becomes an important aspect for this type of event delivery.

Classic activities can be transformed into powerful learning moments.  A white water rafting trip might be transformed by specific framing and facilitation techniques of the team adventure.  At this stage a team building initiative or group problem solving activity, such as tower building or a “from A to B” type activity may be used. The design time for the event is based on the skill and experience of the provider.  For an experienced provider, the pre-design time is still relatively low and the skill set of the facilitators required for the event is medium.  Safety standards of any adventure-based activity is critical and has an impact on the overall experience.

A level 2 team building event creates the opportunity for an experience that is more valuable for the group in regard to some aspect of individual and team workplace performance. However, an unskilled facilitator or activity delivery that is mediocre can have a negative effect.

Level 3 Team Building – AKA: Team Performance Improvement

At level 3, value increases and expertise is needed to deliver a successful event.  At this level there is a real desire to improve team performance and the request for a team building program often comes with a presenting issue or directive from the key training stakeholder, which needs to be addressed. Examples could include: infusing a culture of collaboration in a merger environment, a lack of information sharing by sales representatives or helping team members to be more courageous or break through limiting beliefs. Team building at this level becomes a type of training program where specific concepts and/or skills are transferred to the workplace.

A level 3, team building events are carefully designed to optimize time and the return on investment. This means that activities are selected with a clear purpose in mind and includes integration of the experiences and/or skills in a comprehensive debriefing format to facilitate transference back to the workplace. For example, an experience of team challenges such as a complex bridge building exercise, a series of experiential problem solving initiatives or an indoor mountain seminar experience, is done so with clear intention of transferring a concept to the workplace. This intention is framed at the opening, reinforced throughout the exercise/activity and examined closely during the debrief. The combination of these three elements is what differentiates this level from the previous ones.

Program content becomes the key to success, and business elements such as core values, best practices and leadership strategies are likely to be integrated throughout. Models, methods and tools are presented to participants around topics such as increasing information flow, building trust or improving team performance. Processing perceptions of failure is often an important and integral component to the success of an event. Can team building still be fun at this level? Absolutely!  Fun is actually an integral part of team building at ANY level.

The skill sets of the event organizers and facilitators increase significantly at this level.  The amount of planning and preparation for the event is more than the event itself.  Planning and preparation are a very important part of this deliverable to ensure a smooth and successful program delivery.

At this stage, the team building programs would be described as experiential, novel, dramatic, consequential, metaphoric and transferable.

Level 4 Team Building – AKA: Team Training and Development

A level 4 Team Building program shifts from being an event to a process.  Level 4 is one that includes a thorough needs analysis and expert design and delivery of the experience. At this stage the education and experience of the service provider is crucial.  Careful consideration for the individual, the team and the organization’s needs are an integral component of the team building experience.

This level includes the use of a pre-assessment, such as interviews and/or surveys, where individual and team performance gaps are identified.  Content may be provided prior to and following the event to pre-frame the experience and enhance value.   Concepts such as sequencing of activities, framing of the experience, participant learning styles and clear outcomes are critical to the overall success.  The history and recent performance of the team is important. The experience of the facilitator is essential. The planning and delivery of the program requires expertise.  Action plans with accountability transfer the learning.  Return on Investment and positive impact toward individual, team and organizational performance is the goal.

At this level, every part of the program is planned in advance and delivered with a purpose. This type of programming is typically in a multi-day retreat format based on a clearly articulated purpose or a series of training programs to reinforce ongoing learning and application.

Level 5 Team Building – AKA: Team Transformation

This is it, the highest level of “team building.”  Level 5 takes all of the other levels into the consideration and then continues to add value!   These team building programs are part of a bigger picture organizational objective. The business leaders take ownership and responsibility for working with a competent service provider to deliver the programs. The team building is not perceived as a onetime event, but part of a series of specific, targeted actions toward improving individual contribution and effective team performance.  At level 5, the team building activities transition into specific ongoing team performance strategies that take place multiple times, over a long period of time often six months or more. In a corporate retreat setting, the focus is on full immersion whereby concepts and skills are practiced and reinforced to become transferable to workplace performance. There are follow up sessions with action plans and accountability.

Success Tips for your Team Building Programs!

Level 1: Team Bonding

Create a framework for the activity so everyone is included
Choose an activity which is novel and unique so the memory will last
Be sure that there is a strong track record of safety by the provider of the activity
Have fun and create a positive experience!

Level 2: Purposeful Activity

Choose an experience that aligns with the values and culture of your company
Consider the history and experience of participants with team building
Be creative in the selection and framing of the activities
Ask your service provider about specific examples of the event you are considering

Level 3: Team Performance Improvement

Carefully choose your service provider based upon expertise and experience
Clarify expectations around content to be delivered
Discuss the concept of perceived failure and how that may impact the program
Align program takeaways with business objectives

Level 4: Team Training and Development

Create buy-in for the program by communicating with participants well before the event
Select an appropriate method for the needs analysis
Ensure that an action planning element of the program is included
Discuss the return on investment with your service provider

Level 5: Team Transformation

Get buy in from program participants before the series of programs begin
Consider the skill and experience of the organization and specific facilitator of the programs
Plan for an appropriate amount of time to reinforce critical team skills
Reinforce key concepts so that they are fully integrated individual and team behaviors

About Grand Dynamics
Grand Dynamics International is an experiential training and development company which has been delivering team building events and customized experiential training for nearly 20 years. Learn more at