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Do You Know The Difference? Team Building vs. Team Facilitation vs. Team Coaching

by Bob McCulloch


When the leader of an executive team is looking to enhance the performance level of the individuals and the team, there are a few different options to pursue. Many turn to team building events that use a metaphor to build an awareness and an appreciation of key leader traits. Many turn to a facilitator to guide the team through a strategy development exercise, enhancing the team’s collective strategic skills in the process. Increasingly, leaders are turning to team coaching to entrench essential capabilities in the team and its members.

Each of these approaches can be valuable in producing useful outcomes. Each has a different function or role; each has its own timeline; each provides its own distinct set of outcomes. So, how do you know which form of team intervention will provide you with the results your team needs? Because there can be confusion, I have outlined the three services here. At the end of the day, you must decide what service is best for your team based on your goals, your needs, and the composition of your team.


Team building uses a single intensive experience as a metaphor for working together and improving collaborative behaviour. There is a lot of energy, fun, and learning that takes place around it; regrettably, the awareness and skills that are acquired are most often temporary. While we remember the great experience, the skills are rarely translated into on-the-job activities. There is little, if any, translation from the metaphorical exercises to the real world.

Team building is focused on the interactions of the team; it has little, if anything, to do with moving the business forward. It can make for a fun day, which is not a bad thing, and still it does not advance the business per se. Without on-the-job application and reinforcement of the learnings, the behaviours will most likely be lost. However, it can help a group develop a common language, and help some individuals understand and work better with other individuals, as long as they translate the learnings into on-the-job behaviour. In this environment, the role of the external resource is to instruct the team and guide the team’s reflection on the experience.


In my experience, the way people learn to work together best is when they are working on a real business problem or opportunity. There is a difference in results and applicable outcomes when a group is working with a common business purpose as opposed to when they are “practicing solidarity” or learning to negotiate with one another in the abstract. In facilitation, a team is setting strategy for the business and solving problems. The cohesion of the team and its ability to work together is a byproduct.

Team facilitation is usually focused around an event, such as a strategic planning session. The outcome is defined. It may be a strategic vision and plan, strategic roadmap, or project charter that the team develops over the course of days or weeks. Again, the facilitation is focused on this very real business challenge.

In this case, the role of the facilitator is to actively direct the dialogue and guide the team through the process so they collectively make the decisions they need to make to advance the business.


Team coaching focuses on bringing a team together to improve performance (both task delivery and collaborative behaviour) and business outcomes. It is my belief that if we focus on desired outcomes, while being aware of and acknowledging interaction, the team achieves greater awareness of itself. Asking questions like: Is this behaviour helping you produce the outcomes you intend? Is this helping you perform as a team?

Team coaching typically takes place over six to twelve months. The coach sits in on regular team meetings, observes interactions, and works on a permission-based model to bring awareness to the dynamics that may be hindering progress and performance. The outcomes of these meetings with a team coach are the items on the team’s regular management agenda – this model is built on real world business. No hypotheticals!

Intra-team dynamics are important, and they can impact results, but when we shift the focus to results and performance, it reminds teams why they are here, what their strengths are, and what they need to work on. Whether through coaching or facilitation, when teams can work on a real problem and develop solutions that are applicable to their jobs, both the whole team and its individual members thrive.


Bob McCulloch

Bob McCulloch is a recognized authority in providing strategic guidance and executive coaching for tomorrow’s top business leaders. Employing a question-based approach and with over 40 years’ experience, he is able to build strong, trust-based relationships with senior-level executives who are looking to move the needle in their careers from good to great.



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