Difference between team-building and team cohesion

difference between team building and team cohesion

Whenever I’m contracted to facilitate True Colors™’ team-building workshops, I often ask the client to explain their goals for the training.

Their response helps me customize my training content to meet their needs.  It also helps me understand the overall expectations of our time together.

More often than not, their response to my question is “team-building,” or rarely, some clients will say “team cohesion”.

When I ask what that means to them, few can explain it in detail. Most stumble around with a few words but then usually finish with, “do you know what I mean?”

The difference between team-building and team cohesion is that team-building is the verb that speaks to the activities or efforts that make the team connect with one another. Team cohesion is the “after the fact” result of team building. Team cohesion requires maintenance to preserve the team-building efforts.

To be clear, I’m speaking one hundred percent from my over 30 years as a training facilitator and my experience working with hundreds of teams over the years.

Usually, I find they want team-building. Hmmm.. is there a difference between team-building and team cohesion?

There is a definite difference in my mind.

Undoubtedly, lots of people don’t really know the difference between team-building and team cohesion. I hope I can shed some light…at least how I see it.


This whole exchange with my clients happens quite a bit! So over time, I began pondering whether there is a difference between team-building and team cohesion.  The one-word answer: YES!

I’ll explain how I view both, but first, let’s discuss team-building. We’ll touch on cohesion later.

What is team-building?

Team-building is a process, not an activity.

In fact, it’s the systematic procedure of unifying a group of people around a specific goal. Etienne Wenger might describe this goal as a “domain.”

The team-building process guides and propels a group into a place of closeness, mutual understanding, and trust.

Team-building is like setting the “table” for healthy work relationships. Forging them requires each of the above-mentioned. Each minimizes the interpersonal barriers that can impede workplace productivity.

Why bother with team-building?

I’m glad you asked! The answer is simple. A team that works well together performs at a higher level of efficiency than one struggling with constant conflict, mistrust, and silly bickering.


Bess needs the report Jeff generates monthly. She emails him to request it. Jeff perceives Bess as a “snob” and incredibly bossy. He’s a little “put off” by her cold, stiff email.

“That’s just how she is,” he thinks to himself: “In the breakroom, she grabs her coffee like she’s on a mission from God and barely returns a cordial ‘Good morning’ Hmmph.”

Think about how teambuilding and team cohesion are different.

Jeff doesn’t understand her at all and will not let her treat him like some grunt.

He closes her email and decides to send the report when he gets good and ready. “I have feelings, and I deserve respect,” he thinks.

Meanwhile, Bess sees Jeff as an incessant talker. She may think: People are always at his desk…talking…when they should be working. He’s always smiling and bringing donuts no one asks for. “He’s just doing that to make friends.”

Workplace friendships are unprofessional,” she thinks to herself. Bess is committed to being productive and marking off as many tasks as possible from her list.

“I was hired to do a job, and I’m going to do it.”  

Two totally different perspectives. The end result is one simple task was ultimately delayed by interpersonal foolishness.

These two have a productivity barrier, and leadership may not even know it. If they do know, they likely have no idea how to fix it anyway.

But, if these two attended one of my True Colors workshops in Kansas City, they would discover that Bess is likely a Gold and Jeff is probably a Blue.

They would explore the strengths of these contrasted temperaments and likely have a big laugh about how one initially viewed the other.

If you are wondering what I’m talking about, click here.

Click the image below to see team cohesion
activities you can try with your team!

Or you can click here. 🙂

ideas for team cohesion

What team-building does…

During effective team-building experiences, a group explores other team members’ motivations, personalities, weaknesses, values, triggers, and needs.

In other words, they learn how to “handle” one another in ways that leverage team strengths and enable everyone to work well together.

That’s why I’m not a big fan of consultants that swoop into workplaces, do a litany of games, and label them “team-building.”

Adventure activities and games are great after you’ve laid a research-based foundation like True Colors™.

managing strong teams

I also don’t think team-building is a one-and-done type of activity.

Common everyday situations can cause a high-functioning team to plummet to a bunch of disconnected strangers. Here are a few ways this can happen:

* New team members arrive, and interpersonal dynamics shift

* Organizational/departmental changes (i.e., new managers, restructuring, etc.)

*Societal issues that affect the company, community, or even the nation (i.e., a company scandal in the news, national catastrophes, and even an election year can create divisions).

Depending on your organization type, these scenarios can throw a monkey wrench into your team dynamic.

I especially saw this happen in a youth organization years ago.

A newly elected US president created immense tension among a nonprofit team living and working thousands of miles away.

The new president’s agenda was all about education in school settings. Youth-serving agencies knew funding streams would be impacted by this emphasis on education.

Tension and worry invaded the nonprofit staff.

Colleagues began snapping at one another. Mistrust surfaced as some team members assumed others were preparing to “jump ship.”

It was ugly. Imagine that. A team dynamic in the heartland was demolished due to a new president hundreds of miles away in Washington, D.C.

Go figure.

Note: it’s happening again. This post is several years old and as I update it, it blows my mind it is occurring yet again! Politics are affecting both team-building and team cohesion! Wild.

Anyhoo, if the team dynamic is altered, a new team-building process must start afresh before irreparable damage is done and the team [is] permanently impacted.

This needn’t [always] include an outside consultant.

You can likely find other ways to build team identity. If not, contact me for technical assistance. I may be able to “talk” things through with you. Possibly.

Team-building speaks to cultivating trust through intentional interactions. These interactions can help staff see one another in new, fresh ways. Team-building builds teams.

Let’s talk about team cohesion now.

Yes, the team-building process explores, unveils, and enlightens team members. It creates the foundation for relationships and connections. It makes a room full of segments a “whole.”

In its best contexts, team-building directly results from intentional plans, exercises, and/or experiences.

On the other hand, team cohesion is the bonds, trust, and camaraderie that result from the above-mentioned plans, exercises, and experiences.

You want to protect this, just like a married couple tries to protect their sense of connection as the years go by.

Team cohesion is a “closeness” rooted in understanding and acceptance.

It influences interactions, reduces conflicts, and cultivates a sense of belonging and a sort of membership to the workgroup, department, or organization.

But here’s the kicker: team cohesion doesn’t last unmanaged.

Like a cheap lipstick, it’s temporary. Without regular upkeep, it burns out and fades away.  Team cohesion requires maintenance.

Revisiting the married couple example above, think of teambuilding as the wedding and team- cohesion as the marriage.

The journey or effort to build upon something special that already exists.

Back to Bess and Jeff…

Remember my earlier example about the imaginary coworkers Bess and Jeff?

Say the same scenario happened, but it happened a week before; they attended my True Colors sessions in Kansas City.

After attending the True Colors session, Bess would customize her email to meet Jeff’s need to relate to his colleagues.

She might begin the email with a warm “Good morning” or “Hi Jeff, are you having a good day?” Then, she would make her request.

Similarly, Jeff, knowing Bess needs to get things done quickly, would interpret her email with more empathy.

He may read her original email and think to himself, “Oh boy, she’s a Gold and ready to cross something from her list and could be a little stressed. I’ll get this report to her quickly so she can mark it off.”

See, a little bit of insight goes a long way.

So, in short:

Team-building – the process of bringing everyone together for an experience. (The journey)

Team cohesion – a state of being or deliberate effort that enables individuals to feel connected to other team members, organizational goals, and purposes. (The destination)

What do you think about team-building and team cohesion? Do you see it similarly or differently?

Leveraging the four personality styles to help you when working with different personalities in the workplace.  I also often discuss how business personalities play a role in how you approach work and manage work personalities in general. I also answer the question” “how does personality influence communication at work?” Your temperament plays a role in everything. I love talking about it and exploring exactly how!

About The Author

Teri C.

I'm a Missouri training consultant specializing in teambuilidng and overall personal effectiveness.

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