Team-Building 101 with Wingman

Team-Building 101 with Wingman


Join Ian Hockley, Executive Director of Dylan's Wings of Change and Jessica Michaels. Global Program Director of Wingman for Dance, as they discuss Team-Building 101 basic concepts. Learn the four basics of genuine team-bonding/trust-building activities, the five stages of group development, how to establish positive group norms and properly sequence activities. You'll also learn how to reflect and discuss to embed social and emotional learning skills and achieve group consensus.



It was our first-ever webinar so some technical glitches were inevitable. That’s why I’ve included this detailed article for you to follow along with the video so you don’t miss anything we covered. 

Wingman for Dance is a program of team-bonding/trust-building activities inspiring dancers to be more empathetic, courageous and inclusive young leaders. 

REGISTER HERE and use new, updated discount code: FALL2019 to receive $50 OFF your Wingman for Dance registration. 


In the best circumstances, the term team-building indicates “ice-breaker” activities you do with a group of people to help them get to know each other better. However, in the worst of circumstances, team-building activities can include awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassing experiences for many.  In the Wingman program, we don’t often use the word “team-building” as it seems quite limiting. We will use it as a way to describe how you decide becomes a part of your team, who makes up your team. 

We like the words “team-bonding & trust-building” activities much better as they indicate activities which build a stronger and deeper sense of connection, empathy and inclusion within the group.

I’ve heard many dance teachers talk about pizza parties, end of the year events, lock-ins, big sister/little sisters & big brothers/little brothers, etc that they host at the studio to help build with team-building. Though these ideas can be shared moments of fun, they don’t fall under our category of “team-bonding/trust-building” because they do not contain four main features of team-bonding/trust-building. And often the above activities just perpetuate the existing dysfunctional group norm.

Four Basics of Team-Bonding/Trust-Building Activities

1. The Facilitator

A genuine team-bonding/trust-building session has a facilitator rather than a teacher. Teachers are generally viewed as the “holder of all knowledge” and they impart their knowledge onto their students. However, true team-bonding/trust-building activities are overseen by a facilitator who gently guides the group without imparting their opinions or subjecting the group to their perceptions. The facilitator allows the group to develop organically at it’s own pace and in its own unique way.  

Facilitate: to make easier, aid, assist, smooth the progress of , to make possible, to make easier, create, compost

 2. Challenge By Choice

In the Wingman program, we follow the principle of “challenge by choice”. Coined by the organization, Project Adventure, “challenge by choice” speaks to the need for each participant to feel they have control over their experience.

3. Everyone Is Equal

Every participant involved in a team-bonding/trust-building activity is on the same playing field and level regardless of age, level, knowledge, role, team, skill level. Everyone has equal responsibility and an equal voice. 

4. Get In The Zone

True team-bonding/trust-building activities will stretch the group members out of their comfort zone to slowly and skillfully develop their challenge & growth mindset. And hopefully, help diminish their individual and collective threat mindset. 

Five Stages of Group Development

All groups are different. And according to Tucker’s Stages of Group Development, regardless of all of the ways they can be different, they all go through very similar stages of development. When we become aware of these stages, groups can develop beyond merely being productive to high performing, cohesive, supportive, positive teams. 

1. Forming

Forming is when groups first come together and everyone is very nice to each other, tentatively feeling out the environment and all are generally cordial and helpful. In schools, this is called “the honeymoon” phase of group development. 

2. Storming

Storming is when the group is reaching its “adolescence” phase. It’s generally the most uncomfortable period of individuals jockeying for position, roles, authority and influence among the members. Disagreements arise and those that are more extroverted tend to get louder and the introverts tend to get quieter, not wanting to deal with conflict. Honeymoon phase is over but this is also a very normal and expected phase of development in order to get to the next phase.

*Note: Some groups can get stuck and live in the storming phase. Groups need to mindfully navigate conflict by understanding that issue-driven conflict is how progress is made while avoiding the temptation to engage in personality-driven conflicts which are detrimental to groups.

3. Norming

Norming is when a group has figured out who is who and each member is respected for what they bring to the table.  Mindful facilitation of group norms and expectations at the beginning of the group will come into play here and can assist with the careful navigation through storming. Routine, predictable behaviors and understandings of who the group members are clearly established.

4. Performing

Performing is where all of the initial niceties of forming, the discomfort of storming, the more comfortable settling in and learning of common purpose in norming lead to the group finally beginning to click and operate as a well-oiled machine. Group members understand the various strengths of each individual within the group and are able to work together by leveraging and maximizing each other’s strengths to become a high-performing team. This is when magic happens.

5. Mourning

All groups have a life-span. Seniors graduate. Teachers get married/have babies and move away. New teachers join an expanding program. Junior dancers grow up and join teen dance groups. Dance families come and go. This final stage is about completion and disengagement from both the tasks and purposes of the group as well as the members. Most importantly, it’s a time of reflecting on what each member contributed to the accomplishments of the group, appreciating each member and making a conscious step to move on. 

Keeping these stages in mind can help us understand how to get groups gently back on track when they seem to be going off the rails. It can also explain why groups sometimes aren’t meshing or making it through to the next stage of development.

Establishing Group Norms

Every group consciously or unconsciously establishes what is acceptable within the group. For example, some groups, by not establishing any set of boundaries, unconsciously agree that being late to meetings/classes/events is acceptable. However, when the group takes an active role in creating their acceptable set of positive, achievable group norms, there is more ownership and responsibility for them. And ideally, the group also has control of the consequences of the individual who steps outside of the established group norms. 

In the Wingman program, we do an activity called The Us List, from Jen Stanchfield’s, “Inspired Educator Inspired Learner". It is where the dancers (teachers/parent group) create a list of positive behaviors they can commit to for the following dance season. Sometimes creating a “not Us” list can be helpful until the group develops a stronger identity. 

Sequencing Of Activities

When team-bonding/trust-building activities are sequenced to match the stages of the group’s development, we avoid awkward, silly, embarrassing moments and allow more introverted personalities to open up as they feel comfortable. The role of the facilitator can be compared to that of a chef; as with cooking, facilitation is an art that involves a combination of practice, observation, knowledge of theory, and creativity.  

Sequencing: the careful ordering of group activities based on the group’s needs, goals, and setting

For example, starting activities in the group’s comfort zone in pairs and growing to smaller circles and then to larger group discussions can be helpful. Also, begin with simpler or common topics before growing to more complex and deeper topics to create a safe space for open sharing to happen. 

Reflection and Discussion

Reflection is an important aspect of gaining a skill or learning a lesson. When we reflect on an activity and discuss within the group, we are also embedding social and emotional learning skills. 

According to the National Mentoring Resource Center,Social-emotional (SE) skills include the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for youth to recognize and control their emotions and behaviors; establish and maintain positive relationships; make responsible decisions and solve challenging situations; and set and achieve positive goals. Social and emotional skills have been shown to be malleable and linked to academic, career, and life success.”

A good facilitator can gently guide the group through reflection by asking questions which spark self-awareness & group awareness. For example, asking how the participants “feel” in the activity, what did the participants see or hear in the group, why was the activity difficult, gently direct the individual/group to be more introspective.

Finding Group Consensus

In team-bonding/trust-building activities everyone has an equal voice and deserves to be heard. Voting is often used to save time but everyone’s opinion is rarely heard or appreciated. In compromise, we can often feel we have to give up something in order to come to an agreement. When we take the time to listen to everyone in the group’s thoughts, concerns, and creativity, we are building confidence and trust. The group is also learning to appreciate each person’s strengths and uniqueness. 

Consensus decision-making: is a group decision-making process in which group members  develop, and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole group or common goal.

Why bother with team-bonding/trust-building activities in dance? 

We, as dance teachers, have an inordinate opportunity with our dancers because we get to spend anywhere from 3-15 years with our children as they grow up through our studios, which is more time than in almost any other extracurricular activity these children could be engaged in.

We also know the majority of our dance students will not be going on to be professionals so besides the obvious skill building - dedication, responsibility, self-motivation, attention-to-detail - let’s move into 21st century skills which have been shown to be linked to life success? As quote above by the National Mentoring Resource Center, "Social and emotional skills have been shown to be malleable and linked to academic, career, and life success."

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we all want to develop happy, healthy humans. And as the iconic author and scholar, Maya Angelou states, “When you know better, you do better.” 

Wingman for Dance is a program of team-bonding/trust-building activities inspiring dancers to be more empathetic, courageous and inclusive young leaders. 



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