Team Building, Community Building: What’s the Difference?

Team Building, Community Building: What’s the Difference?

Nearly 100 years ago…
“The Hawthorne Studies revealed that
people’s work performance is dependent on social issues and job satisfaction,
and that monetary incentives and good working conditions
are generally less important in improving employee productivity
than meeting individuals’ need and desire
to belong to a group
and be included in decision making and work.”

Team Building and Community Building; Are They the Same?

No. They are actually different. To talk about how they are different, we need to look at their goals: teams and communities.

Team and Community Defined

Google provides these definitions of “team”:
“a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport.
come together as a team to achieve a common goal”.

Google defines “community” like this:
“a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will refer to the second definitions for each word but by either definition for either word, you can see we are talking about two completely different starting points. Teams are formed in order to achieve a common goal and communities form because of already-existing commonalities.

The exercises for team building and community building, then, reflect these starting points. In team building, exercises are designed to rally the members in relation to a goal (competition with a rival company, for example): In community building, exercises are designed to uncover already-existing shared experiences (in, say, life, for instance).

Who’s in Control?

Team building is an external process. It is arranged by the management of an organization to improve the cohesiveness of a group of employees so they can work synergistically to become more productive. Team building is something management does; it engages the employees in exercises designed to shape them into a team. Team building exercises are introduced and everyone is expected to participate.

Community building is predominantly an internal process. It is voluntarily undertaken by a group of people to forge meaningful, authentic, and supportive connections in order to foster camaraderie and enhance communication and empathy among members of a group. It’s something the group members do; they build themselves into a community. At community building workshops, the concept of authentic community is introduced and attendees are invited to participate in the community building process.

Since control remains with the management/leaders in team building, so, too, does responsibility for the outcome. In community building, control and responsibility are in the hands of the members of the group. This is an important distinction, one with consequences. If I have no control, I have no ability to effect change and therefore no responsibility for the outcome. When I have control, the ability to effect change, and responsibility for the outcome, I have an emotional/intellectual investment which maximizes my chances of success.

To Participate or Not to Participate

Typically, team building exercises are mandated by the management of an organization. Typically, too, the announcement of impending team building exercises is met by staff with resistance and groans of “Oh no!”

Community building exercises, ideally, are voluntary. This ensures that everyone who is there wants to be there. The voluntary nature of community building exercises, too, ensures a greater chance of success for the group.


Once a core portion of an organization has built a community culture, that culture will permeate the rest of the membership. This community culture will address staff turnover, naturally welcoming new members into the community. Team building exercises, in contrast, typically need to occur with some sort of regularity within the organization to address staff/member turnover.

The Perfect Foundation

Community building lays the perfect foundation for team building because once there is an authentic emotional connection among the members of a group, one reinforced by the communication that is part of the community building process, trust, efficiency, and productivity naturally follow.

“Community” Misdefined

Let’s go back and look at the first definition of community, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Too often today, the word community is applied to any group of people, but a true community is more than just a group of people who live, work, socialize or worship together. A true community is a network of meaningful relationships among a group of people who relate to one another authentically. They have a clear sense of themselves as a group, and belonging to that group means something to everyone in it.

Every community is a group but not every group is a community. Community, even now, over thirty years since Scott Peck first bemoaned the fact, is extremely rare. 

Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash

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About The Author

I have always loved writing and community building. I’ve written a book about healing and happiness, The Happy Place, as well as a Community Building book, Sounding the Drum: Community Building in the Digital Age,both available at any Amazon store. I’ve been through life changes that I thought were the end of my world, but I’m still here. You never know what will happen next. Isn’t that what makes life interesting?