Team Building – Simple vs Complex Models

Team Building Models

I had a conversation with a CEO a few months ago that got me thinking about:

  • the value of simple vs complex team building models
  • the need to state our company’s philosophy of team building more explicitly in our blog

Turbulence and its Shockwaves

At Executive Oasis International, we specialize in helping teams and organizations thrive even in the midst of tubulence. Turbulence can take many forms including but not limited to:

  • economic upheaval and its fallout
  • rapid change in the marketplace
  • interpersonal and inter-team conflict

At the economic and organizational level, turbulence tends to create confusion as well as a lack of clarity about what’s important and the optimal course of action to be pursued. Interpersonal turbulence generates a lot of “noise” and drama. If left unchecked, turbulence can sap a team’s spirit of innovation and eventually, create a negative and toxic corporate culture.

For this reason, our approach has been to help organizations cut through the complexity by starting engagements with simple tools and models like mind maps, storyboards, force field analysis, grids, and cause-effect diagarams. These and other simple tools are helpful for:

  • brainstorming
  • sizing up a situation quickly
  • generating a range of options
  • planning
  • communication
  • innovation

Simple models are particularly useful during busy periods and times when a quick response is needed. They are helpful when there is a need to pull together strategies, assess the viability of initiatives and come up with reccomendations in a tight timeframe. The goal of our goal is to facilitate communication, conflict resolution and planning with tools that:

  • give team members a common language and frame of reference
  • boil situations down to their essential core elements
  • help team members perceive situations more clearly

This approach is a good fit for most clients but we have had a couple who have felt it’s too basic.

Simple vs Complex Team Building Tools and Models – What is of more value for executives?

“There is danger in the use of simple models” the CEO cautioned. I take a different view but she did have a point. Some team members will dismiss simplicity as fluff and perceive it as an indicator of a lack of depth and bench strength on the part of a consultant. It can undermine credibility if a new client is left asking “Is that all there is?”.

While I agree that there is a place for complex models, they are often used inappropriately. Here is what I mean. If teams and organizations are avoiding the discipline of rigourous analysis and opting for obvious solutions that fail to create breakthroughs, it is time to go deeper. By contrast, in the midst of turbulence, it’s important to simplify rather than complicate an intricate or emotionally charged situation. It’s time to apply the brakes, slow things down and give team members a chance to develop a clearer picture of the dynamics at play. Why complicate a situation that is already too complicated to the point of creating tension and friction? Once conflict is diffused, a situation more clearly understood by all parties, and some semblance of order and stability restored, there will be plenty of time to engage in deeper analysis.

Is this approach an optimal fit for all teams and organizations? Of course not. That’s why there are many consultants with a myriad of styles and approaches. An approach that simplifies situations and gives clarity is what we have found to be effective for most of our clients. We hope a refreshing alternative to the analysis paralysis that plagues so many organizations.


I am really interested in hearing other points of view about this issue.

– Is there value in the use of simple tools and models for team building, brainstorming and planning?
– What are some pitfalls in the use of simple models and tools?
– Is there a risk of over complicating an already difficult situation through the use of complex models and rigorous analysis?
– What is of more value during conflict and periods of turbulence, simple or complex tools and models?

Please add your comments.


4 thoughts on “Team Building – Simple vs Complex Models

  1. Beyond Horizons says:

    Keeping team building simple, makes it more effective. The reason that most team building programs dont work is because there is not enough stress on fundamental aspects of what makes a team.

  2. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. says:

    Michael and Guy, it looks like we are on the same page. I have always believed in the K.I.S.S. principle. Keep it simple, resolve the issues and THEN go deeper and more complex. On the other hand, every group is different. Ultimately, it really isn’t about us. As facilitators we do need to be very flexible and if the group is asking for complexity, we need to be able to spin on a dime and deliver it.

  3. Guy Farmer says:

    Great post Anne. I tend to think in terms of the underlying issue that help leaders and organizations practice effective team building. We can make a program so complex that it fails to address what really brings people together such as empathy, understanding, kindness, communication, listening and collaboration. I’ve found that the most effective team building is simple in that it helps us connect on a deeper human level.

  4. michael cardus says:

    I have also experienced this; When explored further the request for “complex models” has been used as a smokescreen for people to opt-out of team building and leadership training. These are the same people who opt-out of training and any continued development. They know everything (or so they believe).
    Any model, situation, simulation is as complex as the user. For example goal setting. In my exponent leadership programs the 1st step is goal setting. The model is simple, although when working with C level executives the goals are much more complex, as they should be, then with front line staff.
    The complexity is in the user and not necessarily the model.

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