If you lead a team, at some point you have likely wondered what you could to help the team grow closer and more cohesive. If you are a leader and have never thought about that, you probably won’t keep reading, but you likely need what follows the most!
“Team building” isn’t the holy grail of team success that some think it is (that logic sounds something like: if I can just get them to know and like each other, we will have a great team). Relationships and trust are a component of a high performing team, and the exercises that follow can help nurture those things; but please know that there is no magic potion or exercise that alone will create a great team.
In other words, use the ideas below and know they can be valuable, but don’t expect them to change the world alone; or be all you ever need to do.
With that warning, here are three exercises I have used with my team and with other teams with great success.
The Perfect Dinner Guest
Ask everyone to think of one person, living or dead that they would like to share a meal with. Give people a bit of time to think about it, and reduce anxiety by making sure they know that there are no wrong answers: the person can be famous or not, it doesn’t matter.
After everyone has thought of a person, go around the group and have people share their person, and why they selected them. Allow people a moment to share and make sure they feel valued and appreciated for who they share. This exercise lets everyone know more about people and gives them an insight into their values too. Don’t be surprised if this creates tremendous admiration and positive feelings as you move around the group.
Positive Feedback Shuffle
Few people get as much positive feedback as they need or deserve – especially at work. This simple anonymous exercise can be a way to overcome that. Create an envelope with each team member’s name on it, and then place a piece of paper inside, also with that team member’s name on it.
Shuffle the envelopes in the center of the table and have each person take an envelope (but not their own). Then have everyone write one thing they appreciate about that person or what they bring to the team on the piece of paper. When they are finished, instruct them to place the paper back in the envelope and put it back in the center of the table. When all envelopes have returned,start over and repeat until everyone has had everyone else’s envelope.
Then, allow everyone to take their own envelope and read what they received. If you want, give everyone the chance to make a comment or say thank you to the team for this valuable gift.
I have had people talk to me about things on their piece of paper years after the exercise took place!
This one will work better as a part of a longer meeting or a retreat, but it could also be done over the course of a week by starting it at one team meeting and finishing it at the next meeting. This also takes a bit more planning and coordination. In my experience, it can be worth it.
- Ask each team member: “If you could be anyone one else, living or dead for one day, who would you want to be?” Tell them this will be used as a part of a team building effort and that others will be trying to guess their identity.
- Have each team member anonymously submit their secret identity to whomever is running the exercise.
- Create a page with all of the secret identities and a list of the team members.
- Distribute the lists and tell people when they have to submit their guesses.
- Encourage people to try to find clues and do what they can to get the most secret identities correct (you might want a simple prize for the winner).
- Allow people to have some fun with this process (it will likely be very energizing).
- At the appropriate time, have everyone reveal their secret identity, and share why, with everyone. And have everyone “grade their own papers” – determining how many they guessed right.
- Award prizes, if you decided to.
A Final Thought
While all of these can be fun and very valuable, you must, as the leader, facilitate them carefully. Make sure you understand why you are using them and let the team know your positive intention too. Allow people to have some fun and make it safe for people to share.
Lastly, always make time for sharing or debriefing a bit at the end of the exercise, so people can share their observations and appreciation and in general, close the loop on the experience.
I’ve outlined each of these pretty quickly here; and hopefully I’ve given you enough information to use them successfully. If you have questions, share them in the comments, and I will clarify and help everyone use these more effectively.