The most important step when planning a team-building exercise comes at the very beginning: you must start by figuring out what challenges your team faces. Only then can you choose exercises that will be effective in helping them work through these issues.
Spend time thinking about your team’s current strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself these questions to identify the root of any problems:
- Are there conflicts between certain people that are creating divisions within the team?
- Do team members need to get to know one another?
- Do some members focus on their own success, and harm the group as a result?
- Does poor communication slow the group’s progress?
- Do people need to learn how to work together, instead of individually?
- Are some members resistant to change, and does this affect the group’s ability to move forward?
- Do members of the group need a boost to their morale?
- Back-to-Back Drawing – Divide your group into pairs, and have each pair sit on the floor back to back. Give one person in each pair a picture of a shape, and give the other person a pencil and pad of paper.
Ask the people holding the pictures to give verbal instructions to their partners on how to draw the shape – without actually telling the partners what the shape is. After they’ve finished, ask each pair to compare their original shape with the actual drawing, and consider the following questions:
- How well did the first person describe the shape?
- How well did the second person interpret the instructions?
- Were there problems with both the sending and receiving parts of the communication process?
- Survival Scenario – This exercise forces your group to communicate and agree to ensure their ‘survival.’ Tell your group that their airplane has just crashed in the ocean. There’s a desert island nearby, and there’s room on the lifeboat for every person – plus 12 items they’ll need to survive on the island. Instruct the team to choose which items they want to take. How do they decide? How do they rank or rate each item?
Eliminating Stereotypes and “Labeling”
- Stereotype Party – This is a fun exercise for a medium-sized or large group. Write on nametags many different ‘personality types (see the list below), and pin or tape one tag to each person’s back. Don’t show people which tag is on their back – they’ll be able to see everyone else’s tag, but not their own.
Now, ask each person to figure out which personality type is on his or her back by asking stereotype-based questions of other people – “Am I a man?” “Am I an athlete?” “Am I an entertainer?” and so on.
Allow group members to answer only yes or no, and encourage participants to ask questions to as many different people as possible.
Here are some personality types you could consider:
- Auto mechanic.
- Olympic medalist.
- Fast-food restaurant worker.
- Postal worker.
- Movie star.
Building Interdependence and Trust
- Human spring – Ask group members to stand facing each other in pairs. Their elbows should be bent, with their palms facing toward each other. Instruct them to touch their palms together, and gradually start leaning toward each other, so that they eventually hold each other up. Then, instruct everyone to move their feet further and further back, so that they have to depend solely upon their partners to remain standing.
- Mine field – This is a great exercise if you have a large room or outdoor field. Set up a ‘mine field’ using chairs, balls, cones, boxes, or any other object that could potentially be an obstacle and trip someone up. Leave enough space between the objects for someone to walk through.
Next, divide your group into pairs. Pay attention to who you match with whom. This is a perfect opportunity to work on relationships, so you might want to put together people who have trust issues with each other.
Blindfold one person, the ‘mine walker’ – this person is not allowed to talk. Ask his or her partner to stay outside the mine field, and give verbal directions, helping the mine walker avoid the obstacles, and reach the other side of the area.
Before you begin, allow partners a few minutes to plan how they’ll communicate. Then, make sure there are consequences when people hit an obstacle. For example, perhaps they have to start again from the beginning.
For team building to be effective, leaders must first identify the issues their group is facing. Then they can plan activities to address these challenges directly – and make sure that the team will actually gain some benefits from the event. Keep competition out of the exercises, and aim to make team building part of the daily corporate culture, instead of a once-a-year event.