"Just because your team doesn’t have the time or the budget to embark on a full-scale training program, doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea of team-building exercises altogether."
Team-building. If I have one pet peeve as a facilitator and corporate trainer, it’s that the majority of people I encounter view team-building as an annual event rather than a daily practice or process. And while there is merit to taking some dedicated time away from business activities to focus exclusively on strengthening the working relationships between staff members, the benefits will be short-lived if the lessons learned are not linked back to what happens in the office or on the shop floor and reinforced regularly.
In Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers, Brian Cole Miller has taken on the challenge of simplifying team-building efforts by compiling 50 practical activities that busy managers can incorporate into their staff meetings. Each exercise takes only 15 minutes to run and doesn’t require any previous training or expensive materials. Cole Miller has organized these activities into six categories relevant to any business – communication (listening and influencing); cooperation (working together), coping (dealing with change), creativity (solving problems), teamwork (appreciation and support) and connecting (getting to know one another). He also gives readers easy to understand, start to finish instructions on how to run an effective team-building activity, gives you a heads up about what could go wrong and how to prevent it from happening, and provides tips on how to deal with the situation positively if it does happen.
The Big Idea
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
"Remember, an effective team is built primarily on trust. Trust, and thus team-building, can rarely be accomplished in one giant leap."
The well-known adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” reminds us that most things, particularly big important things, take time to create. When we set goals or decide to build something, we shouldn’t expect to achieve immediate success. Gardens don’t bloom the day we plant seeds. We don’t learn a new language after listening to one language tape. And vintage wine isn’t ready to drink the same day the grapes are crushed.
The same goes for team-building. You can’t put a group of people in a room, run a few activities and expect a supportive, high-achieving, resilient team to instantly emerge. Team-building is as much a process as it is an outcome. And like any goal worth pursuing, it is important to set aside some dedicated time each week to make it happen.
Fortunately Cole Miller makes this a relatively painless commitment with this compendium of 50 15 minute team-building exercises. That’s one team-building exercise a week for one year. If you are committed to building a strong team, set aside 15 minutes each week to lead your team in an activity that will challenge their assumptions, build camaraderie, establish group norms and values, and promote discussions on a wide range of topics! (Hint: you can start each team meeting with an activity or create a weekly “team time” huddle to rally folks together for 15 minutes of fun, yet focused learning).
Set the Stage
"The best team-building activity can become the worst team-building experience when there is no clear objective."
The only thing worse than not doing any team-building exercises is to run an activity with no clear purpose for doing so. I once attended a meeting where my colleagues and I were asked to share what type of bird or flower we would be if we were a bird or flower. After everyone had answered the chair thanked us for sharing and then promptly dove into a budget update. Um…so why did we just spend 20+ minutes talking about birds and flowers?
Well-executed team-building activities lead to specific outcomes and results. They are relevant and applicable to team performance and help create a safe environment to explore topical issues, address situational dynamics or learn more about how people think and process information. A short introduction can make all the difference because people engage better when they know why they are doing something.
The bird and flower exercise (which is NOT one of the exercises in Cole Miller’s book) could have been introduced as a way to discover core values. For example, “Today’s team-building activity is about values and how they show up in our workplace. Please choose a bird or flower. Then tell us the characteristic you value most and how you demonstrate that characteristic as a manager.” Now the participants know how to reconcile the outputs of the activity with their work context. But don’t stop there. After the activity, continue to deepen participants’ insights and learning by connecting the exercise with your agenda topics.
Connect the Dots
"The debrief is the most critical part of the team-building activity. It is the time when effective questions will guide the participants to link what they experienced in the activity with their behaviour on the job."
Continuing on with the bird and flower example, my well-intentioned leader might have led a conversation about the similarities and differences in values and behaviours we heard across the management team. We might have explored how the same value can be demonstrated in different ways and situations and how to respect the ideas of others who might hold different values. Finally, we could have been asked to keep all of these values in mind as we entered into our budget discussion and decision-making.
When a debrief is done well, the participants are able to bridge the gap between a fun activity and the lessons to be learned. And, the lessons learned will linger long after the activity is over, particularly if you refer back to it during 1:1 coaching sessions and anytime you see the behaviour in action and acknowledge it publicly. Not bad for a nominal investment of time and energy!
If you are looking for an inexpensive way to forge stronger relationships between the people you lead and work with, this book should meet your needs and budget nicely. As any wise investor knows, small incremental deposits over time will yield astounding returns. Grow your people and your team, 15 minutes at a time. You will be amazed at the ROI you generate.
What is the best team-building experience you have ever had? The worst? What did you learn from those experiences?