Posts Tagged ‘games’

Create Your Culture First, Then Build Your Team

Scavenger Hunt Team Building

Posing with Elvis

First, the bad news. Most team building activities just don’t work. Most games and events that managers and executives organize to build more teamwork only intensify whatever culture is already present. So, for instance, if a group has a real team culture already, and they go bowling or play laser tag or build a house for a needy family, then at the end of the activity, they will likely improve their culture. If a group is competitive, and they do the same activities, they will likely become even more competitive. In fact, some participants may leave the activity thinking, “I’m going to get that show off next time!.” If the participants have mistrust or have a culture of miscommunication, then after the activity, they will likely resent being forced to interact with people that they really just don’t like.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.

When I was in high school, I worked for a fast-food franchise, and one of my coworkers was the boss’ son. One Friday evening, the crew decided to meet on the weekend to go see a movie together. We all met at the theater the next day, and the boss showed up with his son and paid for all of the tickets for the entire crew. That happened decades ago, but I still remember the gesture, because it was my boss showing a genuine appreciation for all of the hard work that we had done. He was a great boss who respected his crew, and we respected each other. So going to a movie together really built additional team culture.

A couple of years later, I worked in a hospital, and each employee in my department had a role dependent upon another coworker. So we had to work really well together, or we’d all fail. I joined the department volleyball team, and although we were terrible at volleyball, we had a lot of fun and really worked incredibly well together.

After college, I worked for a big oil company, and the culture was very competitive. When an opening came up, anyone in line for a promotion fought like dogs to make themselves look good and their coworkers look bad. The first year that I was there, we had a huge company picnic ending with the annual softball game. On one at-bat, a coworker from the opposing team hit a high pop-up to center-field. Our extra center-fielder (we had two so that everyone got to play) missed the catch, and knowing that the mistake would likely cost the team a run, decided to try to throw the ball all the way to home plate to fix the mistake. The throw was way off and a second run ended up scoring. I remember the 2nd baseman turning back to the person who made the mistake and saying, “Next time, just throw the ball to me,” as he glared at the person. Basically, something that should have been fun and helpful became more of a disappointment for everyone.

One final example. One of the local Chambers of Commerce had a year long leadership development program that I signed up for when I was first starting my own company. About mid-way through the year, our group traveled to a Ropes Course for some “team building”. I have to say that I really enjoyed the activity, and I really felt good after I finished. Because I have a big fear of heights, many of the things that we did that day were a big challenge for me. For most groups, a Ropes Course would have also had a benefit to teamwork, but alas, the group that I was a part of had a big problem… We weren’t a team. We were a group of independent entrepreneurs. Sure, some of us worked together on projects, but most of us only saw each other for a few hours once a month at the meetings. So a shared-experience style of team building was a waste for us. Many companies have a similar result when they do an event for salespeople. Because salespeople tend to work alone, getting a group of salespeople together to bond or to improve teamwork is usually a wasted activity.

Build Your Culture First, Then Add Some Fun to the Agenda

So, do good team building activities work? Absolutely. However, to build a good team culture, just organizing a fun outing with your employees won’t help a lot. The first step is to create an atmosphere within your office that people want to be a part of. Below are a few tips that may help.

  • Give Positive as Well Negative: When times are tough, we tend to focus exclusively on the negative. To be a good leader, though, look for the positives in your employees and compliment them more.
  • Share Success Stories: One of the most often complaints that workers have about their employers is that they don’t see how their job/role adds to the success of the company. Just by sharing a few success stories around the office, you can improve morale dramatically.
  • Encourage Teamwork when Roles are Interdependent: Set goals for completed activities and reward the group for working well together.
  • Avoid Lumping Independent Roles into a Shared Goal: Many leaders have a “teamwork is everything” attitude, even when job functions have no interaction or dependency on each other. Don’t try to force teamwork.
  • Have Fun: Even if your job is hard, have some fun. Start a meeting with a funny video or a funny bumper sticker. Lighten up and enjoy yourself a little.

After you have successfully created a fun culture around the workplace, then any team activity you invest in will have fantastic results! (By the way, if you are looking for a shortcut, try Creating a Team Culture.)

Ice Breaker Activities

One of the most often request that we get from callers into our office is for ice breaker activities and team building games, so here are a few very simple team building ideas that you can do as an introduction to your meetings or as a way to breakup a larger meeting and add some fun.

Just a quick warning. These are quick, stand alone exercises that can work well as a fun break to your regular meetings, but just stringing together a series of these activities as an event, can have big drawbacks. (See http://www.leadersinstitute.com/what-is-team-building)

We will add to these games over time, so make sure and bookmark or link to the page and come back over time for new ideas.

Ice Breaker Activities

Seven Card Stud: Since groups of seven people are typically a good size to do other activities, Seven Card Stud is a good way to organize a large group into smaller, more manageable groups. Just distribute a single playing card to each person and ask them to organize themselves into a winning hand of seven card stud. (If you just distribute cards eight through ace, you’ll end up with all Royal Flushes.)

Have You Ever: Create a big rectangle out of paper plates or some other type of place marker and make sure there is a singe placeholder for each person in the group. Then ask a question starting with the words “Have you ever…?” Anyone who has done the thing asked in the question has to move around the rectangle one complete time and look for any open placeholder to stand by. After the first question, remove a single placeholder so there is one more person than placeholder, and the person who is not able to secure a placeholder will ask the next question. Keep going a few rounds, and you should start to have some very interesting and fun things happen within the group.

Shrinking Disk: this is a great way to get a group organized into smaller teams. Hand every person a paper plate or some other type of placeholder and have everyone drop the placeholder to the floor and place the toe of their shoe on the edge. Give a direction to move to a different disk or placeholder and everyone will move. Then, take a few placeholders away, and ask them to move to a different disk again. Many will be confused, because now there are fewer disks than people, but just keep saying “Find a new disk… Hurry!” and they will figure out that they can now double up with other participants. Keep removing disks until you have the sized small groups that you want. For instance, if you have 21 people and want three groups of seven, just keep removing disks until you only have three left. Participants will automatically equalize their groups.

Bippity Bippity Bop: This game is similar to Simon Says in that the goal is to “trick” a teammate into slipping up. Organize the group into a big circle and have a single person go from person to person saying either “Bippity Bippity Bop” or just “Bop”. If the speaker says Bippity Bippity Bop, then the person being looked at must say “Bop” before the speaker finishes. If the speaker says “Bop” then the person being looked at can’t say anything. The key is to move and speak quickly and take the listeners by surprise. Keep adding new rules to make the game more challenging.

Yes… And: Divide the group into two lines of people where the line leaders are facing each other. One of the two line leaders starts a story, and then they take turns adding to the story beginning each new part of the story with “Yes, and…” Human nature is that people will want to change or alter the story by starting their addition with a “but” or a “however”. Once someone flubs and tries to alter the flow, they go to the back of the line. The goal is to see which team can go the longest without having their entire team flub a line.

One Word Story: Start a story by giving the group a title and an opening line such as “The Mysterious Stranger… No one really know where the stranger came from. He just showed up one day at the…” and point to the first participant. Each participant adds one, single word to the story. Keep going to see the story develop. Anytime a participant struggles or the story starts to diminish, just add a new sentence put leave the end of the sentence dangling just like you did with the first sentence.

Each of these ice breakers and games can be used as an introduction to meetings or larger events. Have fun summarizing the “take aways” from each exercise.

What Is Team Building?

So what exactly is team building, anyway?

The term “team building” is thrown around quite often describing any type of activity that is likely to build some type of camaraderie or team environment, but the specific activities and games that make up a good event can be lumped into a few types of categories.

Team Games and Exercises

These games and exercises are the short activities thar often fun and competitive and are typically used as an ice breaker or warm up to a bigger meeting or event. These games are also sometimes used as entertainment or a distraction to break up a bigger event. For the most part, these exercises are easy to deliver and facilitate, and you can find a nice selection of these ideas on our website or by searching Google and YouTube. Anyone can facilitate these types of activities for free or a very low cost.

For example, an old standby as an ice breaker is Networking Bingo where everyone gets a sheet of paper that has a grid similar to Bingo. Each box in the grid has an attribute of one or more participants that the holder of the card must find in the room. The attributes can be just about anything such as a person with the same middle initial as the holder of the card or maybe find someone in the room who has both a pet dog and pet cat. When they find someone who matches the attribute, they fill n that box. The first person to complete an entire row or column wins.

Team Outings

Sometimes, you may want to reward your group or just get away from the office for some fun. Outings are a great way to build camaraderie and creat a shared experience for your group. Although outing increase the expense of you team building, they can create a nice team culture within your group. These can be as simple as reserving a pavilion at a park and catering BBQ for the group or possibly renting a bowling alley or taking the group to a ball game.

I have a friend who works for a company who rents out Six Flags every year for about four hours just for their employees. Other companies buy box seats or season passes at local sports teams and let small groups of employees alternate attendance as the season progresses.

Team Building Events

Events are entirely different from games and outings, because they often require a professional speaker or facilitator to get the best results. Events or workshops typically last two hours or longer and have a purpose to either fix a group challenge or keep a group active for the entire time. It is pretty easy to get a big group of people to do a single game or exercise for a few minutes, but the longer the event and the bigger the group, the more complex the facilitation of the event will become. As a result, an entire industry has come onto the scene comprised of facilitators who lead these types of events. Many of these facilitators started out conducting the simple games that we mentioned above, but the games and exercises don’t work as well with larger groups, so they had to get creative.

The first major breakthrough that came on the scene was charity team events where participants engage in a series of activities that ultimately conclude with a donation to charity. Our Build-A-Bike program is a great example. In Build-A-Bike, our facilitators have the entire group solve challenges to earn bicycle parts, and since every single part is important to the success, each solution to each challenge is critical. So once each small group accomplishes all of the tasks, they feel a sense of pride. They each get to present their newly completed bicycle to a young kid, so the entire event is uplifting and emotional. Now, it is very rare that an event planner or meeting organizer doesn’t add some type of charity team activity when he or she creates an agenda.

Confusion that Can Cause Problems

A big challenge that many event planners or organizers confuse the games or outings with formal events. For instance, one game is fun and interactive, but if a facilitator just strings together a series of games over and over to fill a time slot, each additional game will have a diminishing return on enthusiasm. It would be like playing a board game with your family. The first one is fun and rewarding, but if you immediately play a second game, and then a third, it won’t take long for participants to lose interest.

If you confuse an outing with an event, you can have similar challenges. We often get requests from potential clients where they will say something like, “we don’t really want a Team Building Event, we just want to build bikes for kids.” There are no real shortage of per-built bikes, so the actual building of the bikes isn’t what charities are looking for. In fact, if you buy a completed bike or a bike in pieces, the cost is pretty much the same. It is the shared challenges that are overcome that build teamwork, not the physical labor. That doesn’t mean that a shared work experience can’t be rewarding, though. I know of groups who volunteer to do Meals on Wheels or Habitat for Humanity and feel great satisfaction as a result, but those particular events aren’t extremely fun, though.

So if you want to reward your employees and you want them to have a lot of fun, an investment in a great team facilitator can be very rewarding.

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