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Team-Building: A Different Approach To Team-Building Activities
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Team-Building: A Different Approach To Team-Building Activities - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: A Different Approach To Team-Building Activities

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: A Different Approach To Team-Building Activities

A recent unscientific survey of professionals in our general vicinity confirmed something we all know: nobody lies getting-to-know-you activities. They are generally despised in most settings, but special disdain is reserved for icebreaker games at conferences and workshops, environments where people are brought together because of a common interest and then forced to make towers out of spaghetti noodles and marshmallows in the sole interest of the organizers.

Nobody likes them

The sad irony is that the organizers don’t like these activities either when they’re the people being asked to participate in them. What’s different? Agenda. Now that they’re in a different position, they have different interests, and this leads them to marshmallows and noodles.

In the spirit of accommodating both the event participants’ dislike for icebreakers and the event organizers’ need for people to interact and form relationships (there’s a pedagogical justification for these activities as well, and it’s valid, but ask organizers why they subject us to these things and they pretty much never cite pedagogy, so we’ll save that for another time), we present for your consideration three new getting-to-know-you ideas that could satisfy all parties.

But first, llet’s consider the noodles and marshmallows. Details vary, but the basic concept brings small groups of participants together to form some sort of structure made only of spaghetti noodles and small marshmallows. Prizes (or acclaim) are offered for tallest structures, sturdiest structures, most creative structures, or some behavioral evaluation such as best teamwork. The objective for organizers is to get participants to interact, converse, and cooperate toward a common goal. The objective for participants differs by personality type, but for many it’s simply to get through the task without communicating too much of a negative attitude.

Activity One: What else you got?

One major problem with forced bonding is that it just doesn’t work. As we have said many times, real bonding happens when people do meaningful work together. This activity takes advantage of united bad feelings about icebreakers and points them to a meaningful end. Rather than marshmallows, pass out markers. Instruct teams to come up with an idea that accomplishes everyone’s purposes, promising that the most popular idea will be used at the next conference, with bonus points for coming up with something repeatable. A meaningful prize might be a discount on next year’s conference, or maybe just the gratitude of everyone who plans to attend.

Activity Two: What are you into?

The spaghetti activity is by itself pointless, not to mention a waste of good pasta. If the activity itself doesn’t matter as much as the participation, why not have people participate in something they like, even if it’s equally pointless? This activity groups people according to their interests and simply lets them chat about it. There are certain topics people can’t resist discussing if they are themselves consumed by them. Golfers (and only golfers) want to talk about golf. Tennis players (and only tennis players) want to talk about their backhands. Photographers like talking about their gear. Working moms want to talk about whatever working moms talk about. And everybody likes talking about whatever ailment they’re recently suffering from. Identify several of these topics and ask participants to move to different parts of the room. You might prepare one question for each group to get the ball rolling, but you might not need to. What’s nice about this activity is that people might actually form continuing relationships here. A second strength is that people with only mild interest in a topic they gather about will be comfortable just listening as other, more passionate conversers, get deeply into the latest golf ball technology. This activity can be enhanced if backchannel hashtags are designated for each and projected via Twitter on large screens.

Activity Three: What do you have to complain about?

Nothing brings people together like griping. Let groups spend fifteen minutes or more simply griping about whatever they have to gripe about, perhaps collecting the best gripes from each group and sharing them from the stage. You might think a good gripe session might only encourage negativity, but your attendees know what you’re up to, and they will most likely play along, griping sincerely but keeping the getting-to-know-you vibe in mind. You might set a preventative rule against griping about politics, religion, or individual people, or you might set delimiters on topics relevant to the audience as a whole, such as whatever your conference is about. Everyone’s got something to gripe about, and almost everyone is happy to let you know what it is. Take advantage of this built-in willingness and turn it toward the positivity of your objectives.

Getting-to-know-you activities are terrible, but maybe built into that terribleness is something useful that satisfies attendees and organizers. Find it and exploit it!


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Team-Building: A Different Approach To Team-Building Activities - Executive Leadership Articles

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