The Bridging Race– team building exercise from Corporate Games

Here’s an interesting and effective, outdoor team activity that requires strategy, collaboration and communication at all levels. It seems relatively simple but it prompts a lot of discussion, which is what a good team building exercise should do. It is great for just about any size group.

Team size– should be 7-10 people per team. Teams should have the same number of people if you want to be totally “fair.” Using cones or tape, mark out a distance of 45-50 feet on a flat surface (grass, sand, concrete are all ok). Every team receives 4 sheets of poster board: one blue, one red and two yellow.

Each team’s goal is to get its members across the 50′ field by only stepping on the poster boards. No one can step on the ground directly. However, the Blue sheet can accommodate up to 4 people at once; the Yellow sheets can take up to two people at any given moment and the Red sheet — only one person. Team members need to figure out the fastest way to move their team across the 50′ field. If any person breaks these rules or steps off of a poster board, that person is sent back to the start. The team that manages to succeed first “wins.”

We won’t give you any hints on how it is done. That is something you and your teams will need to decide.

Do’s and Don’ts for Creating Your Own Team Activity

Some team activities are very simple in concept, and you might think “I can do that.” It’s fun and fulfilling to design “games.” So if you are considering creating an event for your company meeting, here are some helpful hints that we have learned in our 24 years of experience.

Do’s

  1. Know the people who will be participating, and plan an activity that would appeal to them. For instance, a young, active group would not be as interested in a sedentary activity as something more active and possibly outdoors. Also, some events appeal more to men than women (paintball is a good example) and vice versa. Consider what people like and what they are good at.
  2. Plan your activity to be no longer than about 3 hours. Something shorter is fine, but there have been some people who think an all-day scavenger hunt is fine. Your participants will be tired and ready to do something else after 2.5-3 hours.
  3. Keep it fun and engaging. You’ll lose momentum if people have to wait around “for a turn.” Try to design your event so that everyone can and must participate. That is what a team is about.
  4. Err on the side of being simple rather than too complex. Sometimes people who design events think “oh, everyone knows that ,” when in fact they don’t. For example, one of our clients wanted to create some improve scenarios for her group. She wanted people to converse using only famous lines from movies. Many people are not movie buffs. Additionally, when you put too many clever twists into an event, you must ask yourself whether or not you think your group can solve the clue or deal with the change. They must have some degree of success, or people get discouraged and your event takes a negative turn. When in doubt, test your game on a small group of friends or business associates.
  5. Run through every possible pitfall and create a failsafe for each one. For example, if you provide written instructions, make sure they are clear. If any part of your instructions can be interpreted in a way that is not what you are trying to communicate, rewrite it so it is clearer. Then, post helpers in key spots to make sure the participants are going in the right direction.
  6. Make sure everyone celebrates in the end. You want them all to leave on a high, energetic note.

Don’ts

  1. If you have created a puzzle or clue for people to figure out as part of your game, do not get freaked out if they don’t get it immediately. Part of teamwork is learning to solve problems together. Give them some time to work on it. If they don’t get it within a reasonable period, then give them clues. Don’t do it for them. That just makes it look like you don’t think they have the ability to figure it out—and it takes the fun and joy out of solving it together.
  2. Don’t change the rules midstream –especially if other facilitators are giving instructions too. This only confuses people and it makes you and your assistants look disorganized.
  3. Don’t take it too seriously. What keeps people engaged is when an activity is fun, interesting and entertaining.
  4. Fail to plan. Know what is supposed to happen at every part of the activity. It helps to write down a timeline (what are people doing when). For example, if the event requires people to build something—after two hours, where should they be in their construction? Nearly done?
  5. Fail to give yourself enough time before the event. Most team activities require some set-up. Make sure you provide enough time to easily bring in and set-up materials needed. If you have to post clues or post people in various locations, make sure you have more than enough time to do so—and that everyone is in the spot they are supposed to be in.
  6. Prizes. Everyone likes to win something. Even if it is a simple token like a gold medal. Bring prizes!

Lastly, if you have a good idea and what some help turning it into a great event, call us. We create custom activities for our clients all the time. We can take an Indiana Jones theme and weave a fun activity into those dry breakout session. This can enhance learning speed, make boring content memorable and the meeting a lot more enjoyable.

Anything is Possible!

We’ve had a number of recent requests for unique events that target specific educational content or allow participants to experience a new workplace in an entertaining way. That is our forte at Corporate Games– designing activities that are totally customized.

Recently we devised a “scavenger hunt” type of activity for one of our clients that features the sustainability aspects of their brand new workplace. The building features many materials from recycling, including beautiful indoor, wooden planters that were made from wood that was dredged up from the  San Francisco Bay in the building of a new Transbay Transit Center for the city. And that was only the tip of the iceberg.

So yes, anything is possible!

Serious Team Building– not just a game

If you really want to improve team performance, you can’t just play fun games and expect a huge change. It takes thought, communication and planning to devise a program that will truly move your team forward. Here are some basic steps to get you started:

1. Poll your team members. Give each of them a Team Performance Survey. Corporate Games Team Building offers this survey free. You can request it by emailing us at Info@corpgames.com

2. Using the completed survey and the knowledge you have about your team members, make a short list of what the issues/opportunities are. It might be that there are cliques or disconnects within the team. You might have two people that just dislike each other and won’t work together. Maybe everyone works from home and they are all pretty independent. Whatever the issues decide which is the most important to overcome. It will be a list of one to three items. You cannot do everything at once.

3. Meet with your team to reveal and discuss the results of the survey. You also want to tell them what you consider the most important team issues to address. Allow them to agree or make other suggestions. After all, they are part of building their team. Once the issues are agreed upon, ask the team for input on improving those items. You can have them on small discussion groups if your team is larger than 5 people. Small discussion groups of 4-6 people insure that everyone gets a chance to share– and it will also generate more ideas.

4. Share all the ideas and decide what can be implemented. Even if it is only one, good actionable item, that is a step toward real team building.

5. Finally, there must be action and follow-up. Don’t let all the thoughts and sharing go to waste. Additionally, it is great to have fun, get-togethers that allow people to really bond and get positive energy going. A unique team building activity will help keep the momentum going.

 

Develop Leadership Skills Using Team Exercises

One of the greatest problems in corporate America is that we promote people to leadership positions –simply because they have been there for years—not because they are good leaders. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the high tech industry. Engineers are hired for their knowledge and skill at writing code or designing, but they do not have any training to lead or manage a group.

You can invest in training courses and lectures but there is nothing like actual hands on experience. This is where team building exercises—the right ones—can be invaluable and very effective. Not only do they allow people to practice in an upbeat, supportive atmosphere, but if mistakes are made, there are no dire consequences. People can learn a lot about leading, managing  people and about themselves.

What makes a good leadership exercise?

There needs to be a…

  1. Team and a designated leader. There’s no leader required if there are no people to lead.
  2. Challenge/problem for the team to solve.
  3. Deadline for executing a solution.
  4. A scoring process to determine the level of success.
  5. Debriefing and constructive feedback for the leader and the team.

 

Interestingly enough, many team building exercises have nearly all these elements. Where many fail is the last point—debriefing and feedback. Sometimes people are having so much fun with the exercise that someone says, “Oh, they don’t really need a debriefing.” Unfortunately, when this happens, you are losing a great deal of the value provided by this type of event.

Fostering a Team Culture

Do people on your team work in silos? How can you get people to start working and thinking like a team rather than a group of individuals that separately contribute to one goal? If you’re the team leader, it is easier than if you are a relatively new member. In this short article, we’ll look at it from both perspectives.

As a leader, you can:

  1. Hold regular team meetings to share projects, ideas, ask for assistance.
  2. Encourage team members to collaborate rather than simply go it alone or ask for your advice.
  3. Get to know each other on a more personal level. You are all people. Even something as simple as all sharing what you did over the weekend helps to bring you closer by amking everyone more “human.”
  4. Have some fun and levity at your meetings. One of our clients incorporates one of our quick, simple “Team Minutes-to-Win-It” challenges at each of their staff meetings. It lightens things up, increases the energy and boosts camaraderie—all within minutes. Or—you could assign one person to tell their best joke each week, or tell about the funniest thing that happened to them last year. It does not need to be complicated. You just want to increase communication and interaction.
  5. Celebrate success. If anyone on your team has achieved something noteworthy, make sure everyone knows it. Acknowledgment is easy—and as simple as a blast email or a quick round of applause from everyone. These congratulatory recognitions do not have to just be for work related things. It can be personal success or milestones as well.

 

As a team member, you can:

  1. Offer help to another team member. If someone is overwhelmed by a big project, what can you do to help them? Be aware of what is going on around you. Help might be as simple as emptying someone’s trash can—or getting them coffee when you are going to get some.
  2. Ask for ideas or advice. If you are designing a new process or having a problem, ask a team member for their perspective and ideas. We all think that everyone is too busy and you don’t want to bother them. But you could approach it this way: “Do you have time for a cup of coffee with me? I’d really like to bounce an idea off of you.” Even if the person says “no.” You are still opening up a conversation and fostering more of a “team mentality” just by this simple act.
  3. If you don’t have regular team meetings, then suggest to your boss that it would be a great idea. They don’t need to be frequent, long or tedious—but could certainly help to build good working bonds among the team members as well as make the workplace more fun, human and interesting for all.
  4. Bring food. There is nothing that attracts and brings people together like good snacks. Great for breaking the ice with new team members. You can certainly do it for special holidays, but anytime is just fine too.
  5. Celebrate success. I put this on both lists. You don’t have to be the boss to give others recognition.

 

We meet lots of organizations that have a yearly meeting that includes a team building activity. This is great, but it does not have the impact of regular team interaction. It should augment your team building efforts –that take place throughout the year at your team meetings and office celebrations.

Why Games Work

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Some people are very skeptical about the value of participating in team building games. Others may say “I don’t like to play games.” But they are missing the point. Participating in these types of activities have real purpose; it is not a matter of trying to entertain people with things they may or may not like to do. Here is a short list of the benefits of playing games…

  1. Games force social interaction and communication among people who need to interact and communicate at work. Not everyone is good or comfortable in social situations. Games will give people the practice they need in a fun, lighthearted situation.
  2. When people play together, they get to know each other on a more personal level. You get to find out what your team members are good at, and how they react to various challenges. This starts the process of building trust; people start to feel more at ease with each other.
  3. Laughter is an important bonding tool. When people laugh together, they boost camaraderie. The shared experience of playing together strengthens the bonds amongst team members.
  4. Good team building games do not put individuals on the spot. The emphasis is on team performance, not individual performance… and that type of practice is very valuable.
  5. Games help people take “risks” in a non-threatening situation. They don’t know what the game is about to begin with, but when they commit to participating with a team, they are indeed taking a small risk. Team performance and improvement does not happen without risk. For people who don’t like change (and there are lots of them), this is good practice!
  6. Games, for the most part, are competitions; there will be “winners.” There is nothing wrong with this. Those people who think “everyone should win”—are missing the point. In real life, business is a competition. How people perform in competition and what they can learn from it is important.
  7. Games can be “business simulations.” There is a challenge; the team needs to communicate with each other and figure it out; they must succeed within a certain time frame (deadline); they must decide what their resources are and how to utilize them effectively. These are all things that are required to be successful at work. It gives people the opportunity to practice—in a more entertaining way –where whatever they do will not put them out of business.

How to Get Your Team Members to Talk

As a team leader, have you ever gone into a meeting and asked for feedback and no one wanted to say anything? This can happen for a lot of different reasons…. Sometimes people are concerned about repercussions; others do not know how to “complain” without hurting feelings; some are intimidated in a group setting; etc., etc. How can you overcome these issues and get communication from everyone that will be productive?

  1. Level the Team Playing Field—Let everyone know that all their ideas and thoughts are valid, and that they are all equal members of the team when it comes to sharing ideas for teamwork efficiency. Since they are the ones doing the actual work, their feedback is essential.
  2. Give Time to Think in Advance- It is too difficult and often stressful for people to be put on the spot: “What do you think about X?” Give them some advance communication about the meeting and its purpose. If you do not want to give them an “agenda” beforehand, at least let them know you would like them to think about _____ and bring their ideas to the meeting.
  3. Ask questions on how to improve specific items. “Some patients are complaining about the wait time. What can WE do to improve on this?” This puts the emphasis on the issue –and not asking to single out team members who may be causing the problem (though this may be revealed in discussion). You want solutions, not blame.
  4. Give positive responses for all ideas put forth. Nothing will shut people up faster than a negative comment. If people are risking judgement of their ideas, you as the team leader need to at least thank them for sharing. Make note of all ideas that are brought to the meeting.
  5. Follow-up with team members on actions that will be taken as a result of their team discussion. If you do not do this and things never change, people will start to feel that these kinds of sessions are a waste of time.
  6. If you try this and people are still silent, try again after a week or two. Don’t give up.

 

How to Make Team Building Lessons Last

You had your team meeting. You hired a wonderful consultant, who was great with your team and helped them to improve communications and boosted team spirit. The feedback was great and people even started using new ways to communicate with each other back at the workplace. Over the course of the year, however, everything went back to the way it was before. What happened?

Having a team building activity or communications training is a great way to get people to feel more comfortable interacting and working together. It opens the door to change and improved efficiency. However, people do not change their behavior in one day. It took years for them to establish the habits they have; one day is not going to undo a person’s “modus operandi.” Yes, they may start to use new techniques, but it is just like listening to the wonderful motivational speaker: you feel pumped up and ready to take on the world — for awhile.

The answer to sustained improvement in team performance is regular feedback and reinforcement. Doing this once a year is not enough, and you will continue to start at square one if that is all you do. In order to maximize the lessons and small changes brought on by the initial team building session, we suggest the following:

  1. Thorough debriefing of the team building session—and its impact on what happens in the work place.
  2. Regular team meetings in person or by teleconference—either monthly or quarterly. These meetings should always revisit team goals for improvement, what has been taking place, giving recognition to those who are making efforts to change/improve/embrace the communication methods or processes taught at the team building session. Find out what people felt was/is useful and how it is improving personal and team performance.
  3.  Management must acknowledge the importance of improving teamwork skills. If it is not perceived as being important to the leader(s), the team members will not pay much attention to it either. There is no point in throwing a lot of money at “team building”—if there is not effort to sustain and improve.

 

The mark of a great team is continuous improvement. A team building activity or workshop is not a quick fix. It is a door-opener to new ideas, behavioral changes and processes. In a single session, a good team building company can get your team to look through this door to the possibilities on the other side. It is up to management to insure that they go though it and continue on.

 

“The Name of the Game”- team building exercise.

This fun, thought-provoking activity comes straight from the Pepperdine Graduate School of Business. It was used during student orientation with great results.

Divide your group into teams of 4- 10 people. Each team draws a word or phrase out of a hat. These can be words that support your company mission statement, or words that describe great teams; you can use the words listed at the end of this column. The challenge is that each team needs to create a game that will illustrate the word or phrase selected. The game should be relatively easy to play, and take 20 minutes or less. Teams may use art items to create game materials if necessary. Participants should draw upon their own experiences and brainstorm with their teammates in order to come up with a game. The time frame given for design and creation is anywhere from 1- 2 hours. In the final hour, each team presents its game, and everyone gets a chance to play it for a brief period.

An easy example: “Clear communication” – the difficulty and importance of this is easily demonstrated in the old game of “Telephone”—where one person whispers a phrase to the next person, and that person whispers it to the next person in line and so on. The last person to get the phrase usually hears something that has little to do with the original phrase.

Creating a game makes perfect sense as a team building exercise, because designing something is an engaging team activity, and a “game” is something that we all have experience with. Additionally, it is not that easy to connect a concept to a game, but requires good brainstorming and group problem solving— all which are elements of a solid team building exercise. Explain to your group that they should be very open in their thinking; games take many forms— board games, playground activities, game shows, things like Charades, etc., etc.,

Here are some words you can use for your group:

The Written Word (Poorly written= easily misinterpreted)

Ask the Stupid Question (what happens when we do not ask)

Honesty

Trust

“Two heads are better than one.”

Failure to plan= plan to fail

Call us if you have questions about this activity: 800-790-GAME.

 

Five Tips for Team Leaders

The effectiveness of a team is certainly influenced by the team leader. Here are five things that you can do to be a good leader and positively affect your team.

  1. Be a cheerleader for your team. This does not mean yelling or jumping up and down, but it does mean someone who recognizes the achievements of individuals and the team—both internally and externally. It is always easy to list what is wrong. A good leader also spends time focusing on what is right and encouraging it.
  2. Coach up and train— means helping people advance their skills and looking at candidates from within the team when there are job openings. It’s very discouraging to team members when you hire someone from the outside without even considering current employees who might be qualified. Even if you do not think your team members are ready for advancing, let them apply. They should know about any openings in your department.
  3. Try to keep an open door. Your team should have access to you if needed. Of course, we’re not talking about when you need uninterrupted time to complete an important project. But your team should feel comfortable consulting you about work-related questions or problems. When you are meeting with a team member, don’t close your office door unless the conversation is personal or highly confidential. Closed doors cause speculation. If noise is a problem, just close the door half way.
  4. Be human. All managers are people; they have ups and downs in life just like anyone else. If you’re having a rough day, try not to take it out on others. If you do lose your patience with someone, acknowledge it, apologize if appropriate, and move on.
  5. Enjoy what you do and have a positive attitude. This is infectious and can boost moral and performance.  A team will often “mirror” the attitude of its leader.

And remember: True leaders don’t create followers. They create more leaders.