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)



“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.

Quick, Easy Ways to Liven Up Your Holiday Party

You have the facility, the food and the drinks, and lots of people coming for fun. How can you make the holiday party more interesting, fun and memorable—without having to spend a lot of your time getting ideas and materials together? Whether it is for family or for your company, here are some quick, easy ideas to get the party going…

  1. What’s My Hobby? Give each person a 3” x 5” index card, a pen and tape or a straight pin. Each person will write their name at the top and list their hobbies on the card –and pin or tape it on their shirt. This is a great way to break the ice and give people something to talk about during a cocktail party.
  2. Lego party—put a bunch of Legos or other building blocks on a large table. Ask people to help build a replica of your company logo.
  3. Theme/costume—it’s always fun to dress up, and costumes always make mingling more fun and spirited. Announce the theme when you send out the invitations. Ideas for themes: Middle Earth Holiday; Victorian Holiday; Scrooge; Ugly Christmas Sweater; Holiday Characters (Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, Elf, etc.)
  4. Cocktail Concoction- Have a contest for making an original Holiday Cocktail or Mocktail.
  5. “White Elephant” Gift Exchange- Have each person bring a wrapped “gift” they have never used and don’t need. The value of these should not be more than $25. Everyone draw a number from a hat. When a person’s number is called, they may pick a wrapped gift from the pile or “steal” a gift from someone who has already picked and unwrapped a gift. An item may only be taken 3 times, and you may not directly steal a gift back from someone who has just taken it.
  6. Toy Drive- Have people bring a new, unwrapped toy. Ask a representative from a local charity to come and give a short speech about how the toys will be distributed.
  7. Prizes for oddball things: “Most unusual earrings.” “Hat contest” “Most unique tie.” “Hairdo- both men’s and women’s” “Shoes-both men’s and women’s” “Best Holiday Manicure.” You should announce that there will be prizes for these categories BEFORE the party, so people will come dressed appropriately. Give everyone a ballot to determine the winners—or have a small committee who decides the winners.
  8. If you have a small group of about 20 or less, you can have a Bunko Tournament after dinner, or consider playing one of these fun team games: CatchPhrase, Outburst, Cranium, Pictionary. Make up your own Minute-to-Win-It challenges.

Insuring a Successful Team Building Event

Everyone gets excited when planning a fun team building event, but here are a few pitfalls we have noticed over the years. Paying attention to these can help to insure a successful event…

1. When selecting a venue, will the participants be comfortable? If people are too cold or too hot, they are not going to be happy and in a participative mood. You might like the idea of a beach, but if that venue is typically windy and cold, avoid it. Conversely, if holding an outdoor event in summer, check to make sure there is plenty of shade. Make sure restroom facilities are adequate and not too far away.

2. Make sure the activity is suitable for the venue and the group. You have to trust your team building provider to know. Don’t try and make them fit something that really doesn’t work well in the venue you have selected, or simply want to do an activity because it is appealing to a few members of your group.  Rely on your vendor to know what would work best.

3. Communication. If you have a person or team planning your offsite meeting and/or team building event, that person should be at the event. They have all the details. If that person(s) cannot be there, insure that all the details are given to someone who is going to be there. And that on-site person should have communications with the team building provider before the day of the event. There are too many surprises and things that get “fall through the cracks” when this does not happen.

4. Be responsive and timely with your communications. Don’t be silent. A team building provider asks questions in order to give you the best possible event. When they don’t hear from you or get answers, it’s like being kept in the dark— and then expected to provide a stellar event. Stay in touch. If you don’t have the answer, let them know and when to expect an answer. Please don’t “guess” and provide the wrong information. Double check all important facts a day or two before your event.

5. Attitude is everything. On rare occasion, we have seen people stress out so much over an event that they actually are causing failure. When you are positive and confident, that is seen by the participants and it carries over to their attitude about the activity. If you have planned and communicated well, there is very little to worry about. Don’t nitpick during the event. It doesn’t make you look good, it doesn’t help, and it is way too late at that point. You should have covered those details earlier. Relax. Even in the face of change and problems, keep moving forward calmly and with confidence.

Got a Problem Team Member? Focusing on the positive can help…

We have all encountered the “problem team member.” This is the person that interrupts the meeting with questions and opinions and has a combative attitude. It appears that they really want to argue and bulldoze under anyone with a different opinion. It takes time and energy to listen to them and it can be very deflating for a team. This person actually prevents progress. What can you do to make him or her a better team player?

  1. Agree with them when you can. “That is an excellent point, we can certainly bring it to the group’s attention at our next meeting.” Something like this will stop the person from prolonged rhetoric to make their case.
  2. Have a very strong facilitator or leader. The problem team member may want to high jack the discussion and just continue to rant and rave about their opinion. The meeting leader needs to intervene, summarize and move on: “Excuse me, Julian, as I understand your issue, you want to change the rules of our certification process because of safety reasons. The person who can institute those changes is not present today, so let’s put that on a list of items for him to consider at our next meeting. Thank you for making an excellent point.” IF the person will not be silenced, (“please don’t interrupt and let me finish…”), the team leader should say, “I’m sorry, but please be brief with you comments. I’ll give you 30 seconds to wrap this up.”
  3. Coaching. A good team leader needs to step up and coach a “problem team member” if you are really going to improve the situation in the long run. Rather than just doing nothing and waiting for attrition to remove the person, coaching will be valuable for the leader as well as for the team member. It makes both people stronger team members. It is a one-on-one conversation that can happen in as little as 15 minutes—or longer if you want to put a person at ease and take him or her to lunch and discuss it (which is often very effective for a number of reasons). Here is a brief example of how to start: “You know, Lynn, I have been meaning to talk to you about some of the ideas and issues that you bring up during our meetings. You make some really good points; thanks for your contributions. I have noticed, though, that the other members seem to be shutting your ideas out before truly giving them much thought. And- I believe you could be much more effective and persuasive if you just tweak a few things. For example, try a softer, friendlier tone and assume that people are “with” you. We all want the same things and want to work together effectively. Someone that mentored me told me something really powerful—think about what outcome you are trying to achieve first, then consider how to communicate your ideas so that people come to agree with you. An argumentative or overly authoritative tone does anything but get people to listen. I’ve seen you present things in a much more positive and engaging way, so I’m just telling you to that if you use that skill a bit more, you’ll notice the members being a lot more receptive to your ideas….etc., etc.”

You can see that the ideas listed here are all couched in very positive terms. Telling a team member how negative and ineffective they are does nothing to encourage them to change. Focus on what they can do (even if they aren’t that good at it). Positive psychic income goes a long way toward changing one’s behavior.