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Operating system: Implementing effective team-building activities

By Brent D. Wolfe and Colbey Penton Sparkman


In this cyber age, members of groups sometimes need opportunities to build a real sense of community and learn to communicate with one another face to face. The activities in this book can be a great place to start. They help groups grow by helping members get to know and appreciate each other’s similarities and differences, engaging participants in topics and issues relevant to the group, and encouraging individual contributions. First, though, let’s look at some tips for implementing effective team-building activities. The suggestions offered in this chapter, while specific to the activities provided in this book, can be adapted to any type of team-building activity.

Five Things a Facilitator Should Know

Even though a given activity is intended as a tool for building community, it can quickly turn into a disaster that leaves group members wanting to withdraw from the process. When the facilitator is not properly prepared, or does not believe in the process, participants will sense it. Thus, in order for growth activities to be successful, you as the facilitator should know your purpose, your audience, your environment, the needed equipment and supplies, and when to change plans to adapt to the participants.

Know Your Purpose

While the overall purpose of all of these activities is to improve teamwork within your group, it is vital to select specific focuses to aid in the process. By clearly defining the purpose of an activity, you increase the likelihood that your group will begin to function more effectively and cohesively. Do you want the people in your group to learn each other’s names? Do you want them to learn how to think creatively? Do you want to introduce a specific topic for discussion? Choosing a specific purpose for an activity gives you and the participants more respect for the process and increases the likelihood that the group will become more cohesive because there is a clearly targeted purpose to the activity. Thus each activity presented in this book hinges on a clearly defined purpose to help you target specific areas that your group needs to address.

Know Your Audience

Will the participants include a lot of new people, or do they generally know each other already? When a group includes new people, it is best to select activities that allow participants to get to know one another. Activities such as Ringtone Relay, A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, and What’s on Your Playlist? offer great ways to help new groups break the ice. On the other hand, groups where members know each other’s names and are familiar with each other’s tendencies in various situations might benefit more from activities such as Y3W, Self-Portraits, or Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall because these activities require a greater depth of knowledge about group members and increased self-disclosure.

One of the unique aspects of the team-building activities described in this book is that they were designed to be as inclusive as possible. Rather than ask group members to swing on ropes, lift objects, or climb to the top of objects, the activities mostly call for participants to think together and collectively solve problems or create solutions. If you have group members with physical disabilities, ask them how you can help them be involved; for most of these activities, a quick conversation on the topic is all you need in order to promote optimal participation. Remember, the point is to help people feel included—like they belong.

Know Your Environment

Several important questions arise here. Will you have enough space for the activity? For example, if an activity requires a large open area, make sure that there is adequate space for people to move around (e.g., without bumping into chairs or people). Also, how long will the activity take? Make sure it will fit into the time period you have available. Does the activity work best for a large group or a small group? We do not list a maximum size for the activities discussed in this book; rather, we suggest that your group be split into smaller groups ranging from 2 to 5 members each. Understanding your group’s needs, as well as the suggested group sizes, will help you determine the best location for a given activity.

Know What Supplies You Need

We all have technology-related horror stories to share. Whether it was the big presentation that didn’t work because of the wrong version of Microsoft® Office® or the vital e-mail that went nowhere due to a faulty Internet connection, we have all had our struggles with technology. As a result, we cannot overemphasize the importance of making sure that you have the necessary equipment and that it is all working correctly. Make sure that you have everything before the activity begins. Are the camera batteries charged? Is the Internet connection working properly? Do you have all the cords for the LCD projector? For example, if you are going to do Ringtone Relay and are working with a large group, make sure that the microphone is working properly and can pick up a cell phone’s ringtone. Each activity in this book includes a list of supplies, but it falls to you as facilitator to make sure that all equipment is working properly before you need to use it.

Know When to Change Your Plans

Watch your participants. If they are not having fun or don’t seem to be learning the intended lesson, then it is time to break up the activity and move on to something else. The fact that an activity didn’t work does not mean that you can’t try it again later. If an activity doesn’t seem to work well, ask the participants—at a later time—what made the activity difficult and what might have made it better. Addressing any concerns during an activity can take away from the flow, and any concerns regarding specifics about the activity or the manner in which it was facilitated would be best shared at a later time. The activities presented in this book are diverse, and some will work better than others with any given group. Your task as facilitator is to determine which ones are right for each group you work with. Just don’t give up! Keep talking with each group and keep trying new activities to help group members learn how to work together.

This is an excerpt from Team-Building Activities for the Digital Age.



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