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Three practical exercises for building effective teams

Getting to know you


Ever worked with a team of people which operated like anything but?

Teams that are simply a collection of individuals, doing their own thing. Teams where people know everyone’s name but not much else about them. Teams where one person works all the hours god sends, while another leaves early because they don’t have enough to do.

I know I have!

How do you get teams like these to pull together, to work towards the same goal and to support each other to achieve that goal?

Team building doesn’t have to involve yomping over the North York moors or creating a functioning robot together.

Here are three practical and easy exercises for building effective teams.

Getting to know each other

It doesn’t matter how long people have been working together – there’s always more to learn about your work colleagues. And by sharing new information about yourself, you build trust and connections that strengthen the whole team.

Exercise 1: Introductions

I know, I know – introduction sessions can often either be incredibly boring or excruciatingly embarrassing. Not this exercise though which is fun and perfectly simple.

Get everyone to sit in a circle with no tables in the way – so everyone feels equal. Rather than just going round the circle in turn, use a (soft) ball that each speaker throws to someone else.

Ask people not only to say who they are but also to tell the group something about themselves that others wouldn’t already know.

This exercise applies something called the Johari Window. By sharing something new with our team, we increase the size of the window of what people know about us – we allow them to see more of who we really are. This increased insight builds better relationships and helps people to trust each other more.

Often, it also stimulates further questions, conversation and indeed, laughter (which is always a good thing when trying to bring people together).

Building self-awareness

Building effective teams is also about building self-awareness and resilience in its individual members. This exercise helps people understand the qualities they bring to a situation, project or challenge.

Exercise 2: Strengths spotting

Put people into pairs. One person shares a story of something challenging that they’ve achieved, personally or professionally, with another team member. The other person should listen closely and not interrupt. Once the speaker has finished the listener should note down all the qualities they feel the speaker displayed in achieving their goal e.g. organised, caring, confident, collaborative etc. The speaker should do the same.

Then the pair should compare notes. I guarantee the person listening will have spotted more qualities than the speaker. This is because we tend to underplay our own qualities – they’re so intrinsic to how we do things we may not notice we’re using them.

Not only does this exercise build insight amongst team members about individual strengths. It builds confidence too. It’s like an immediate feedback loop.

This helps develop self-awareness – the key to self-development. And resilience – because you get a greater understanding of the qualities you can call upon when you’re up against it.

How does this team work?

We all know that people work differently, have different strengths and weaknesses and may well have different projects to deliver within the same team.

To get everyone pulling in the same direction, despite all these differences, can be tough.

You need to create agreement amongst team members about what the team is for – its purpose and its approach. This exercise will help members to do just that by creating a team contract.

Exercise 3: creating a team contract

Gather people around a flipchart or whiteboard. Ask people to contribute their ideas for how the team will work together. This should include:

  • the team’s common purpose and goals
  • the activities the team needs to deliver to achieve those goals
  • the support members will give each other to deliver those activities.

Essentially, you’re asking the team to articulate and agree to the ‘way things should be done round here.’

Have the team discuss the ideas put forward. Use a facilitator to manage the discussion (someone independent of the team is best – not a team manager). You could use De Bono’s Six Hats method to ensure everyone gets a say and each idea is explored thoroughly.

Based on this discussion, create a physical document that sets out the team contract – its values, principles and behaviours. And get everyone to sign it.

Be aware that you’ll need to do some sort of activity before this exercise to break down barriers (like exercise 2). Don’t just launch into it, otherwise people will still be very much ‘in role.’

Back to reality

As with any training, it’s often difficult to transfer the learning into real life in the workplace.

My tips for doing this effectively are:

  1. Create personal action plans for each member of the team detailing what they’re going to do to deliver the team goals and support other team members
  2. Make it something you discuss at every team meeting – how have we used our strengths this month? How have we supported each other to deliver this project?

Building effective teams is really all about helping members get to know each other better – so they trust each other, recognise each other’s strengths and understand how to work together in an effective and supportive way.

On which note, I thought I’d share a fact about myself that you probably didn’t know.

I was once in a BirdsEye fish finger advert!

Yes, really. You can find it on YouTube!

Why not tell me a fact about yourself in the comments below.

One Comment

  1. realtekh says:

    nice……….thank you for your sharing

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