Teamwork Activities

Keeping the action moving in your sessions not only makes training time pass quickly, but it also helps stimulate the brains of your learners. The end result is increased learning and retention. There are many books and articles on the market explaining energizers; the following are some of my favorites.

Team Lift

This activity can be used to grab attention, as you read about in Chapter 4, or as a group activity.

You will need five people for a demonstration. Four should be relatively small (approximately 150 pounds and no taller than 5'8") and one person larger (200 pounds or more and 5'10" or taller).

Start by placing a chair in front of the room facing sideways from the audience. Have the larger participant sit down. Position the other four participants so that two are in front of the person facing him or her and one is on either side facing the participant. Explain to the five volunteers, so that the audience can also hear, that this is a demonstration of how teamwork can allow people to do things that might not seem possible, or that they might otherwise not accomplish. For the demonstration, show the standing participants that they are to form a fist with both hands and then extend their index fingers as if they were going to point at someone. They are then going to connect the two index fingers by bringing the tips of both index fingers together. The people to either side will connect their fingertips under the seated volunteer's armpits while the other two volunteers will connect their fingertips under the knee of the seated volunteer. Tell them that on your count of 3 each person will simply keep his or her index fingers connected and, using nothing else, lift the seated volunteer straight up. Emphasize that with any successful team activity, all must act in unison and in a fluid motion without stopping.

Once they have lifted the participant, have them gently place him or her back into the chair. Have participants give a round of applause. You can then form teams of five participants and let them practice the maneuver if they'd like to.

To help protect from injury and liability, offer participants the opportunity to opt out of the activity. Also, monitor their actions carefully and stand ready to intercede, if necessary.

Knot Me

Form teams of 8-10 participants and have them stand in small circles facing one another. Have each person in the team reach out with his or her right hand and grasp the hand of someone across the circle from him or her. Next, have each participant reach out with his or he left hand and grasp someone else's left hand (not the person whose right hand he or she holds). Tell them that when you say "Go" they should try to untangle the knot of people without anyone releasing hands. Before they begin, designate two people who will release either a right or left hand and have them do so. Everyone else in the group should maintain a grip with both hands. Give participants 10 minutes to end up with everyone in a straight line.

If you plan to use this activity, you may want to inform women to wear comfortable flat shoes and slacks or shorts. Also, tell participants that if anyone has a physical condition that might be irritated by the activity of bending and twisting they can coach and cheer their group on. End with a round of applause.

Have a Seat on Me

Here's another simple team activity that demonstrates how important working together and supporting one another can be. Start by having everyone form circles with 8-12 participants per group. Have everyone face to either the right or left, feet together, and ensure that they are all about 6 inches apart. Tell everyone to place his or her hands on the hips of the person in front of him or her. Without releasing their grasp on the person in front of them, tell participants that on the count of 3 they should carefully sit down on the knees of the person behind them. Once everyone has done so, they can release their grasp and sit comfortably. To have everyone stand, tell them to again grasp hips and on the count of 3 stand up. In debriefing the activity discuss how similar support is necessary in the workplace to achieve success. Have learners applaud themselves.

Simon Sez

Remember the fun game, Simon Sez, that you played as a child? Adults often enjoy an opportunity to revisit childhood memories. In the game, you will give instructions, such as "Simon Sez put your left hand on your head." Explain that unless you say Simon Sez, no one should execute the action. Anyone who does is eliminated from the game. After explaining the rules, ask if there are any questions before you start, then go though a series of commands until only one person remains standing. Have everyone give this person a round of applause and then reward him or her with a small prize. You may want to give everyone a piece of candy or other treat for their participation and so they do not feel like they failed or are being punished.

Team Juggle

This activity is a good way to wake people up and get the heart pumping. It also helps participants to get to know each other's names and emphasizes the need for team communication. Start by getting everyone into a large circle. You will then need three balls made of soft material (e.g., Koosh®, Nerf®, or tennis ball). Explain that you will get the process started by calling someone's name, then gently tossing him or her a ball. That person then calls someone else's name and tosses the ball to the next person, who repeats the rotation to someone else. Tell participants that they should remember from whom they got the ball and to whom they tossed it. Explain that they cannot toss to someone who has already had it. Once the last person receives the ball, stop the action. Talk a bit about how participants felt the activity went and how it could have been done better. Ask how they might speed up the process. This is a good technique to tie into discussions of quality improvement, communication, creativity, or teamwork in the workplace.

After the debriefing, tell participants that they will go through the process again in the same order as before but this time you will introduce two balls into the circle. Toss in one ball to the same person who started the first round, then toss in the second to that person as soon as he or she gets rid of the first ball. Again debrief after the last person catches the second ball. Have participants give a round of applause for their success and debrief again. Finally, tell them that they have done so well that you think they are ready for three balls. Give them time to brainstorm on how they might improve their time further, then repeat the process using three balls. Debrief the activity by asking how what they just did resembles their workplace (e.g., doing more in a shorter time and sometimes without adequate preparation time; breakdowns in process or communication; or the need for teams to plan, coordinate, communicate, and work together).

Have everyone give a round of applause.

Team Grid

If you are not fortunate enough to have a carpet with a grid of squares woven into it, you can make your own with a roll of 1-inch masking tape. To do so, clear an area in the back of the room, or close by, that will allow for a grid that is approximately 8 x 8 feet with room to walk around it. Lay down your outer edges of a square first to ensure that you have a large enough area. To do this, measure eight distances of 12 inches apart along the top of the square strip and mark the edge of the tape at those points. Next, measure eight distances of 12 inches apart along the left or right strip and mark those points. Add the bottom and remaining side strips, mark them, then put additional strips of tape from one mark on the top strip to a corresponding mark on the bottom strip and then do likewise on both side strips. When you finish, you should have a grid that has 64 twelve by twelve inch squares (see Figure 7-1).

When you are ready for the activity, have all participants gather at the bottom edge of the square for instructions. If you have more than 10 learners, create two teams. Teams

FIGURE 7-1. Team grid should have no more than 8-10 participants. If there are multiple teams, you may want to create a second grid and find a co-facilitator so that large numbers of participants are not standing around waiting as one team goes through the square.

You can conduct this activity in a number of ways. The plan that I use is to create a small grid on a sheet of paper that corresponds with the tape layout on the floor. Next, I map out any random pattern from one grid square to the next that I choose. This is the directional pattern that participants must follow to cross the grid successfully and should not be shown to participants. The directional pattern can consist of having participants go forward, sideways, or back (see Figure 7-1 for sample grid and directional pattern). The primary objective is for the entire team to move across the grid one at a time until every member has gotten all the way across in the allotted time.

To tie into real-world situations, I stress that time and effort should be used wisely and that we should learn from our mistakes so that we do not waste time and effort in the future. To emphasize this, I give each person 10 one dollar bills in play money. They can gain additional money through success; however, they can also lose money for mistakes. To emphasize this, they earn $1 for each new box to which they advance the team through the square and lose $1 for every incorrect step that they make backing out of the grid. For example, if the participant successfully got two squares into the grid before stepping on a third incorrect square and then correctly exited the square the same way she went in, she would earn $2 for the two correct squares. If, on the other hand, the participant advances two squares before stepping onto the third incorrect square, but then inadvertently steps on one incorrect square in attempting to exit the grid, she would lose $1 because of an error. Subsequent learners moving through the grid do not earn money for stepping on the correct squares identified by previous participants. Only those new squares that they discover as they move forward are rewarded.

Should one person run out of money, others on the team can choose to give some of theirs. I relate this to the workplace where time and effort are money and where working together to pitch in and help each other often leads to successes for the entire team. I relate all this to the workplace by telling them that we have to be creative and sometimes borrow resources from one project (person) in order to be successful in other areas.

Even though they work as a team, the person with the most cash left at the end gets a prize. By stressing personal gain, seemingly at the expense of the team, I stress that organizations often set up individual rewards for a team environment, thus frustrating and confounding employees.

To control movement, I typically sound a whistle or other fun noisemaker to signal incorrect square choices. I also take one dollar for each incorrect square that a participant steps into with both feet in attempting to move into or back out of the grid. If a mistake is made and the noisemaker sounds, the participant in the grid must reverse direction and move back out of the grid in the same way that was used to come in (stepping in the same boxes) before the next team member starts.

The rules for playing follow.

1. Participants have 45 minutes to get their team successfully across the grid.

2. Participants can have up to 10 minutes to plan their strategy before beginning, if they desire. This is in addition to the 45 minutes to cross. If they choose to plan for only 2 minutes, they can add the remainder of the planning time to crossing time.

3. The primary objective of the activity is to get all members of the team through the grid (simulating a workplace project).

4. A secondary objective is for team members to have as much cash as possible at the end of the session.

Note: To preclude a number of members from having the same amount of money, I typically will use play money as a reward throughout the entire session so that they can earn for such things as being back from breaks and lunch on time, offering bright ideas, and answering questions. Otherwise, you may end up rewarding a large number of trainees at the end of the day. Depending on your budget and the type of prize you plan to award, this might not be a bad thing.

5. As learners progress, they are rewarded or penalized individually or as a team, as they would be in the workplace for successfully completing or failing to complete a project on time.

6. Each person gets 10 one-dollar bills in play money to start.

7. One additional dollar can be gained or lost for each correct or incorrect square stepped into.

8. Progression through the grid squares must be in the exact order as planned by the facilitator.

9. If a participant steps on an incorrect square that a previous team member also stepped on, $2 will be forfeited. This happens because they just repeated a mistake and did not learn from others. In the workplace, this can cost their organization money and other resources as well as lost customers and embarrassment.

10. Putting two feet in a square indicates that the square has been selected.

11. Once the activity starts, only one team member can be on the grid at a time.

12. Other than the person on the grid, no other team member can move beyond the bottom taped line.

13. If two members end up in the game grid at once they each forfeit $5. I relate this to not effectively communicating and to violating company policies, regulations, or laws that could subject them and the organization to severe penalties.

14. There can be no talking, although nonverbal signals can be used between the participant on the grid and other team members. This ties to the concept that communication often breaks down in organizations because e-mail and other communication vehicles are used instead of face-to-face or telephone communication. Also, many people work at remote locations and getting clarification of messages is sometimes delayed or difficult.

15. Participants in the grid should progress as far across it as possible without stepping on incorrect squares. In doing so, it is important to remember the wrong squares encountered by previous team members and to remember the route taken into the grid so that they can retrace their steps back out of the grid if they make an error. Otherwise they can lose money.

16. As each person successfully gets across the grid, he or she will receive a bonus of ten dollars. When all members of a team successfully reach the other side and exit the grid, they are rewarded with $20 each.

17. Once all participants of a team cross the grid, have them give a round of applause, reward appropriately, then discuss what happened and lessons learned. Relate all of this to workplace issues and answer any questions that participants might have.

As part of the debrief, I often talk about the importance of such issues as communication, quality improvement, time and resource management, teamwork, effective planning, follow-through, and creativity. An example of the latter is that even though I tell groups that they can plan and must not talk to one another after the activity starts, I do not tell them that they cannot write down patterns taken by each participant to ensure that they do not inadvertently step on an incorrect step a second time. Even so, few groups ever think to create a map. Related to this, I make this point about the workplace and how each person should be questioning why things are done and making recommendations for improvement.

A final note about the direction of travel that you set. Making it more complicated with many twists and turns will add time to completion and frustrate participants. Remember that the purpose is to learn and not just win.

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