Insights for High Stress Professions
While working as a civilian instructor for the US Army, I spent a lot of time developing and delivering team building training. It was always a fun and an exciting challenge. When I started my own business, I was surprised to find that many organizations don’t look to hire a consultant for team building events. Most often, team building events become forced-fun game days with activities like laser tag, paint ball, and miniature golf.
I think these activities have their place in the context of team development, but team building can be so much more than a fun way to spend an afternoon with colleagues. Activity-based learning is more engaging and more memorable for adult learners. Team building events, when done well, have the power to increase vulnerability and psychological safety by creating a safe entry to talk about challenges faced at work. It also empowers the participants to wrestle with their own solutions.
I’ve seen team building activities go very well, and I’ve seen team building activities go very wrong. Here are some considerations to help ensure yours goes well.
Know why you’ve selected a particular activity
Some activities are just for fun, some are better for communication, some are better for problem solving, some are better for new teams, some are better for experienced teams. There are activities and games that will be well suited to your team and situation, and some that will not.
Different activities create different challenges and frustrations that parallel challenges and frustrations your team may be experiencing. Sometimes one activity can parallel different challenges and frustrations by changing specific variables. If the goal is to help the team learn to work through some of those challenges and frustrations, select an activity that gives them practice.
Consider a neutral third-party facilitator
There are a few benefits of bringing someone in to facilitate.
If you’re a leader on the team, there’s both a power dynamic and past group experiences that influence how safe people feel fully participating. You may be able to lead a fun activity, but your observations of the team are subject to your everyday biases, and it may be more difficult to create a safe environment for open sharing during a debrief conversation.
Also, if you’re leading the activity, you aren’t participating in the activity. You and your team will get more out of it if you are “in the thick of it” with them.
If you have an outside facilitator leading the activity, then your responsibility is to fully participate (without giving away any trade secrets). If you are facilitating the activity yourself, then you need to be a keen observer during the activity.
Of course there is making sure the activity is flowing as intended, but a bigger reason to be a keen observer during the activity is to watch the dynamics of the team. You can see how they work together, where they struggle, if anyone is taking charge, micromanaging, or becoming an obstacle to the team’s success.
In each activity, there are predictable places where a team may get stuck or frustrated (the best activities are designed that way). Watch for these happening, and watch for how the team navigates it. It’s likely this will mirror how they handle similar challenges on a regular basis. This also gives you things to talk about during the debrief when the activity is over.
This is where the magic happens. This is also the biggest difference between team building activities that help a team learn and grow, and team building activities that are just forced fun. This is where we find out what we learned about ourselves during the activity and what we will do differently in the future.
During the debrief, the facilitator can point out observations and ask questions of the team. Sometimes debrief questions are very specific to the activity (because each activity highlights different challenges) and sometimes they are very specific to the group or observations. Sometimes they can be very generic question like:
A debrief can be an opportunity for some coaching, but it’s important for them to make their own connections. The more the team makes connections themselves, the more impactful the learning will be. Having an outside facilitator can help keep the debrief on track.
Team building can be a very powerful tool. Lecture based training doesn’t always hit the mark and is limited by our working memory. We learn more through activities because it engages more parts of the brain, we connect with our past experiences, and we make new connections. Team building can often provide a safer entry to talk about difficult topics. Later, we can return to those topics in different settings by recalling the activity.
Reach out for support in designing or facilitating your next team building event!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Our mission is to help first responders and cybersecurity professionals armor themselves to handle the cumulative stress load of their professions and reach personal work-life satisfaction.
Copyright © 2021 Learning to LEAD