More than ever before, it’s teams, not just individuals, that get work done in organizations. They advance ideas, influence organizational culture, and execute on initiatives. Teams form, storm, norm, perform and adjourn. So it’s important to help them on their journey. These exercises are designed to help teams at various stages.
In fact, an organization’s ability to thrive depends more on its culture than on any single leader. And culture is shaped by people at every level, as well as by traditions, history, processes and, yes, by how it is managed. What’s more, cultures are increasingly shaped by the teams that develop and market products and make the continual, often process-based incremental improvements that offer an advantage in a fiercely competitive global marketplace. — Sally Helgesen
Introducing members – What have I got in my pockets?
This can be used when new teams are forming. Use with small groups. It’s designed to help people learn about each other and start building trust.
Ask everyone to think about what they’ve brought with them into this room. It can be something from their pockets, their bag, wallet. It could even be what they’re wearing or their attitude. Select one person to be “it.” The others in the group get to ask one question each about the object and try to guess what it is. (Think 20 questions, but shorter.)
The person who is “it” then reveals the object and shares something about it. What does this object mean to you? What does it represent? Is there a story about this object?
Examples: “I always carry this coin I got from my grandfather. We weren’t very close but I always respected his wisdom. He challenged me to save this quarter for an entire month. I’ve had it for 15 years.” “I brought this pen. It was probably a bad choice because it’s retractable and I tend to fidget. I promise to put it away so I don’t bug you by clicking it all morning.”
- Ask how what’s in their pocket today differs from what was in their pocket 5 years ago.
- Ask about what app is on their phone that probably isn’t on anyone else’s. Why is this app important to them?
Answer me this
This activity is designed to allow team members to bring up issues to discuss or to simply have some fun with each other. Facilitators can learn a bit about how the team functions by what questions are shared. Use with small groups.
At least one piece of lined paper is available at each table. Participants go around the table and each person writes a question they’d like the group to discuss or share their answers to. One person can record all the questions or everyone can write their own. After everyone has written a question on the paper, pass it around the group. Now each person places a check mark next to the question they want to answer and an X next to any they do not. Everyone shares their answers or discusses the question(s) with the most checks.
Questions can be anything. Examples: What’s your favorite place for lunch nearby? Who was your best boss and why? How can we get more resources for our project? What super power would you like to have for a week?
Now ask the teams to discuss why they chose they question(s) they did. What does it tell them about their team?
Eulogy for a Team
This will be an opportunity for team members to reflect on what they’ve accomplished, hoping to achieve, and what could be problematic for their future.
As an example of how this has been done in the past, consider the memo written in 1969 in case the Apollo moon landing didn’t go well. It highlighted the Apollo 11 mission: “In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.” Can your team create a compelling mission for their work?
Tell the team to look ahead a year and that their team has now passed away. They were hit by some catastrophe that wiped them out. Ask them to identify what kind of catastrophe could do that. Would it be a disruption in the marketplace, a change of leadership, a restriction of resources or something else? Now write a eulogy for the team. It should include the following:
- Who was on the team?
- Where did it do its work?
- Why did it exist?
- When was it at its best? What did it accomplish?
- What could others learn from this team?
- What was the cause of death?
After they have written their eulogy, read it back to them. Ask them to talk about how they can prevent this catastrophic event from happening. Ask them to share what would make them most proud about their team and the team’s work.
This is our team
Every team has a culture and its own personality. People will talk about the team as a unit, as its own entity. Teams can influence how they are talked about by considering their team’s brand. Use this with longer-term teams that have been together for several months.
Ask members to create a slogan, a rallying cry, a cheer, logo or a coat of arms that reflects their team. To help them, provide markers, drawing sheets, magazines, LEGOs or whatever you think might help them think more creatively. Also ask them to consider the following questions:
- What was a peak experience for your team?
- What does your team stand for?
- How is your team unique?
- How do you want your team to be remembered?
- How does your team spend its time together?
- What is your team particularly good at?
- What do you want others to know about your team?
What did this exercise reveal about how much team members trust each other? About how the team deals with conflict? About the team’s commitment to its goals? About how results-oriented it is? About the team’s cohesion?
What song do I sing?
Every team has its own culture. Some are social and collaborative. Others are more formal and task-oriented. No one culture is better than another. But culture is often overlooked and never discussed. New members have to spend considerable energy figuring it out. And not everyone on the team might be comfortable with its standards and expectations for behavior. This exercise can reveal some of the problems of the culture or ways in which it is supportive of individuals. It can be used to mine for conflict within the group. Use with teams that have at least a fair level of trust.
Print out a sheet with titles of popular songs or let participants to come up with titles on their own. Ask team members to choose the best title for their role on the team and say why they chose it. If there’s time, the team can come up with their own theme song. We recommend that a facilitator be present with each group that does this exercise in case something difficult to discuss comes up.
Possible song titles:
- Hold On
- Blank Space
- Thinking Out Loud
- Call Me
- Locked Away
- Stormy Weather
- (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
- What Do You Mean
- Heard It through the Grapevine
- What Do You Mean?
- Shake It Off
- Just Give Me a Reason
In event of Moon disaster: National Archives