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Team building activities with less pain, and more gain [Blog]

Image of Team Building ActivitiesMost people, when faced with the words ‘team building activity’ shudder with horror, their minds filled with images of hugging colleagues, maybe a high ropes course, or even the dreaded ‘trust fall’. But team development does not need to be that contrived or affronting. There are many simple ways that you can use team building activities to foster team development that don’t require a day away from the office, and that won’t break your team’s budget.

The purpose of most team development activities is for team members to get to know each other better. A team with trusting, effective relationships between members will be efficient and productive. Effective relationships mean that rather than being a group of individuals, the workers are one well-oiled team. We can look to the Johari Window as a theory to support team development activities. The Johari Window model was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in the 1950s. It remains to this day a useful model to develop relationships and understanding between individuals.

The ‘window’ is in the diagram below and is made up of four quadrants:

  • Johari Window - a way to do Team Building ActivitiesOpen spot: things that you know about yourself, and that others also know about you. E.g. skills and interests
  • Blind spot: things that you aren’t aware of, but that others know. E.g. you might not be aware of how your behaviour impacts others
  • Hidden spot: things that you know about yourself that others do not know. This could be personal information that you have not shared with others
  • Unknown spot: things that are unknown to both yourself and others. For example, if you get a promotion, you and your manager aren’t definitely sure if you can do the role because you have never done it before, but you will give it a go.

The aim is to make the ‘open spot’ as large as possible. A large open spot will mean that team members will know and understand each other, leading to more productive and effective relationships. This can be done through self-disclosure and feedback from others. This doesn’t mean disclosing deeply personal information or oversharing. It just means disclosing things like your thoughts and goals that could help to build trust with others.
Drawing on Johari’s Window, effective team development activities need to tap into both self-disclosure and feedback.

Easy Team Building Activities

Below are some easy activities you or your managers can run during team meetings or some of them are appropriate to hold day to day.

Truth and a Lie

Individuals are to take it in turns to tell the rest of the group one truth about themselves and one lie. Then, the rest of the group needs to guess which one is the lie. Statements can be as inventive as you like. For example “I have been sky diving 3 times”, “I used to sing in a rock band”, or “I used to play state level football”. Truth and a lie is a useful activity to start to get your team to self-disclose in a fun way. You can play it in any size group and it can be as short as a few minutes.

What we have in common

In pairs, team members need to come up with a list of things they have in common. For example “we both like pizza” or “we both like horror movies”. The pair who can list the most things in common win.

I appreciate…
In small groups, team members are to write down what they appreciate about their other group members. For example “I appreciate Kate’s optimism in the face of challenge”. This activity taps into the feedback side of developing the ‘open spot’ and is an easy way to get team members into the habit of giving each other feedback.

Team Check Ins

When you ‘check in’ with others, you are focusing on their current feelings and gain an understanding of what’s going on in their life. Check ins can be used at the start of the day or at the start of meetings. To check in, ask everyone in the room to give a feeling word to describe their current status. For example, Jane says that she is feeling extremely tired after a night up with a sick child and as a result feels like she has a bit of a low tolerance for things today. This check –in and self-disclosure gives other team members context around Jane’s behaviour that day and can help others to empathise with her rather than possibly thinking that she is just a bit grumpy today.

Any activity that fosters self-disclosure and feedback will enable team members to develop stronger working relationships. In turn, this will lead to more effective teams. As you can see, team development activities do not need to be feared and do not require a day away from the office. You can incorporate these short activities into team meetings and even daily business as usual. Doing so will enable more effective team relationships and a more efficient team.

Sally is a Registered Psychologist with a Master degree in Organisational Psychology. She has a well-developed knowledge of change management principles and methodologies, psychosocial safety in the workplace, organisational development, and team development.