Team Building - Activity of the Month
March 2011, Hula Hoop Circle
This is a simple team building exercise that makes some important points. The props are inexpensive, and the preparation time will be brief.
It requires 2-3 hula hoops ( for a very large group, say of 50, three hoops might be best ).
Have the group members stand next to each other in a circle.
Have team members join hands. You need to participate as well.
Put one of your arms through a hula hoop before joining hands with one of the partners next to you.
Instruct the team that you, as a group, will now pass the hoop completely around the circle without releasing your hand grips with each other. (Caution them not to hurt each other’s wrist/fingers/etc. as they work to manipulate the hoop over each other’s heads, etc.) This is usually a humorous process, and the group will enjoy it. They will probably cheer when the hoop makes it entirely around the circle.
After pausing, you can discuss what it took to succeed, and then move on to the next step.
Quickly introduce one or two more hula hoops at equally spaced places around the perimeter of the circle.
Give the team the instruction that now they are trying to catch each other’s hula hoops. (Don’t allow time for discussion. Say, “go" quickly and start moving the hoops.)
Typically, the teams will frantically try to move the hoops around the circle, trying to catch the other hoops. What is interesting is that this sense of competition is self-defeating in the exercise. To solve the exercise, all they have to realize is that if they stop one of the hoops, the others will catch up and the objective will be achieved. Instead, they will probably continue to compete, and thus not accomplish the mission.
Ask questions such as the following to provoke discussion:
What was necessary to successfully move the hoops around the circle without releasing hands? Cooperation, agility, assisting each other,….
Are there examples in our real work/study together where cooperation and assisting each other is important? Examples? Why?
What did we do when we introduced multiple objectives, and the new mission? Started competing with each other. Cooperation ceased, Etc.
Are there times when competition can hurt our overall mission with work/study? What examples? Why?
How do we prevent negative competition?
When is competition positive? Why?
When is competition negative? Why?
Have fun as you learn,
November 2010, CHAOS
This is a great activity to illustrate that our team/dept. structures sometimes create barriers between teams.
Depending on team size, divide the team into several sub-teams of three to five members each.
Setup: Each group has a hula hoop on the ground/floor. Inside of each hoop is a lot of stuff—toys, items from your obstacle course, paper wads, just lots of stuff that can be easily and safety picked up an carried.
Instructions/rules: Tell the teams that each team has a set of resources (the items in their hoop). Also tell them that they need more resources. There job is to work at getting all of the resources from the other teams inside of their hoop.
· They can only carry two items at a time.
· They cannot physically stop other teams from taking their items.
· It is a timed event.
· Ready begin. (It is critical to immediately tell them to start after you cover the rules. Don’t allow questions. Start the stopwatch and they will usually spring into action.
The teams typically begin frantically trying to steal resources from each other.
It is a very futile effort, but it is amazing how long some groups will struggle. I’ve had teams almost collapse from exhaustion.
Solution: The solution involves simply overlaying the hula hoops and putting all of the resources into the hoops. (We never said they couldn’t move the hoops.) Sometimes you will have to provoke them to think out of the box to finally arrive at the solution.
Debrief: A lot of great discussion can result. Ask questions to guide this.
How did you begin? What worked? What did not help?
What was it like? Chaos?
Is work ever like that?
Do you ever find that your team and/or dept. boundaries become barriers?
Do your ever fall into the trap of competing for resources instead of thinking about how you can win together?
Ask for specific examples.
When is competition good?
When does it get in the way?
August 2010, Giant Lizard Eggs
(Credit for this creative activity goes to our friend Sam Sikes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sam thought this up because he was wanting an activity that he could use bowling balls in. Well, as you’ll see, we have substituted basketballs for the bowling balls—a safer alternative. None the less, it is a great activity.)
- One basketball per small group. (The activity works best with several small groups. You can do it with a single team, however.)
- One 6-10 foot soft rope per person.
- A laundry basket or other receptacle for the "nest."
- Have the lizard eggs—basketballs—scattered around the room or outdoor area, on the floor or ground.
- Stage the basket in a central location. We like to elevate it somewhat for extra challenge. Setting it on an end table or chair works great.
- Give each team member one of the ropes.
- Share a scenario with the team, such as, “We have a real crisis here. A giant lizard has made a nest here—the basket—but her eggs have fallen and rolled away from the nest. This species is endangered, so we need to get the eggs back into the nest, so that she won’t abandon them. Unfortunately, the eggs are toxic. Fortunately, we have some material handling devices—the ropes—that will protect us from their toxin.
Objectives and rules:
- The team’s (groups’) objective is to use the ropes to transport the eggs back to the nest.
- Participants cannot touch the eggs with their hands or other body parts.
- Only the ropes can be used.
- The nest—basket—cannot be moved.
- Additional rule, if you want to increase the challenge—participants can only touch their own rope with one of their hands. (They will have to discover that they can touch/handle the ropes of their teammates. This forces them to get creative in how they use each other’s ropes.)
Processing points will include:
- How did we team together to accomplish the objectives?
- What was the communication like?
- Could we have improved the communication and teamwork? How?
- How did the group diverge for ideas?
- How did the group converge on a plan?
- What was done that was innovative? How? Why?
- What sparked creativity and innovation?
- Where at work do we need creativity and innovation?
- How can we facilitate creative ideas in the workplace?
- What was the team’s focus like on the mission? Why?
- How well do we focus on our real business mission, day to day? Why or why not?
- How can we create the focus needed to succeed?
July 2010, Saran Shuffle
This initiative can be done with anywhere from 6-12 people.
Get the team to clump tightly together, all facing the same direction. Make sure they are about as tight as they can comfortably get. Now have the people on the outside of the circle raise both hands above their heads so that you can encircle the entire team with a couple bands of plastic wrap.
Now they are ready for your instructions.
The goal is to get their team from one cone (or similar marker) to another, approximately 10 yards away, as quickly as possible.
The rules are simple: Do not break the band (emphasize this!) and keep the band around the midriff without grabbing on to the band with their hands. Time the group on the first couple of attempts, encouraging them to make process improvements to speed up their time.
On the last attempt, ask the group (or those on the outside of the circle) to take a step out, stretching the band as they step. They will quickly discover that they can get a pretty good stretch, way before the band breaks. Their next attempt should result in a much improved time and lots of celebration!
- The larger the group, the more dangerous. It is easy for heels and toes to get stepped on. Be sure that everyone has on flat shoes. This should never be done with high heels on.
- As the group gets faster and faster, be ready with spotters to help decelerate the mass as they approach the finish line (cones).
- Caution the people in the middle of the mass. They should hold onto shoulders of those around them to prevent tripping and trampling.
Boundaries -- this activity is great at illustrating how groups sometimes create self-imposed boundaries around their process and operations.
Ask: Do we ever have tendencies to perceive boundaries that may not exist? What are some examples?
What should we do if we perceive a boundary is not real, or should be challenged?
How do we best communicate "boundary questions and concerns, both to leaders and team members?
Ask: How do we determine process limits in our day-to-day work?
How are limits set and how are they best communicated?
Ask: How are paradigms created regarding how we do our work?
What are the challenges associated with seeking new paradigms at work?
Ask: Explain where and when teamwork is critical in your actual work.
How do you facilitate excellent levels of cooperation and teamwork?
This activity is great at stimulating teams to think about and to be proactive is looking for improvements in how they perform their work together as a team.
March 2010 - Noodle Relay
This is another low-level initiative that can be done just about anywhere. This is a great activity to get a group moving. It does generate a real sense of competition. If you are not wanting the group to compete, you may not want this activity on your agenda. However, if you want to stimulate discussion about the pros and cons of competition, this will definitely set the stage by creating competition.
The props are simple. Use swimming pool noodles that have been cut to half-length. You need approximately as many half-noodles as you have team members.
Break the group into team of from five to ten members.
You have probably seen relays where the team members have to move/run together with a balloon sandwiched between every two members. This relay is similar. Rather than the balloon, you use the noodle. I like this for a couple of reasons:
- Members are a little farther apart, which is safer. There is less chance of people stepping on each others heals and tripping.
- Members are a little farther apart, which is more comfortable if you have both genders participating in the relay.
Set up the relay with the following rules/instructions:
- The first member goes to the pylon and returns
- The next leg involves the first member plus a second team member. They must go to the pylon and back while keeping a noodle held between their bodies lengthwise.
- No hands are allowed to keep the noodle in place.
- Each additional leg adds a member and a noodle so that you have a chain of members that are moving with noodles held between their bodies. (Again, no hands are allowed.)
Obviously, as the length of the chain of team members grows, so does the complexity.
This activity is a lot of fun, but is can also lead to some productive learning and discussion.
- Pylons or similar markers for you start and finish lines
- Half-length swimming pool noodles
- Be concerned with groups trying to run to fast, creating a hazardous situatio
- You can control group speed with a couple of additional rules if necessary
- Walking fast is allowed. Running is not allowed.
- You may not lift your feet from the floor/ground. (This forces team members to slide their feet, preventing running.)
- Make sure your area is free of tripping hazards.
Teamwork is required
- How did you organize?
- How did teamwork evolve as you continued the exercise?
- How was teamwork important to success?
Competition, both positive and negative, is a great processing topic
- Describe the sense of competitiveness that occurred.
- When is competition important in our work?
- Does competition ever hurt our effort at work? Describe how
Learning skills together is a great processing possibility
- How did you learn together as a team?
- When, in your real work, is learning together important?
- How can you enhance learning within your team?
Cooperation and support for each other
- How were your levels of cooperation as you went?
- How do you build and nurtured cooperation and support in your team?
Communication and developing a successful process
- Describe your communication processes.
- How did success in communication help you to create a successful process in the relay?
- What kinds of communication challenges to you face as a team at work?
This is a fun, yet powerful activity. It can be done indoors or out.
January 2010 -- The Human Knot
Six to ten people can participate in each group. Eight is a great number. The level of difficulty goes up considerably as group size increases. We often will do the exercise with six in each circle, then follow it with eight in each circle. This allows you to facilitate regarding how complexity on a team tends to increase with group size.
Have the members of each group form a loose circle, more or less shoulder to shoulder. Have each person raise their right hand. Instruct them to reach across and grab one person's hand. Make sure not to grab the person's hand on either side of you.
Next, have them reach their left hand up in the air and again grab one person's hand. They should not grab the person on either side, or the same person they already have.
Now they will be in a big knot! Explain that the challenge is to untangle into one circle, with no crossed arms, without letting go of hands. (Sometimes you may end up with two interlocking circles or two separate circles.) Remind them to be careful when stepping over arms, especially for contact between knees and noses. Then, step back and watch them work.
If after awhile little progress has been made, offer to give them one re-grip. Often times this clears up the problem and they continue with renewed enthusiasm. Pay attention to the attitude of the group and use your judgment when giving re-grips. When the team accomplishes the task, celebration abounds!
- Lead the group in some stretches for the upper body before this initiative.
- Do not allow "inter-digitation" (when fingers are intertwined)- Be extra careful when someone is stepping over the arms of other people. A knee can easily crunch a nose.
- The facilitator should follow the movement, spotting when anyone is moving and anticipating the team's moves.
- Allow anyone to change their grip if they are uncomfortable, but not to gain an advantage.
- Problem solving skills
- Ask how they tackled the problem.
- How did the problem solving evolve as they tried different ideas?
- Are there real-life problems where you must experiment and try many potential solutions? Examples?
- Team celebration
- Ask the group about how it felt when they met with success.
- Do they take time to celebrate real work accomplishments in their day-to-day workplace?
- "Accomplishing what looked like the impossible"
- When you face a challenge or problem that at first seems "impossible," what is important for team success?
- What are some examples of this in your group's experience together? Explain.
- Ask them to describe how leadership took shape in the group for this exercise.
- What worked well in regards to leadership? Explain.
- What seemed to hinder progress? Explain.
- Team size, and how complexity can increase as group size goes up.
- If you do this exercise as suggested, beginning with group size of six, then following with an interation including more people, ask the team members to describe the differences in complexity as the size of the group increased.
- When working with larger teams, or multiple teams, what are keys to success?
This is a powerful activity. It can be done indoors or out. It requires no equipment, which gives facilitators a lot of flexibility regarding where and when they can lead this exercise with a group.
Stick - Stack
Stick-stack is a great table top activity that can be used in a wide variety of applications. It is especially useful when you want a team or group to discover the importance of having a solid foundation to build their team upon.
- Gum drops (approximately 16 per team)
- 10”-12” bamboo skewers (approximately 16 per team)
Have the group divide into pairs. If you have an odd number of people, allow one team of three people to participate.
Give each pair approximately 15-16 skewers, and about that many gum drops.
Their objective is to build the tallest free standing structure that they can, using only the gum drops and skewers.
Inform them that it is a timed event, and that they will have five minutes to complete their structure.
Also, each participant can use only one hand. (This adds to the fun, and requires much more teamwork.)
(Caution team members to be careful not to stick each other with the skewers.)
Start the clock and have them begin. Notify them of the time remaining after each minute has elapsed.
At the end of 5-6 minutes, call time. Have team members let go of their creations. This will determine if their structures are “free standing.”
- Ask the group how they approached the challenge?
- What elements of teamwork were required for success?
- Was any planning required/performed?
- How were they impacted by the pressures of time/deadlines? Relate this to their actual work.
- Ask them to identify what structural characteristics were necessary to meet the “free standing” objective. This will always lead to comments about the base, or foundation. This is perhaps the strongest processing point from the activity, as it lets you shift to a discussion regarding the foundation necessary for successful teams, etc.
Simple, but powerful in lessons discovered.
This is a wonderful classic experiential team building initiative that can be done just about anywhere and with any number of people. Have the rope joined at the ends with a simple knot and lay it on the ground. Organize the team into a loose circle around the rope. Inform them that they will be blindfolded for the exercise. Give each person a bandana for that purpose.
Once they have their blindfolds in place ask them to hold their hands out so that you can hand them the rope. Request that each person hold the rope loosely with both hands. Next, instruct the team to form some shape. For example, ask them to form a right triangle, without letting go of the rope. Other shapes will work, too. Creating a square is a pretty good challenge. If you want a simpler task, simply ask them to produce a triangle. One of the more difficult forms is an equilateral triangle.
Team members are allowed to slide their hands along the rope as they shift positions, but they are not allowed to hand the rope back and forth, or to take up a different position on the rope. Once they have what they think is a pretty nice looking triangle, ask them to lay it on the ground and remove their blindfolds to view their masterpiece.
- 40 ft. rope (groups up to 15 members) - Use a good quality, soft nylon rope, approximately 1/2 “ diameter. A longer rope is necessary for large groups
- Bandanna/blindfold for each participant
- Moving with blindfolds should always be done carefully
- Nobody should pull the rope quickly as it could cause rope burns
- Set this up in an area that is free of obstacles
- If there is a team member who is uncomfortable being blindfolded, you can still let them participate. Just have them work in silence.
- The importance of adequate information when working on projects.
- Ask them about how they began their process.
- Did they assess the information at hand?
- Did they clarify the understanding among the team about the goal of the exercise and the constraints?
- How did leadership emerge on the team?
- Did the team allow leadership to shift as other members had ideas?
- Decision making
- What was the decision making process like?
- Describe the level to which all team members were involved.
- At the start of the activity, how might you describe the communication within the team?
- How did the communication progress as the activity got underway?
- What helped the flow of ideas and information?
- Were there examples of things that were not effective in the communications? Explain
Best of luck with this great activity!