Activities to Build Team Communication

Two Killer Activities to Build Team Communication

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I hope you’ll like each of these killer activities to build team communication.  Let me tell you the catalyst of this post.

Boo to the Merriam- Webster dictionary.  It has no clue what a team is or how to build team communication.

My disappointing journey began the other day as I was working to create a communication activity for a workplace team. I decided to Google the actual definition for the word “team”. What I found made me want to suck a lemon in a single act of protest. The dictionary defined team as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity”.  Blah! From a person who been studying work teams for years and coaching others to build team communication, I was sorely disappointed. It just doesn’t hold water. Let me show why.

According to this definition, if you’re at your local grocery store with other people, then you’re a team. After all, you all are engaged in the same activity, right? I’m being super sarcastic here.

Here’s another: You’re pumping gas at the same gas station as four other people.  Does that mean you all are a team?  You’re associated, but do you care about one another? Do you care about gas pumping as a shared activity? Not really. You’re not a team.

If an “association” is the only linkage among team members, then that team is bound to falter. There’s no trust. No passion; no connection. No one would care about fellow teammates because they have no reason to do so.

It just doesn’t work.

This type of an “association” would lack patience, consideration and the ability to learn new things together. Hey, throw the idea of synergy completely out the window with a team like this one. In such a circumstance, these “persons associated” in the activity are nothing more than random pieces thrown together to make some sort of a whole. Sadly, that does sound like some workplace teams, doesn’t it?

Another way of thinking of a team dynamic.

Educational theorist and practitioner Etienne Wenger has defined a team in the context of a community.  He is the father of the theory called Communities of Practice. Have you heard of him?

Here’s how he defines what I believe is a better representation of a team:

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Doesn’t that sound like a more functional, practical definition of a team?  That’s the type of team I’d like to be on. How about you?

In Wenger’s definition, people joined together by shared purpose or passion interacts regularly and learns along the way.  This is a beautiful thing. They are fueled by trust because they know everyone is invested and are “bought in” to the larger shared vision. They are more likely to trust one another. To talk to each other regularly and to be most creative.

Silly power struggles are minimal with this type of team. They don’t likely hide information, hoard resources or create silos on a team like this one. Since they are all in the work together, they are comfortable being vulnerable.  They can be open. They can be real. The passion element of this definition speaks to the humanity of the parts of the team. People have passions. Passion emotes from the heart. Too many teams see one another only as business titles. They forget passion motivates work teams far more than money.

This sort of team – or community – takes time to build. As a leader,  be intentional about creating opportunities to build trust, ignite passions and faciitate communication. I have two activities to start you on the way.  I have two activities to start you on the way.

Communication Activity 1:  “See Me”

  1. Divide your team into pairs.
  2. Ask them to turn their chairs toward one another. They should be facing one another directly.
  3. Tell them to remove eyeglasses, hats or anything near their eyes.
  4. Explain: “when I say “GO”, lock eyes with your colleague. Don’t stop until I tell you to look away. You may blink, smile, but you cannot talk.”
  5. Next say: “One more thing: If someone does look away, they must immediately rise and stand on one leg until the end of the activity. “Note: Think of another fun consequence for someone with physical limitations. You could have them hold their finger to their nose until the end of the activity.
  6. Give the start signal by saying a hearty “GO!”
  7. After 60 seconds, say “Stop”.

Debrief: Let’s talk about it. 

  1. Say something like: “How did that feel?” What did it feel like?  Record answers on whiteboard or chart paper.
  2. Ask: “Why do you think we did this activity?” or “How was this like real life?” Again, record answers on a white board or chart paper.
  3. 3. Say something like: “We get so busy in our work, it’s easy to forget our colleagues are people just like us. They are not simply a name on a business card or the person who answers the phones. In order to be a team, we must see one another as human beings, people with talents and passions, souls with beating hearts. NOT just a box on an organizational chart.”

Go on to say: “As we see one another this way, it humanizes our coleagues and we are more likely to treat each other with value and respect.”

  1. Secondly, this exercise was awkward because it made us vulnerable to the other person. This activity forces us to connect. We become just a little closer and a little more relevant to one another. Vulnerability is the first step toward trust – the first step toward communication – the first step toward being a strong team.
  2. Say: “There will be times we feel like _____________ [refer to the “awkward” comments you recorded on the white board/chart paper], but remember we are a team of human beings that want to be respected and appreciated. It’s ok to feel________ or ______ [insert comments from what they said]. But, we will remain a team and not give up on one another, right?”

Communication Activity Part II – What in the world are you saying to me????

Prep work: Download the list of idioms.  Cut into small cards/sheets.  Place them in the center of the table.

  1. Let them know they will work in the same pair as before.
  2. Tell them: On your table you will find several sheets of paper with an idiom printed on it.”
  3. Ask: “Who knows what an idiom is?” Allow a person to define it for the group.
  4. “In your pairs, one person draws an idiom (BUT DOES NOT LET THE OTHER PERSON SEE IT). “
  5. “Your job is to convey the idiom to the other person in whatever way works best for you”.
  6. Explain: “You cannot say any of the words on a paper. By no means are you to simply say the idiom (duh), and you cannot use American Sign Language. Of course, you cannot just write the sentence on paper.”
  7. Say: You can draw pictures, act out the idiom as a charade or use hand gestures (not actual sign language) to help your partner guess the idiom.
  8. Warn: “You will have a time limit, so let’s see how quickly you can get your partner to guess the idiom”
  9. If your partner guesses the idiom, draw another! Keep track of how many your partner guesses.

Debrief and discuss what happened.

  1. Inqurire: “Which pair guessed the most idoms?”
  2. For teams that got more than one, ask what they did to help their partner guess the idiom.
  3. Ask: “Now, what did THAT activity feel like?”
  4. Record answers on chart paper or white board.
  5. Now, say something like: “Communication can be difficult can’t it???” There will be times, we try to explain our position and our colleagues have no idea where we are coming from. Similarly, management may make decisions and we wonder “What in the heck does this change mean?” “What are they saying to us?”
  6. Say “But, just as we “hung” in there with our partner in this activity, we must hang in there with one another until we understand one another. It may take time. We must try different ways to get our point across and various methods to ensure we are in sync.”
  7. If time permits, allow the team to brainstorm ways to ensure open communication.

Both of these activities should be done consecutively.  Remember, it takes time to build team communication. These activities will be excellent tools to lay the ground work.


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