Practical Team Building – Really!

 Anyone can be a leader and contribute to team building – that means you! And, team building can happen at any time. (Well, coffee first, then team building.) If you think your group is in need of a little boost and strengthening, you’re probably right. When you’re ready, it’s important to move forward with a spirit of optimism and positivity. Your initiative might just make you the MVP!

Here are three easy to do and actually useful team building tools and exercises. I’ll pass on the marshmallow rocket ships and dorky alliterative nicknames this time around; functionality is the underlying theme here.

Fun Facts

One of my favorite exercises with new teams or team members is the “Things to Know About Me” conversation. Each team member thinks of three (or less) things that are helpful for others to know about when it comes to working with them. This should be a combination of fun and functional. As an example, one of my things:

“If possible, I like to have the first hour of the day to myself.”

This uninterrupted time helps me to effectively prioritize and plan for the day. My teammates should know this about me. My intention behind sharing this information with members of my team is the hope that if they know this about me, they will be less likely to interrupt me or ask me non-urgent questions first thing when I arrive at the office. And I will make the same sort of allowance for them, so that we can all do our best work.

Make sure everyone understands the intentional and functional purpose behind this exercise, and you will learn a ton of helpful information about your co-workers that will allow you to function better as a team. Feel free to revisit this exercise every 6 months or so, to account for shifting priorities and projects.

Anonymous Strengths Assessment

Sometimes, your team could use a pep talk. I’m not the only big proponent of positive reinforcement. Check out this article on how it impacts team performance. One simple but effective team building exercise is the Anonymous Strengths Assessment exercise. I suggest that you do this the way we used to do it during Catholic School retreats. Tape a piece of paper to everyone’s back, and then walk around the room, stopping to write something nice on each person’s back. It’s like the opposite of a “kick me” sign. Keep your compliments brief but sincere. Avoid the yearbook-y “you’re nice” or “you wear cool shirts” and shoot for comments like:

“I love that you stand up for our team.”

The anonymity built into this activity allows for you to pay meaningful compliments to people without the emotional risk of getting all mushy with someone you don’t know well. I particularly like this exercise because it’s always beneficial  to challenge yourself to say positive things about people – even ones that bug you sometimes. Everyone has something to offer, and it helps the group as a whole  when we focus on strengths. Positive reinforcement helps to replicate successes instead of dwell on (inevitable) failures, in personal and professional settings.

First Job

Everyone has had a first job. Maybe it was great, and maybe it was the absolute worst. We all learned from the experience, though. Take some time to talk about it with your team. What practical skills did you learn as the receptionist at that mom and pop gym? What was the defining moment? What lesson are you most grateful to have gotten out of the way?

At my first job, I learned that it’s okay to say “I don’t know”, as long as you follow up with “but I want to help you figure it out!”

Not only will you get a chance to reflect, think of how far you’ve all come, and put your first gig into a broader context, you’ll get to know your teammates better, and learn from their experiences as well. Hopefully, you’ll even discover that little extra secret skill that they picked up so long ago, which could help you out on your next big challenge!

Best of luck to you and your team as you learn and grow together! Do you have any fun and useful team building activities or conversation starters? I’d love to hear about them. Let’s chat on Twitter.

Use Your Words

When you’re THISCLOSE to flipping out at work because someone’s spewing crazy nonsense, come join us over here in the Emotional Intelligence corner.

Today’s lesson is: “Use Your Words”. In 3 doable steps.

1. Stop and Think

Sometimes when we are feeling hurt or slighted, it helps to remember that everyone has lives and issues – shocking, I know! No matter what the reason – personal, professional, whatever, it’s important that you give yourself the chance to pause. Take a walk around the block, call a friend from your Cat Appreciation Club – anything to give yourself the chance to actually have and process your feelings. I love this actionable list of coping tips for crummy days. And even then, we have a responsibility to question our initial reactions and ask – “did they intend to hurt my feelings?” If the answer is “no”, you are now empowered by a “choose your battles” moment – brush it off, let it go, and move on, or try to talk to them about it. Ready to talk? Keep reading.

2.“I” Statements

One of the first (and best) conflict resolution tools I ever learned, the “I” Statement, is a pretty great baby step to strong but polite confrontation – and the beginning of a productive conversation. A good example of an “I” Statement is:

“I feel frustrated when you don’t call me at the time we agreed you’d call”.

Putting your perception and reaction first helps the listener know that you are opening up to them, sharing your side of the story, and asking them to consider how their actions impact others. Here’s a great blog about “I” Statements, if you want to learn more.

3. Active Listening

Active Listening is not just about actually making eye contact and nodding at all the right moments. It happens when you try your best to remember details about what someone is saying, and pay attention to how they’re feeling when they’re talking. Then, tell the speaker in your own words what you believe they meant by what they said. An example:

“What I’m hearing is that you felt hurt when I forgot to let you know I’d be in late.”

This gives the speaker an opportunity to clarify, and gives you the chance to more fully understand their point of view. Active Listening is central to any productive conversation about feelings, because hopefully your conversation partner will be able to express more fully the reasons and motivations behind their actions – and free you up to talk about some solutions. Check out this piece on the power of listening from NPR.

Next time you feel crummy at work, remember to take some time to first process your own feelings, which will help you be better able to make more helpful and productive communication choices. Conversations worth having can be challenging, and so they require time, attention to tact, and an underlying respectful and hopeful spirit. Plus, remember: in communications, as with pretty much everything else, practice makes perfect. If you want to chat about this stuff or have questions, hit me up on Twitter