As you've learned, we're big on team building and spending some good ol' fashioned fun/quality time here together at TIS. Unfortunately, there's just not enough time in a day, week, or even a month to make this a top priority all of the time—which is why we carve one weekend out of every summer for our annual TIS Retreat. While the retreat includes lots of fun and R&R, we also make sure to schedule some valuable team-building exercises into the itinerary to ensure the TIS team freshens up our skills in collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, empathy, and so on.
We've experimented with quite a few different team-building exercises since we started doing an annual retreat about five years ago—some of which have stuck around and evolved, and others we've scrapped. Interested in implementing more team-building exercises and practices into your work culture? Check out four of our favorite team-building activities below!
We have done different variations of this exercise at our retreat every year, but this year's exercise was inspired by our recent office move and the need for some new artwork in the space. This year, we asked TISers to define and draw what the word “ally” means to them. These were the specific directions:
GOAL: To appreciate the diversity of various perspectives, and to create artwork for our new space.
- Define the word ally (in your own words).
- Distill that definition down to one word or concept.
- What best represents this word or concept visually and singularly?
- Is it an object? A picture? A color? A pattern? Draw or describe it in detail. Or take a picture of it or screenshot something that best summarizes it. It’s important to keep it down to ONE WORD or ONE CONCEPT.
The word “ally” can obviously be interchanged with any other word or concept that speaks to your business/organization. It was super fun to learn everyone's unique definition and interpretation of the “ally” word and concept!
We first introduced this exercise to the TIS Retreat 2016 agenda and found it was a unique way to connect and show appreciation for each other in a way that we normally wouldn't do on a regular basis. Each TISer was asked to draw a random name out of a hat and spend at least 30 minutes writing a letter to the chosen recipient. Here are the specifics:
GOAL: To appreciate one another, practice empathy, and help one another grow as better co-workers and people.
INSTRUCTIONS: Use the other side of this paper or another sheet of paper and write a letter to the TISer whose name you pull from the hat.
Address the following in your letter:
- I appreciate the following things about you_________________.
- An area you can work on that could help you grow _______________.
- Thank you for______________.
- I wish for you_______________.
- Deliver your letter to your TISer.
- Give them a hug. : )
Again, this exercise is truly a great way to bring two co-workers closer together and appreciate one another on a more intimate level. This is a must-try!
Oh, the Vulnerability Exercise. This is definitely an emotional one, but incredibly powerful. I was first introduced to the Vulnerability Exercise by my brother James Berg, CEO of Essence Restaurant Group, and have included it in most of our retreats since. This activity allows the team to open up about topics and details that others may not otherwise have known about each other and serves as a major lesson in empathy and understanding. Since we've done this exercise a few times in past retreats, we slightly modified the questions and format this year to keep it fresh. These are the details:
GOAL: To use our recent training on perspective to really listen and appreciate one another and our differences, and learn what shaped our viewpoints and values.
INSTRUCTIONS: Answer the following questions honestly. No judging. Please keep an open, gentle, understanding perspective. Remember we’re all human, and vulnerable, and it’s ok.
- One thing about me that nobody present here knows is:
- Reveal a secret desire:
- If I could change ONE thing, it would be:
- If I was granted ONE wish, I’d ask for:
As you can see, these questions are open-ended enough that team members are able to control how deep they choose to get in their answers. Again, we highly recommend this one.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, problem-solving exercises don't have to be bound to story problems from math class. This year, TIS VP of Client Relations Troy Best created and facilitated a fun, hands-on problem-solving activity that required teams of four to arrange large, multi-colored blocks in a specific way. Sounds easy, right? WRONG. Check out the specific instructions below:
Problems of all sorts have three basic components:
- An undesirable situation
- A desirable situation
- Obstacles between the undesirable and desirable situation
While these three general elements are present in each problem, the group should also address specific characteristics of the problem. Five common and important characteristics to consider are:
- Task difficulty
- Number of possible solutions
- Group member interest in the problem
- Group member familiarity with the problem
- The need for solution acceptance
FOUR CUBES COLOR PROBLEM
- Stack blocks 4 high
- Color is important
- 82,499 possible combinations
- Organize the Blocks and assign color captains (2-5 min.)
- More information? Answer a riddle.
- When I was 6 years old my sister was half my age. Now I am 70. How old is my sister?
- (With the correct answer, explain task in full. Let work 2-5 min.)
- Abandon the captains… (2-5 min)
- Want another piece of the puzzle? Answer a riddle.
- There are 30 cows in a field and 20 ate chickens. How many didn’t?
- (With correct answer, reveal keystone block)
- Now you have the keystone… what can you do?
- Thoughts about the project with just the initial instruction?
- Did specialization (color captains) help solve the problem? Did it even maybe hinder the activity?
- Relate task to characteristics… difficulty, solutions, interest, familiarity, acceptance.
- How was this project “like” a TIS work project?
- How was this project “not like” a TIS work project?
This activity was quite involved and required much collaboration, critical thinking, cooperative teamwork, and patience.
While team-building exercises may seem cheesy on the surface, the right ones can make a huge, lasting impact on your employees and leadership team. What are some of your favorite, most-effective exercises your company has implemented? Share with us in the comments section below!