Is Your Team-Building Leaving Some People Cold?

Jo Ilfeld Executive Leadership Coach |Team Building|Is your team-building leaving some people cold?

This weekend, I had the opportunity to play a collaborative game called Spaceteam with a few friends of mine. This game was recently given to my son for his birthday.  My whole family played it right away that night and we all laughed a lot and thought it was fun. Plus I love the idea that it was collaborative game; everyone wins together or loses together. So when my family first played it, we immediately wanted to play it again, so we could get better.

I work with a lot of teams so immediately I think, “Collaborative game? Fun? This could be a perfect ice breaker for teams!” Always thinking ahead, I convince my group of friends to let me “try this game out on them” as a testing ground for potentially using with teams.

First I realize, it’s much easier to play games than to explain the rules of the game to people. But beyond that, I can see as an observer that once you start playing this collaborative game, it’s very fast paced and can quickly feel very chaotic; you’re racing against a timer, there’s a lot of new terminology words to learn, and none of it really makes sense, it’s all made up for the game.

So similar to many types of team-building activities, you have people playing a new game, with new rules, in a chaotic, very verbal situation, and under time pressure. It’s either a recipe for a huge sense of accomplishment or seeing where things fall apart.

One of the key points of this game is that you need to focus on your own goals to help the team, while keeping an ear open for ways you can help the other players. All the cards need to be passed through different people to help each other out while people are focusing on their own hand.

This game quickly went awry.

When this group played it, one person started to feel like it was just too loud and too noisy, and she wanted to stop playing ¬ Immediately! So she left the game in the middle. Another person admitted afterwards that she just felt really stupid the whole time because she’s a slower processor. And it felt like other people around her were faster processors, they were kept asking her for cards and calling out needs so that she just couldn’t focus on her tasks and help others.

Jo Ilfeld Executive Coach |Teambuilding |Leadership SkillsHere’s What I Learned About Team-Building During This Test-Run And What You Should Remember Too:

  • What might be fun and engaging to one person, can be really overwhelming, even triggering, to someone else when it’s loud and boisterous. Even though I know this, I was reminded again that introverts and extroverts can feel very differently about any kind of fast-paced, loud, and verbal games.
  • In my mind, this game is similar to collaborative ways that people work together. It can feel messy. People often want multiple, and different things from you at the same time; when you’re getting emails, you have a lot of projects underway and it’s all coming to a head at once. But you need to work together, right? Your company succeeds, or doesn’t succeed, all together. This game seems to be a microcosm of how differently people react to internal company pressure, from people like me who just love that fast pace and making sense out of the chaos, to people who believe that if this is how I need to operate to be in this environment, then I’m not interested. It’s important to be careful that your external team-building reflects the culture you want to build INSIDE your company. So make sure to avoid activities where some people feel less valued, or that they’re on the outside – unless of course you want to create an atmosphere of  competition and “weeding-out” of those that don’t fit your company’s stereotype.​​
  • Lastly, go slow to go fast. We decided to pause the game and start again with more basic rules, only adding on the additional rules and complexity once people felt more comfortable. An important question might be to ask yourself, “Are we slowing things down enough for newer team members to watch, learn and eventually be successful here?”

In the moment, you might just expect your team to pitch in and start banding together. Unless everyone truly understands the spoken and unspoken rules, however, this all-in approach might lead to overwhelm and analysis-paralysis, rather than the fast-paced collaborating you were hoping for.

Now I’m curious about you. What was the best (or worst) team-building activity you’ve ever done? What made you feel that way?

I would love to hear from you in the comments below. I’ll publish some of my favorites online!

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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