Team Building Exercise on Communications


Telling stories have a way to get points across. The story that I am going to share is something that actually happened during a team building activity and the outcomes that at first shocked me. I was tasked to come up with a team building exercise that would help point out communication improvements or help each of us with learning some key concepts in communication. After weeks of attempting to come up with the perfect exercise (digging into team building books, internet searches and other means), I woke up the day of the exercise with that perfect exercise in my head (I know that is totally sick). I focused my exercise on communications with “old” school favor – up till today’s technology. The staff was 12 folks so I broke them up to three teams. Team one was the “old” paper and pencil team and with paper and pencil as their only communication tool. Team two had a step up – email as their communications tool. Team three had the instant messaging as their communications method only.

Before you read on – which order do you think the teams finished?

Each team was given the simple instructions that they could only communicate with the person in front of them (they were seated in rows). The email and IM folks could not set up one distribution or chat session – we want to demonstrate the dispersed locations. Next, they had everything they needed to figure out in front of them (I basically, put a slip of paper on each chair – that if you put them together the leader (seated in the back) has the instructions under their chair. Then each team had to completed a team building exercise – each was different. Each one of those exercises would take their teams about 15 minutes to complete (team one had 10 riddles to decipher; team two had 10 scrambled US cities; team three had to sketch a charade phrase given to them) – once they found their instructions. Watching them pass notes and type was a nice thing to see. Busy beavers working away – some visually frustrated, some wondering what was going on and others too busy to look up.

The team learned that just trying to get everyone together was a struggle to get to an end result (they would have loved to just call a meeting and get to it). My work team is spread across the globe – making effective communications very difficult. Not everyone works the same time zone hours only… So, we talked about ways to improve that. We also focused on those poor folks out on the islands – last person in the row.. How they felt when a small few in the team communicated differently. Look at when in some teams have a good portion of the team in one location – they can get together in the hallway, by the “water cooler” and so on – to talk, brainstorm, make decisions and then the rest have to live with the outcome. There were other things that came out, but for story telling – we just put some action plans together and will come back to see if we have improved.


Team three – the IM team. Had no chance! The leader of the team, had his laptop freeze up! Had to reboot. How many times have we attended a meeting just to hear someone say – sorry me system has locked up and I have to reboot? After the reboot was completed – he was unable to connect wirelessly (he received a request for a wireless driver patch – that he could not complete that day). While this was going on the other team members tried to make due by communicating to each other – multi-tasking (doing their email, etc). Many were just sitting waiting… Have you ever noticed that when you are in a meeting – and someone asks a question – you get sorry “I was on mute” or what was that question again?? Multi-tasking were they? Once the team got going the complaints of way too many IM’s was pretty common. Trying to juggle 2 IM conservations was a bit tough (lost some focus). This team was did complete their tasks – just about 20 minutes from the winner.

Team two – email team. Came in second! Discussion with them – highlighted the overload of emails. Trying to make decisions or get information – they must have had about 60 emails total over the exercise! They found that they answered one – when the answer was already sitting in their inbox. How many times has someone answered an email – in the string – that if they looked at the last one – they would have seen the answer. Since the exercise was set up just for them to email with one person – limited the email traffic some. Think if they had set up a group distribution and replied to all. What a mess that would be – about 240 emails for each! They took more time to read, react and answer. The team was about 10 minutes behind the winners.

Team one – paper and pencil – the Winners! If you ask the team why – they would simply say – “they were the strongest team.” They did not have to worry about connecting. They simply jumped into the exercise and kept working till they were completed. No one ran out of paper and the pencil did not break. They did find that they were overloaded with notes and at times it was difficult to keep up. But, they just kept plugging away. What helped them the most was they were able to get to the instructions the fastest…

What does this tell us? Team one was probably the closest situation to being a face to face. Technologies, have helped in many ways – but, we probably may not always pick the right capability for the situation we are in. Instant messaging is great for that quick question that needs an answer (problem solving – maybe not the best). Email is used quite heavily at work – and we just don’t know what to do when it goes down… We always hear about email overload. How many messages have pointed to tips and tricks for email efficiency? Our internal snail mail system is pretty good – but we would never get anything done on time using it alone. The phone is a wonderful capability that has been around for quite some time.. We have all of the capabilities at our fingertips – it all comes down to apply the right capability, or set of capabilities, for the solution that you need.