Leadership Team Building Activities
Although team building and team training interventions often focus on similar concerns (e.g. enhancing communication, decision making, coordination), the means of approaching the concerns differ.
In team training, the specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be developed are determined prior to the start of training, and learning objectives are established. In contrast, team building is more of a process intervention, aimed at helping individuals and groups examine and act upon their behavior and relationships. Recent reviews concluded that team building appears to have a positive effect on the perceptions and attitudes of team members although results for behavioral outcomes were more equivocal. - Tannenbaum, Yukl, 1992
Team building is a process intervention aimed at helping individuals and groups examine and act upon their behavior and relationships. Like any learning process, it needs to be implemented as a process, rather than a one-shot activity. Being developmental in nature, it does require a more long-term process than most other learning programs, thus an organization really has to examine itself to see if it has the resources, culture, and fortitude to successfully carry it out. Like any learning program, an organization that does it right can grow and benefit; however, when done wrong, it probably becomes more of a waste of resources.
During the team building process, learning does not always come from the activity itself, but rather from the reflection that is used after the activity has been completed, such as during an After Action Review.
One of the more popular team building activities is the Rope Course, where teams go through various activities using ropes.
One rope activity for training a team involves:
- Divide the learners into small groups, normally about four per team
- Give each team a rope, normally about 3-5 feet in length for each person on the team
- Blindfold them
- Instruct each team make a square shape out of a rope
- Note — most teams are able to accomplish this without too much difficultly
- Next, instruct them to create an equilateral triangle (if it is a really smart group then ask for an isosceles triangle)
- Note — this is where it gets a little more difficult as they not only have to all agree upon what an equilateral or isosceles triangle is, but since it is more difficult, they also need to communicate with each other much more than the previous activity.
Of course the real purpose of the activity is not being able to create a square or triangle out of a rope while blindfolded, but rather the analogy that the activity provides in comparison to teamwork. Thus after they have completed the two activities you have to help them build an analogy that bridges the rope activity to teamwork.
People normally learn easier and retain the knowledge and skills when provided with a good working example (Straus, Shanley, Burns, Waite, Crowley, 2009), and in this case, the analogy can be thought of as the working example. This means you have to have good follow-up questions in order to get them to reflect deeply. Some of the questions you might ask:
- Which of the two activities was harder to perform? Why?
- A lot of our daily communication is done somewhat blindly, such as email. What does that mean when we are trying to communicate a complex subject?
- How does “trust” come into play during the activities?
- How does the activity relate to teamwork?
- Ask them to create a metaphor of their own.
Similar activities can be found by searching Google for the terms — team building rope activity
This activity is based on the Growing a Team chapter
Return to the Leadership Training and Development Outline
Straus, S. G., Shanley, M. G., Burns, R. M., Waite, A., Crowley, J. C. (2009). Improving the Army’s Assessment of Interactive Multimedia Instruction Courseware. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.
Tannenbaum, S. & Yukl, G. (1992). Training and development in work organizations. Annual Review of Psychology, 43: 399-441.