Category Archives: Team Building

Go outside and play? “It’s too real!”

“Go outside and play,” Mom told us all summer long when we were young. Mom meant it literally, and Mom is always right of course. It’s also great advice metaphorically. But get outside what exactly? We have a comfort zone where life is easy and enjoyable. And we have a panic zone where life is too hard, too scary, too overwhelming, too…much. There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where he complains about being outside his TV-watching comfort zone, explaining, “It’s too real.” We call this ‘too real’ zone the challenge zone. The challenge zone is built between the comfort and panic zones. It’s where we learn. It’s where we grow. Too much reality and we’re panicked. Too little and we’re stuck trying to stay comfortable, what Walt Whitman railed against as “indoor complaints”. The literal outside is not always comfortable. It’s often too hot, too bright, too humid, too buggy, just as Calvin so astutely noted. And the metaphorical outside is the same – it’s really real outside the comfort zone. Yet if comfort is our highest priority, we can give up the hope of learning and growing. Every team development session we lead has lots of new concepts, research and ideas to help teams and individuals grow into the challenge zone. And I pair every training with team building activities to try those concepts out, an immediate leap into the challenge zone. That’s where the growth happens. High hopes accompany new ideas. That’s great! And then there’s the reality when trying to put them into play. It’s not easy to see enthusiasm get a dose of direct experience. But that’s the beginning of learning, of “going where I have to go” as the poet Theodore Roethe said. Happy summer! Now get outside and play.

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A New Way to Assemble Mr. Potato Head

“The arm goes on the second hole up on the left side! No, one hole lower. Turn the arm around!” And so it goes in the ‘Assemble Mr. Potato Head’ team building activity. One person is blindfolded, the other team members look at a picture and tell the blindfolded person what piece to pick up and where to put it to replicate what’s on the picture. It’s a fun activity, and great for honing team communication. The attempts and results in many team building activities are often fairly predictable for me. But part of what I love about this work is the innovation that shows up unexpectedly. I worked with Kaiser Permanente recently and they did it differently. In all the years I’ve seen groups assemble the venerable plastic spud, they always verbally tell the blindfolded person where a certain piece is and then where it goes. This time, they let the blindfolded person pick any piece at random, then told them where it went. Every piece was ‘the right one to pick up’. The person without sight is given a 100 on the test. The most vulnerable person is in charge, is ‘right’. This is a simple tweak of genius. If we want to influence someone to do what you want them to do, if we want to change the world, we start where the other person is, not where they should be. We visit them in their “home”, their most comfortable way of doing things. We tolerate discomfort in the service of change. Brain science tells us this is true for the brain as well. If we want to help an emotionally hijacked person out of it, the first step is to meet them, without fear, in the hell they have entered. Then we can show them the way out.

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Seven things that are more productive than a meeting without an agenda

“We’re too busy to have meetings with agendas.” – a team leader during a training Here are seven things that will be more productive than having a meeting without an agenda (or having an agenda but not following it): Going for a walk Going bowling Going to see a movie Getting your hair cut Washing your car Organizing your pens Moving your paper clips one by one from one side of the room to the other…then moving them back If you’re investing everyone’s time, attention and energy in a meeting: Have an agenda. Send it to everyone at least one day before the meeting. Follow it. Or better yet, go for a walk.

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The scariest and most effective thing your team can do

When you’re too busy and the work demands you speed up, slow down. When the same way you’ve always done things is no longer working, don’t keep doing it but faster. Stop. The pause is laughed at/feared. It’s viewed as unrealistic. Yet it’s the pause, and only the pause that gets most teams to the next level. Pausing in the middle of ‘working stupid’ (and if we’re stressed we’re working stupid) gives us the only opportunity to ‘work smart’. Our brains literally function better with a pause. We access the cortex – our smarts – instead of being driven by the amygdala to just speed up today’s treadmill. It’s energy that gets the work done, not time. Time is created equal, but not energy. Energy comes and goes and “we hate one another” does not help energy. Nor does “barking orders”. If you’re too busy to have an agenda for a meeting that you get to people before the meeting, I’m here to tell you you’re too busy to have that meeting. Cancel it and do something productive like going for a walk.

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How to Make an Omelette

We can read about it, talk about it, think about it. But at one point, the preparation gets in the way of getting stuff done. Walt Whitman counseled, “let the book on the shelf unopen’d.” At one point we need to do it. Speaking another language, exercising, falling in love, traveling, starting a business, writing a book – these only happen if we stop preparing and actually do them. You can read about cooking an omelet for weeks. But if you’re hungry, you’re going to have to break some eggs. Learn more: Team Collaboration Quest - Teams complete a customized series of challenges through collaboration and communication.

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Team Building The AMC Hut Croo Way

After a full, beautiful day of hiking the White Mountains in New Hampshire, my long-time friend Kevin (over 30 years!) and I reached our resting place for the night. We unslung our backpacks at Mizpah Spring Hut. An Appalachian Mountain Club hut is a ‘hut’ in name only. Located on Mount Pierce at 3,800 feet elevation, the Mizpah Spring Hut can sleep up to 60 people. Meals are served family style to the hikers, so and we sat down at a long table filled with hikers. I was quite unprepared for what came next. Out came the croo (they spell it that way) members for dinner announcements. Two people trudged out wearing old wooden frame backpacks. Attached to each of the packs was a wooden chair. Sitting on the two chairs were croo members, the man wearing a fashionable gold lame top and comfy pajama bottoms. And for the next few minutes there they sat, explaining how meals worked and what was for dinner. The whole time, the others where stolidly standing in place with well over 150 pounds of wood and humanity on each their backs. Adventures like this continued throughout the evening and into the morning. The croo woke us up by singing a song (the best alarm clock ever). Tasks they wanted people to do in the morning after breakfast were relayed in the form of a very funny take on an old fairy tale. We were all sold on the experience, all bought in, all engaged. There were smiles everywhere throughout the room, and cheers, laughter and applause were the norms. The croo members were a positive contagion. Every human in the room got elevated (pun intended). So, great. What does this have to do with anything, you ask? I work with teams for a living. I’ve worked with great teams, worked with extremely dysfunctional teams. I’ve worked with literally thousands of teams. This was the highest performing team I’ve ever seen. These young men and women (this was their summer job while in college for the most part) gave us what we technically needed – a place to sleep and two meals. But they gave us so much more – an experience that lifted us, inspiration, laughter, a feeling we were part of something special. The daily grind of modern work is unforgiving. And it can deaden. I know, I know, belive me, I know. I see it everywhere and know the feeling intimately too. But we do have a choice. We can give these higher qualities to the people we work with. Or we can decline to do that. We can give the members of our family team at home that experience, the members of our community team that experience. Or not. And we can look for inspiration from the good that’s being done in the world to help balance out the bad we hear so much about. The choice is here today for you, for me. September, a month of fresh starts, beckons us, hoping for a smile on our lips and a generosity in our hearts. Here’s to you and me being living inspirations this month!

Also posted in Happiness, Play, Purpose, Quest Stories | Comments closed

How Music Team Building Gets Teams In Tune

“Hey everybody! Let’s have some fun! Let the good times roll!” sings one excited participant as the rest of her team plays blues riffs on their harmonicas. Someone is playing the guitar; another, the tambourine. Everyone on stage is wearing retro-sunglasses and classic blues hats and having fun. As a music team building facilitator, it’s always a pleasure to tell a group they’re going to learn how to play music. They light up, relax and get a little playful. Let’s face it – some people look forward to team building, and some are a little more ambivalent. But everyone loves music. And most people wish they could play music, not just listen to it. While I’ve combined music and team building in a variety of ways – forming rock bands, playing ‘office percussion’, and writing and singing songs, the most popular is the Play the Blues program. In this program, everyone receives a harmonica and learns how to play. For the grand finale, teams write and perform original songs they wrote about themselves. And it’s not just the blues – “Piano Man,” “Love Me Do,” and of course the perennial favorite “Rawhide” are some of the songs that groups have learned over the years. The best team-building programs incorporate something that people are already interested in with something new that will enrich their lives at work and beyond. I love it when I hear back from people that they now start every meeting with a song, or that they went home with their harmonica and taught their kids how to play some of the songs we taught them. All of the performances are memorable – whether in quality or silliness. Everyone’s a beginner and that really helps to break down barriers within groups, especially when they are on very different levels on the org chart. There are a lot of closet musicians in corporate America. Someone always surprises their team by picking up the guitar and playing or singing like Aretha Franklin. There are roles for everyone, and safety in numbers on stage helps even the most shy to have some fun. Does this sound like your team? Everyone has a clearly defined role, an expertise and passion for that role, and the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. There’s a clearly defined goal that is adaptable enough to address the realities of the moment, a common rhythm, an extraordinary amount of listening, responding and interplay that’s all in the service of a tangible, customer-focused final product. That’s what a great band does and it helps teams to connect the metaphor of playing music together and working productively together in the work place. A great band or orchestra is perhaps the best model for a work-team to aspire to. In the debrief at the end of the program, people talk about improving their listening, communication and creativity skills. They like getting to know each other in a different way and especially love discovering the hidden talents in their group. But the two words that come up most often are ‘memorable’ and ‘fun’. Your Brain on Music Brain research has revealed a number of enhancing effects that music has. For one, our brains link up with each other when we play music. Daniel Goleman talks of this phenomenon in his landmark book Social Intelligence. Other studies have shown that music enhances how we think, reason, and create. The Right Place I’ve led groups of almost every size and setting, from small groups of senior executives in a boardroom, to a theater seating of hundreds to groups playing on a House of Blues stage. I’ve seen music team building work for groups across sectors, ages, and nationalities. However, certain conditions work better than others. The more the atmosphere of a room can be transformed from the ordinary, the better. Meeting planners I’ve worked with have incorporated mason jars with candles in them on the tables, blue lights, blues videos playing on a big screen, and a riser for performances. The Right Group Groups that have ‘been there and done that’ with team building often respond well, as well as people who aren’t all that excited about a more traditional team-building program. The Night Time is the Right Time I have led music programs first thing in the morning, and they’ve worked out fine, but the best time for a fun and memorable time together seems to be the evening. Beer and wine are a nice complement to the program.   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s music team building and team development activities:  Give the Kids Music – Learn to play and build musical instruments and then give the gift of music to underserved children. Music of Teams – Music of Teams links music and the effective team and transforms your people into musicians of their work. Build a Team Song - Write, record and perform an amazing team theme song.

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Five Dysfunctions Team Building – A Team Trust Story

I recently led a ‘Five Dysfunctions of A Team’ team building and training with a small group. We focused on the base for any team – trust. They did brave, difficult work in an intense day of focus – no email, no cell phones, just a beautiful view (the importance of setting can not be overstated) and people together trying to forge stronger connections. They emerged at the end of the day a team transformed. I went home proud of the work we had done together and slept the sleep of the exhausted. If you’re ready for your team to transform, I’d like to help facilitate that. There’s good work in the world do be done by all of us together. It’s not easy work, but the growing is worth it.

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Four Lessons Learned From Collaborative Team Building With Cisco

Here’s a review of a collaborative team building activity we led with Cisco recently. I’m including it here because it’s such a helpful reminder to hear four things that the team there found really useful. Which learning is most helpful for you to be reminded of today? “It was fantastic. The facilitator did a great job. The games were spot on for what we needed. A few antidotes from my team. Here are a couple “lessons learned” that you shared with us: – “Solicit feedback from the team to see the bigger picture” – “Every contribution is important” – “Communication is key” – “Remember to level set, if you jump ahead too quickly things can get lost” – Cisco, Team Collaboration Quest Here’s the primary activity we did with them. Give us a call if you’d like to remind your team of what’s most important. Picture This Team Collaboration Building Activity You have some of the information but can you communicate what you know? Who will see the big picture? Each person gets images that are part of a larger sequence. Together the group must decipher the sequence and get them laid out in order without any person seeing anyone else’s images while the clock ticks! Will the group see the big picture in time or will they get bogged down in details…or worse yet, fail to notice a crucial part of the image in time? This complex verbal communication skill builder has a powerful “a-ha” factor that makes the grand unveiling unforgettable! Outcomes: Discern how does looking at the big picture affect outcomes Explore the balance between precise, accurate communication and big-picture solutions Examine individual strengths within the context of a team Look at how communication affects strengths Look to each other to share resources and generate solutions     Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: Team Collaboration Quest – Teams complete a customized series of challenges through collaboration and communication.

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Tom Petty On Free Falling and Collaboration

“Jeff Lynne and I were sitting around with the idea of writing a song and I was playing the keyboard and I just happened to hit on that main riff, the intro of the song, and I think Jeff said something like, ‘That’s a really good riff but there’s one chord too many,’ so I think I cut it back a chord and then, really just to amuse Jeff, honestly, I just sang that first verse. Then he starts laughing. Honestly, I thought I was just amusing Jeff but then I got to the chorus of the song and he leaned over to me and said the word, ‘freefalling.’ And I went to sing that and he said, ‘No, take your voice up and see how that feels.’ So I took my voice up an octave or two, but I couldn’t get the whole word in. So I sang ‘freeee,’ then ‘free falling.’ And we both knew at that moment that I’d hit on something pretty good. It was that fast. He had to go somewhere, and I wrote the last verse and kind of just polished the rest of the song and when I saw him the next day I played him the song and he was like, ‘Wow, you did that last night?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said. ‘We’ve got to go cut this,’ and we just took off to Mike Campbell’s studio where we knew we could get in and get it done that day. So we went in and made the record that day.” – singer/songwriter Tom Petty in a Billboard interview So much of the work I do with teams goes under the heading “team building”. My favorite team building activities are the ones that demand collaboration for a team to succeed. There’s something amazingly, indefinably powerful when people work effectively together. And it’s superlative when there’s a feeling of play, humor and laughter infusing the collaboration. It’s helpful to remember this power when we’re either alone and stuck on something we can’t get through or when there’s conflict in a relationship – whether personally or professionally. Collaboration has power you can plug into. And as Joni Mitchell sang, “heart and humor and humility will help you lighten your heavy load”.   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: Collaborative Charity Bike Build – Combine the power of collaboration and charity team building to build bicycles for children in the world’s only fully collaborative charity team building event. Team Collaboration Quest – Teams complete a customized series of challenges through collaboration and communication. Change Up! – Teams master change with a mix of team building and training. Roller Coaster – Innovation rules as you utilize all materials you can access to design and build the world’s most exciting roller coaster. Crossing Chocolate Bridges – What better way to hone communication skills than with chocolate? Pipeline – Teams build a device that will transport a maximum number of marbles up to 50 feet! GRPI Team Quest – Explore the GRPI model with a series of engaging multi-round team building activities. Mostly About Cupcakes – Every good cook has a system for collaboration. Alchemy – Transport and mix precious contents to transmute your team into gold! Virtual Team Quest – Examine the unique pitfalls virtual teams face and learn how to overcome them in a series of interactive challenges.  

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