Team Building for Everyone

hhibner —  March 26, 2013 — 3 Comments

team workI’ll be honest: when I hear the phrase “team building exercises” I absolutely cringe.  For some reason, I picture trust falls and corny games. Probably because that’s all I’ve ever been exposed to. Also, I’m an introvert. I agree that functioning as a team is important, and that team building exercises can be valuable. As a library leader in my organization, I’ve been asked to come up with team building exercises, and I tried to be sensitive to the kinds of things that some people find fun (role playing, for example) and the kinds of things that  others find horrifying (role playing, for example!). This post will give suggestions for team building exercises that won’t fill people like me with dread. That’s not to say that some of these ideas won’t require a little compromise – which I am always willing to do and I believe that all staff members should also be willing to do to some degree. That said, people have their limits and should not be forced to do things they’re not comfortable doing, or made to feel bad for not trying things! Those people should be asked to suggest the compromise. What are they willing to do? What are their deal breakers?

Have a Book Discussion
Nothing out of the ordinary here. The team reads a book and discusses. Please, no skits or charades. I’d rather…not. But I’ll be happy to submit discussion questions, weigh in on book themes, and post book reviews on a staff blog.  Along these lines, you can also have a movie discussion or a library current events discussion (I’d avoid general current events so things don’t get political, but library current events are relevant.  What’s in the library literature lately?). It’s a way to get to know people and their views, share ideas, and sometimes even agree to disagree.

Survival Scenarios
You’re deserted on an island. What ten items does your small group want? Write your items on a flip chart. The group facilitator will do the “reporting” to the larger group by reading your list to everyone and pointing out similarities/differences from group to group.  Everyone participates in the discussion, no one is singled out, no one has to perform, everyone has to agree on ten items.

Puzzles and Brain Teasers
Form teams, solve a puzzle. Easy peasy.  Communication is important in the group, problem solving is performed, and no one has to look the fool.

Build Something
Maker spaces are all the rage in libraries.  Groups can be given random tools and resources and be told to “build something.” They get to be creative, work as a team, communicate, problem solve…all good things.

Go to an Event
A concert, a sporting event, a play, an arcade, or even a high school musical are all places that a team can be together, but there is something to focus on other than strictly each other.  Be a part of the group and enjoy the event without being the center of attention: perfect!

Form a team/Have a tournament
A bowling night, a volleyball game, a golf scramble, a softball game, a bridge or euchre tournament…these are all activities that require team work, and where introverts can still excel.  Now, some introverts are just not “joiners.” For me, a team event is great because again – the focus is not on me exclusively and I can still participate. Those not into actually playing sports and games can be score keepers, in charge of refreshments, venue contacts, or clean-up crew.

Flash mob
As long as the introvert can be part of the crowd, they *might* be willing to go for this one. I would, but my introversion is more a communication and reflection style than being “shy.”  I’m ok with blending into a crowd doing something weird; I just don’t want to be singled out doing something weird.  Those who are just not comfortable with participating can be the ones who design what the flash  mob is going to do.

Cooking Competition
This isn’t so much about team work, but still builds an atmosphere of fun in the work place, making people all-around happier to be at work together.  Have a chili cook off or judge the best cookies – or whatever else you come up with.  People like to be fed, they like to show off their best recipes and cooking prowess, and it changes up an otherwise ordinary day.

The other thing I’m not fond of is “ice breakers.”  I once showed up late to a workshop on purpose because the first item on the agenda said “ice breakers.” The horror! Ice breakers are always some corny game where you have to do something foolish or think of something clever.  It’s not fun, it’s pressure!  I’m happy to say my name and where I’m from, but then let’s move on. For some people, that’s even going to be a stretch.  Introducing yourself to the people around you is polite and friendly, but making me feel weird and goofy in the name of “fun”…well, it’s just not fun.

When planning team building exercises and ice breakers, leaders should consider different personality types and styles.  What is fun and enlightening to some will make others very uncomfortable and actually backfire, isolating them from the team.  There are lots of activities that are fun and stimulating for everyone.

Book recommendation:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain



Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library with a mild obsession for collection quality. Ok, maybe not so mild. Find me on Twitter at @hhibner and over at Awful Library Books (!

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