The Best Team Exercise Ever
Synopsis: I always wanted my regional team meetings to be an event. We organized every detail to maximize our time together, from role playing sales scenarios, brainstorming solutions to common challenges to planning and learning from one another. The meetings typically moved fast, featured both collaboration and competition and we capped off every day, like most of these meetings, with team play. At one meeting, I really hoped to find a unique way to foster an inspiring atmosphere. And one of my team members, Cathy Wessling, suggested an exercise she had conducted with her team. While simplistic in concept, it is elegant in execution. We asked everyone to bring a picture of someone or something that inspired them and then tell their story. The results were both surprising and profound.
Midafternoon on day two of any larger group meeting can drag. While our regional meetings tended to resemble a combination of unequal parts family reunion, spiritual revival and an episode of Survivor, Day two witnessed the initial onset of fatigue as team members succumbed to the long days (and, nights, especially if meeting in Vegas), sitting in cramped quarters, and trying to keep their energy up amidst all the team activities and carb loaded snacks.
I always left these meetings exhausted, in a good way. But, spent nonetheless by all the mental and emotional energy expended. At this meeting, in 2015, we planned a simple and unique way to inspire.
Now, keep in mind, I had already surprised this team with a group meditation one year; another, I brought every single person up to the front and presented them with a star shaped gold pin (gold star!) and talked about their individual strengths as it related to the team; and, another year we conducted an aggressive volleyball tournament in Laguna Beach complete with a campfire sing along on Day 2 that was somewhat complicated by the fact our campfire resided next to a homeless encampment! I can still see one of our team members, Glenn Berry, playing his guitar for the group that year while our intrepid neighbors sought ways to access our beer stockpile.
At this meeting we planned to conduct an exercise which tells a simple story: who has inspired you? To make the experience more visual (and, therefore personal), each person brought a picture of their subject. We gave everyone as much time as they needed to tell their stories. We had fifty people in the room, and we took around two and a half hours to get through everyone.
I primed the session by outlining several people who had inspired me, from historical figures (Churchill, surprise) to coaches (Pete Carroll, yes, I’m a homer) and a recent Nobel Prize winner for Peace (Malala Yousafzai.) I put the real spotlight on my wife, Esther. While you may roll your eyes at this potentially shameless attempt to score points at home, this was no self-serving (perhaps not entirely) ploy. My wife’s character, determination, heart and brilliance inspire me. So, I told her story.
The real impact comes when each person reveals their stories in ways that reflect what they value in very personal terms. Each story would build on the prior story. Some of the narratives brought the room to tears and some to raucous laughter. Interestingly, I’m reminded by the quote from, I think, Maya Angelou who said that you might forget what someone said, but you will never forget how they made you feel. I can still channel the way that afternoon made me feel. At bottom, I felt like a part of a great team, a group of people with common stories, values and perspectives, no matter any other differences we may have in background. If you ever need to really get to know a group of people and potentially break down barriers, this exercise may very well help you do that.
The framework for the discussion in Episode 3 is very straightforward: Who Inspires You?
Now, if you want to use this exercise in a team meeting, my suggestion would be to insist on everyone bringing a picture and telling their story. If you want to give people a time limit, that’s fine, but it might not be necessary. Depending on the size of your group, you can conduct the storytelling in subgroups first and then ask selected members to share stories with the whole group later on.
Of course, for this Motivation Lab session, a couple of observations:
· Remember not to edit or correct anyone as they tell their stories.
· This is an excellent way to break down barriers in case you need to do that in your organization!
· Be prepared with tissue as some stories will elicit tears of emotion!
· Make certain you have some individuals designated as facilitators who prepare for that role ahead of the meeting.
Finally, if you want to head over to my Facebook page, @iamjosephrupp, feel free to post a response, if you want, to this question.
Once again: the purpose of the Motivation Lab lies in telling inspiring stories which provoke self-reflection either individually or in a group setting. The questions provide a framework for discussion. My hope is that it provides an opportunity to build deeper awareness both personally and professionally. And the ultimate benefit should come from sharing our stories collectively.
Thanks for stopping by!