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When I do my WOW customer experience workshops I like to include games for the group to play. There is a certain dynamic that occurs when people organize themselves for an activity as opposed to a work assignment.  Afterwards, as we discuss what happened and why, they tend to be more open to the idea of using those skills again. Their focus is simply on completing the task, not on worrying about what others may think. Their perspective is based on solving the challenge – they only want to find the missing piece of the puzzle. From this, they often gain insight and like the light bulb they brighten immediately with the energy that comes from finding the solution. The only time I see any difficulty from a group in solving the challenge of the game is when there is an overwhelming amount of negative energy in the workplace.

team building

Why is it we get all caught up in gossip and negative energy? Most of us know it takes more muscles to frown than smile; we understand that people want to be recognized and encouraged, not judged or scolded. And yet, it does happen that we work in environments that isolate individuals and thwart the efforts of those trying to work as a team. The status quo becomes the only standard anyone uses, and people become afraid to suggest change as it is like “rocking the boat”. I once heard someone say in that environment,

“Change is great…. you go first.”

Teams allow people to use the strengths of others, and improve on their own weaknesses through shared learning and mentoring. They encourage everyone to work together through the challenges so they aren’t failures but just obstacles. That also means everyone tends to share in the success of the team, too. In a positive team environment, peer pressure is used to encourage people to push past their limits and learn more (in a negative environment, team members are told to stay in their place and often reminded that they have no authority).

If human beings communicated well enough on a regular basis so as to be crystal clear with messages, then the authoritative approach might work well more often. But generally the borders around each person’s area of responsibility are not drawn clearly enough and customers end up standing in no man’s land at some point. That’s when they complain, and become dissatisfied, and stop supporting the business. This approach works well in a military style operation where enforcement of regulations is of tantamount importance. It doesn’t work well in customer service environments where people want interaction and the market requires innovation and feedback.

Let your team play a game and see how it goes. Do they organize themselves, or wait for permission to start even after you blow the starting whistle? Is everyone involved, or are there people at the sidelines who are not engaged? If your team has a positive approach to their work, they won’t be worrying about why they should do something – they just do what seems to be the right thing to solve the challenge, or “win” the game.

toxic waste

There are lots of games out there. One I like for small to medium groups that can be played inside in a boardroom or even a large open office is Toxic Waste. This game requires group thinking and involvement and it has many possible solutions to the challenge. You can check out the variations on the game instructions if you want to highlight certain team-building aspects or leadership qualities. Try it with your team and let me know how you do!

(Thanks to the team at Wilderdom for their wisdom on this and many other team building exercises!)

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