When you think about ways to team build, you often think about people getting really personal with one another. But, often, many or most members in a group are not comfortable with these sorts of activities. That doesn’t mean you cannot build a strong, inter-connected, and trusting team. In order to be effective in your efforts, you need to think about this guiding principle: individuals have to trust and understand one another in order to perform well in a team. In other words, if people don't understand one another – how they think and feel – they cannot interact well.
Having a facilitator will help you get the most out of these conversations; this person can create a shared understanding for your team and give ideas of how to apply it moving forward. If your goal is to build team and trust, you should have some sort of component at all the meetings and it should be systemic in your organization. If you don't focus on it, conflict, resistance to others' ideas, and other negativity can creep into the team. Culture change is based on picking a few things and sticking to them; intentionally creating opportunities to connect and self-disclose at each meeting will bolster productivity.
So, how can you build that trust without having a group hug? Here are some ideas that have been successful for me while facilitating team-building experiences.
Ask everyone to pull out their cell phones. Tell them to "pick a photo that makes you happy and share it." If you have a lot of time for this activity, do it individually so that each person shares with the whole group. If you have less time, break participants into smaller groups and have them share that way. The great thing about this activity is that everyone likes to share and talk about their kids, vacation, a hobby, etc., and everyone has photos of these things on their phones.
If you don't have a lot of time, but want to add in something for an icebreaker, pick a question related to the meeting's topic and then have people to attach personal meaning to it. For example, if your meeting is about the goals and objectives for the next quarter, have participants discuss what they are proud of from last quarter – both professionally and personally – and what they see as challenges. With this activity, no one is standing on a ledge falling backwards on the team, but people will gain an understanding of one another.
Have a conversation about what they need from others in the room – what is my role, what are my challenges, how can you help me? Gives perspective on others' place in the company – how they are feeling (workload, team construct, etc.), what they are dealing with, etc.
If you suspect that people might be resistant to teambuilding activities, tell them what is going to happen before the meeting so that they know what to expect. In the moment, always give people the right to pass because you won't gain anything by forcing the issue, but you can give gentle suggestions. If someone does not want to participate or share, remind them that there is a difference between personal and private. You are not asking them to disclose anything private, only to share something they are comfortable with that will help others get to know them better. Always connect with that person after the meeting to debrief with them to help them understand why you did the activity and ease them into expectations for the next time.
I'd love to learn more about your meeting challenges and how you can create transformative meetings. Feel free to schedule a time to chat with me one-on-one.