Spontaneous success

A few weeks back, a partner and I conducted a team building exercise for a diverse group of mid-level managers spread over a wide region for a large organization. We needed to fill a gap in the program with an activity that built and demonstrated trust in a climate of organizational change. It also needed to be:

  • Fun
  • Quick
  • Different than the usual games and events (and from activities like Helium Stick and Tennis Ball Madness already on the agenda)
  • Voluntary
  • A learning exercise
  • A little bit risky, but not risk participants' personal safety or emotional well-being

Searches of existing "safe bets" came up empty, so we devised something new, based on our experience in team building and on our knowledge of the customer. We called it "Fill the Gap."

We asked for a volunteer, telling the group nothing about what the volunteer would have to do. We promised only that the person would not get hurt or embarrassed. Immediately a hand went up. Let's call our first volunteer "Mike."

Mike, per our instructions, struck a pose in the center of the group, imagining himself in a completely different environment, surrounded by people of his own imagining. He did not describe his imagined setting to anyone. Instead, the rest of the group wrote down their own impression of what they saw.

Then we added a second volunteer, "Mary," who joined Mike's scene - or, rather, the scene she imagined he was in, adopting her own complementary pose - "fill the gap" in the scene (hence the title of the game). The rest of the group again wrote down their impressions of the new scene.

We added a third volunteer, then two more, and eventually got the scene up to seven or eight people, each time pausing to reflect on how the scene evolved. The group then discussed how it felt to have "their" scene change with each added participant. Of great interest to me was how Mike felt, watching "his" environment change rapidly around him, outside of his control.

At the end of the day, we asked the group which activities they liked the best, fully expecting the ever-popular "Helium Stick" or "Tennis Ball Madness" to carry the day. To our surprise, they liked "Fill the Gap" best.

"It really illustrated what we go through when the organization changes," Mary observed. "You have to let go of what is and accept that other people are going to make it different. And it was really fun!"

My two take-aways of the day:

  1. Teamwork sometimes is a matter of trusting individuals to make unique contributions without trying to control them.
  2. Simple, spontaneous games can be very rewarding - without sacrificing the fun.

 

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