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Team Building Continued



Four Team Self Awareness Discussion Activities

High performing teams have a high level of group self-awareness. Four team self-awareness discussion activities are presented below: VIII. Core Team Dynamics, IX. Team Snapshot, X. Enduring Values, and XI. Functional Team Strengths

 VIII. Core Team Dynamics: Team Self-Awareness Discussion #1 Self-aware teams are tuned in to three core dynamics: 1. The team is connected to a team identity, 2. The team is connected to new information, and 3. The team is connected with all parts of the organization.  Below are two discussion questions for each of these dynamics.  It is often helpful for a team to discuss these questions to help solidify who they are as a group. 

  1. As a team, what do we stand for?

  2. What do we aspire to become?

  3. What else do we need to know?

  4. Where can we seek out new information?

  5. Who do we need to involve to achieve our team goals?

  6. Are there ways for our team to work differently with others in the organization?

  IX. Team Snapshot: Team Self-Awareness Discussion #2

  • If we were asked to identify the three key factors that led to our team success this year, we would select the following…

  • If asked to capture the essence of our team in one clear and meaningful statement, it would be the following…

  • We understand that our team is rooted in meaningful values.  If asked to summarize what this means we would offer the following statement…

X. Enduring Values: Team Self-Awareness Discussion #3   Members of one  high performing team developed a slogan for themselves which they posted in all their offices.  The slogan read “Dynamic action built on enduring values.”  As a team, discuss what this slogan means and how it connects to high performance and team quality.  Then develop a slogan for your own team.

  XI. Foundational Team Strengths: Team Self-Awareness Discussion #4   Use the discussion questions below to identify team strengths and limitations.

  • Are we good at confronting and eliminating team weaknesses?

  • Are we good at seizing opportunities?

  • Do we hold together when facing complex problems?

  • Do we work hard at building the strength and endurance of our team?

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XII. Action Research

Author: Tom Siebold is a writer and business consultant in Minneapolis.  He is also co-owner of Collegegrazing.com--a site to help college bound teens to learn more about what they need and want in a college.

Objective (s): To focus a team's energy on a challenge or problem.

How the author has used this activity:  Sometimes teams spend a great deal of time discussing issues or topics without the necessary background or information.  This activity attempts to structure an organized approach to researching a topic.  I have also used this activity when a team is deeply divided on an issue.  Action research seems to help them find some level of common ground.

Activity Description When a team faces a challenge where the solution is not readily apparent, it may be a good exercise to engage the team in action research. Here is one way to organize the exercise…

Define the challenge, discuss it, and then divide it into smaller pieces.  In other words, break the challenge down into subcategories, questions to be answered, or required data.  Take each of the brainstormed parts and divide them between team members.  Depending on the topic, you may want to take the team into the computer lab and have them research together.  This way team members can give each other leads, check resource validity, and help each other interpret the information.

At a subsequent team meeting, each team member reports what he or she has found.  This collective research information then will be the basis for ongoing action and decision making. 

Options: Not everyone has to research.  The team can designate team members to do the work.  

Added thoughts or considerations:  One important lesson in this exercise is to talk about the validity of research sources: What invalidates a source?  Does a source reflect a particular bias?  Is the source cross referenced and validated?  Does the source have its own sources listed and do they check out? etc.

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XIII. Choosing the Best Options 

Author: W.Marty Marzolf has been an executive coach and organizational consultant for over twenty years. A former corporate executive and a black belt martial artist, Marzolf has helped many organizations increase their productivity through the knowledge and application of martial arts principles.


Objective (s): To help a team or organization evaluate alternatives.

How the author has used this exercise: In my opinion, productive teams have learned to exercise a high level of discipline when decision-making and problem solving. A team can discipline itself by using exercises like this.  As is often my method, I used a design group (this time with a senior marketing team) to determine the criteria to be used before the full team meets.

Activity Description: After clarifying the problem or issue under consideration, I give the team time to brainstorm openly for ideas.  After they have generated an unedited list I tell them to narrow down their choices and focus on only a few. I then introduce a pre-established set of focusing filters created by the design team.  Groups then use these filters as a way to evaluate and narrow the brainstorming ideas.  

The filters that I use are typically like those listed below.  Note, however, there are many that can apply, depending on the organization or team:

·         Cost---is it too high or within our budget?

·         Time---can we complete the project by the target date?

·         Availability---do we have the resources in house?

·         Practicality---is it reasonable approach?

Options:  It can be very helpful to have handouts made up with the criteria, including a scoring method for each (one to five). Each group can report results based on the total scoring for each option being considered.

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XIV. Stop Doing List

Author: W. Marty Marzolf has been an executive coach and organizational consultant for over 20 years. A former corporate manager, and a black belt martial artist, Marzolf has helped many organizations increase their productivity through the knowledge and application of martial arts principles.

Objective (s): To apply the martial arts strategy of “best use of energy” to help team prioritize activities.

How the author has used this exercise: I often find that organizations simply take on too much…or as in the words of one CEO I was working with, “we put too much on our plates.” This exercise helps a team or organization consider how time and effort (thus energy) is being used;  to consider whether they are in the words of Peter Drucker “focusing on the right things rather than placing too much emphasis on doing things right.” The point is to eliminate activities that no longer add value.

Activity Description: Whether working with teams or an organization, I almost always use a design team to help insure that any tool I implement is “tailored” to best fit their needs. Generally I introduce the Stop Doing List in the following way: “Undoubtedly you have made hundreds of ‘to do’ lists. Perhaps it is time to generate a ‘stop doing’ list; a list of outmoded procedures to discard.”

The questions developed by the design team are then introduced. A partial list created by one operations team is listed below:

·         What tasks could we simplify or eliminate without affecting quality?

·         What activities do we justify with the phrase, “That’s how we’ve always done it.”

·         What methods do we currently use that don’t work well at all?

I close the exercise by writing the responses on a flip chart and asking the group to create a list of “inaction” items. Make sure to specify what the team or organization will stop doing, who will stop doing it, and when they will stop.

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XV. Building Trust

Author: Bill Gjetson is a consultant and coach specializing in leadership development for Senior Leaders, Managers, and High Potential employees.  His areas of interest are action learning and storytelling.

Objective(s):  Use this activity to initiate a trust-building dialogue in a group or team

How the author has used this exercise: I have used this activity in the initial stages of group formation to highlight the importance of creating a climate of trust and acceptance among members.

Activity Description: The facilitator starts by explaining that one way to start building trust is to enable group members to share their own personal thoughts and feelings about what they find difficult to talk about in a group setting.  In order to initiate this process, the first step is to ask each member to complete a questionnaire regarding how much risk they would feel in each of the following situations:

·         Asking help from others in addressing a work-based problem

·         Asking for feedback from group members regarding something I have done

·         Making a statement that might anger someone else in the group

·         Expressing a difference of opinion or a conflict I have with another group member

·         Giving another member critical feedback

·         Being the center of attention of the group

·         Expressing confusion or uncertainty in front of other group members

·         Expressing dissatisfaction with the group leader

·         Admitting I was wrong about something I said or did

·         Admitting to the group I was wrong about an idea I had or an initiative I promoted

Participants rate their responses on a three-point “risk” scale (1 = Low Risk, 2 = Some Risk, 3 = High Risk).  When they have completed the questionnaire they are paired up and process their findings with their partner—how they rated themselves, their reasoning, what they found out about themselves, what they would like to change.

The facilitator then reconvenes the full group and asks each pair to report on their findings.  The full group is then asked, based on the reports, what steps need to be taken in future meetings, to encourage and sustain an on-going open dialogue.

Options:  The group can be asked to use the information reported out, to establish written norms for the group to follow, in all their subsequent meetings. 

Added thoughts or considerations: This is just an initial exercise.  Individual members may set specific goals for themselves to increase their willingness to be open and authentic in a group setting, and create a contract with another member of the group to provide on-going feedback and support, to help achieve the developmental goals. 

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XVI Sports Team Analogy

Author: Bill Gjetson is a consultant and coach specializing in leadership development for Senior Leaders, Managers, and High Potential employees.  His areas of interest are action learning and storytelling.

Objective(s):  The purpose is to enable a team to come to a consensus on how interdependent team members are when working to accomplish team goals.

How the author has used this exercise:  This activity is useful when working with teams during their start-up phase or when the team has gotten stuck and is not sure how to proceed.  Once a team is clear on the degree of interdependence that exits, they can make decisions on how they want to organize to accomplish their goals.

Activity Description:   The team is divided into two or three sub-groups.  Each sub-group is given a description of 4 different sports teams and is asked to decide which analogy best describes their team and why.  Each group is to come up with one answer and explanation—everyone in the group must agree.  The groups have 10 to 15 minutes to complete the task.  The four teams:

·         Golf Team: members all function independently of each other, working to promote as high an individual score as possible so that when in dividual scores are combined into team scores  their team wins.

·         Baseball Team: Members are relatively independent of one another and while all members are required to be on the field together, they virtually never interact together all at the same time.

·         Football Team: Members are divided into three sub-teams—offense, defense, and special teams.  When the sub-team is on the field, every player is involved in every play, but each has a set of specialized skills required by their individual position.  But the teamwork required is centered in the sub-team, not the total team.

·         Basketball Team: All members play on the team as a whole.  Every player is involved in all aspects of the game, offense and defense, and all must pass, run, guard, and shoot.  When a substitute comes in, all must play with the new person.  True teamwork is like a basketball team where division of effort is meshed into a single coordinated result: where the whole is more than, and different from, the sum of its individual parts.

  The full team is then assembled and one individual is randomly selected  from each group to report on the group’s conclusions.   The facilitator then leads a discussion until all sub-groups can agree on which sports team fits their team. 

Once this task is complete, then the information obtained can be used either organizationally (“knowing what we now know about our interdependence, how do we want to organize?”) or diagnostically (“knowing what we now know about our interdependence, what insights does this give us to understand why we are having trouble functioning as a team?”)

Added thoughts or considerations:  The Sports Analogy concept can be used when training Team Managers on how to organize and facilitate the teams they are responsible for managing. 

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XVII. “What I Have Learned” 

Author: Sara Carney.  Sara works with non profits to train both employees and volunteers.


Objective (s): To isolate interpersonal strategies that help build strong teams.

How the author has used this exercise: I will use this activity to help a team establish ground rules for working together.      

Activity Description: To tee up this exercise I first ask the participants to state their years of experience.  Then I ask them then to focus this collective experience by sharing a key lesson that they have learned about working effectively with people in work place groups. This usually draws out some key interpersonal strategies that I list on a flip chart.  When they are done identifying what they have learned, it is an easy step to developing core team norms and establishing fundamental ground rules for working together as a team.

Added thoughts or considerations:  I also use this activity to help a team work through team issues.  It frequently gives a team an ideal picture of how a well functioning team should behave.

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XVIII. Peak Team Experiences 

Author: Sara Carney.  Sara works with non profits to train both employees and volunteers.


Objective (s): To help teams articulate how they should work together effectively.

How the author has used this exercise: I often use this exercise to help new teams find a working definition of they are going to function together.

Activity Description: To set up the exercise I ask each participant to estimate the number of groups in which they have participated over the last five years.  This number should not be restricted to work groups or teams, but also include groups, teams, or committees at church, their neighborhood, at clubs, athletics, etc.  Usually the number surprises the participants.  Then I ask them to relate a “peak experience” that they have had in any one of these groups.  A peak experience is defined here as some action, change, insight, or solution that the group experienced as a team.  As the participants relate their examples, I ask them to explain why they thought it worked so well: In short, what was the “magic” ingredient that made it work?

When they are done, I ask them to discuss how they can use the information to support their work on this team. 

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XIX. Team Expectations 

Author: T. Leonard.  T. Leonard is a business consultant and coach in the Twin Cities. 


Objective (s): To clarify the relationship between team leader and followers

How the author has used this exercise: I have used this approach in both leadership and team building sessions.  Successful team leaders and teams have a clear set of expectations that define how the team operates.

Activity Description: I begin by outlining five vital team expectations.  Then I ask the group to elaborate on each expectation.  In other words, discuss what this expectation means in their work environment.  Then I have them brainstorm for strategies to strengthen each expectation. See the chart that follows:



Strategies to Strengthen

1. Team members are expected to be contributors



2. Team members are expected to communicate honestly with one another



3. Team members are expected to cooperate with one another



4. Team members are expected to problem solve together



5. Team members are expected to be learners




Added thoughts or considerations:  After the group has wrangled with this exercise, I try to move them toward the following conclusion—“In a team culture, leaders, guided by their principles of involvement, work to help team members find a level of confidence, trust, and cooperation so that they can achieve high levels of production.  Leaders then can’t rely exclusively on pressure, rules, and punishments to inspire a coordinated work team.  Rather they must become principled leaders who set performance expectations that allow the team to take responsibility for achieving success."


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XX Appreciations Exercise

Author: Nick Heap is a facilitator of development and change. This is with individuals, teams, between teams and with large groups and organizations. This exercise is printed with permission from Nick Heap.  

Objective (s): To strengthen a team by sharing individual strengths

How the author has used this exercise: In a good learning event, people give of their best and often show more of themselves  than they do otherwise. So everyone has a good insight into each other's strengths. When you hear about your strengths from others and acknowledge them to yourself, this builds your motivation and self-confidence.

If you do this at the end of a workshop, you go away feeling good about yourself and your colleagues too.

Activity Description: This version works best in groups of six to twelve; outside these limits you will probably want to adapt it, perhaps by breaking into smaller groups. It is very easy and sounds much more complicated than it is.

  1. Have people sit in a close circle, including the facilitator(s).

  2. Explain the value of feedback about strengths, as above.

  3. Give everyone a sheet of A4 paper, including the facilitators.

  4. Ask them to write their own name on the bottom of the paper CLEARLY.

  5. Pass paper to the person on the left

  6. That person writes a phrase or two or a few words, at the top of the page, to describe what she or he has most valued about the person whose name is on the bottom of the sheet.

  7. Fold the paper neatly so the comments are covered

  8. Pass the paper on to the next person and repeat steps 5,6 and 7 until everyone has had a go and has the paper back with his or her own name on the bottom.

  9. Everyone reads their own comments quietly.

  10. Ask each person to mark the one he or she likes the best.

  11. Ask people to stand up in a close circle, and ask everyone to say the strength she or he liked using positive words like "I am...." or "I have...."

  12. Remind people to take their pieces of paper home and treasure them.

We had a very dour manager called Tom on one course. Some months later I was chatting to him. Out of the blue he pulled open a drawer and found his piece of paper. He said, "You know I was very cynical about that exercise, but every time I am a bit down I look at the paper and it lifts my spirits!

Acknowledgement: This is an adaptation of an exercise I learned from Barry Hopson and Mike Scally.

Added thoughts or considerations:  I have used this a lot and have a lot of these "warm fuzzies" in my files. This is good!

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XXI Strength Building

Author: Nick Heap is a facilitator of development and change. This is with individuals, teams, between teams and with large groups and organizations. This exercise is printed with permission from Nick Heap

Objective (s): To build team/group cohesion.

How the author has used this exercise: People develop in confidence and self esteem as they discover their achievements and skills are valuable. They appreciate the depths in other people and want to know more. The shared and rather intense experience builds group cohesion. People enjoy it too.

Activity Description: The participants are in a small face-to-face group. In a larger group when time is short, demonstrate the process with one person in front of the group. Then break people into groups of four and five.

Each person has a turn as the focus of the group.

  1. She or he describes an event in which she or he achieved something they felt good about. It does not have to about work. Everyone else listens intently.

  2. Each group member tells the person above two or three strengths she must have used to achieve it. The person adds one or two of his own.

  3. The person states the one strength of all the ones she has heard that she /he likes the best. If people are ready they may own this by going round the group and saying to each person in turn "I am resourceful!"

  4. The facilitator may encourage further growth by encouraging her/him to use a clear and positive tone of voice and posture with no trace of self-deprecation.

After everyone has had a turn, ask people how they feel about themselves and the group and what they have learned.

Added thoughts or considerations:  Use this exercise for building mutual trust.

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  XXII Interpersonal Connections 

Author: Sara Carney.  Sara works with non profits to train both employees and volunteers.


Objective (s): To help teams identify productive interpersonal behaviors.

How the author has used this exercise: I like to use this activity to get a team thinking about how they work together.

Activity Description: Write the following terms on the board: collaboration, collegiality, and cooperation.  Have the group discuss how each of the terms are different and how each of the terms works within successful teams.  This should set a tone for the development of norms or ground rules of how they want to interact.  As a full group, identify seven interpersonal team norms.  List them. 


   XXIII Team Expectations 

Author: Sara Carney.  Sara works with non profits to train both employees and volunteers.


Objective (s): To identify key team expectations.

How the author has used this exercise: I use this simple activity when a team has some tension around their roles and their expectations of one another.

Activity Description: Have the group develop a team expectations checklist—“what we expect from each other and our performance as a team.”  If you want, you can have one checklist for individual members and another for the team as a whole. 

Added thoughts or considerations:  You can vary the format—have them work in pairs, small groups, or even individually.   

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