How to Use Team Building Activities in the Classroom

How to Use Team Building Activities in the Classroom

This week’s post is dedicated to teachers everywhere. You are a hard-working bunch, and I admire what you do and the dedication you bring day in and day out. I have a lot of gratitude and respect for educators. I consider myself an educator; although, not in the traditional sense.

Here are some suggestions on how to use different kinds of team building exercises in the classroom. I’ll also include some specific names and ideas of activities you can use, as well as some links where you can go to find more detailed instructions.

Most team building activities are designed to be done in smaller groups (10-12), but there are always ways to modify them. I would encourage if at all possible to do these outside. Allow your students a chance to take a break from the classroom and enjoy a change of scenery.

Set Your Goals

Before doing any kind of team building activity, I always recommend setting goals. This will help you be very focused and intentional about the activity and its purpose. Questions to ask when settings goals for these exercises should include:

  • What is the purpose of this activity?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What do you want the end result to be?
  • How will your team (or class) be different when they’re done?

It’s important to be intentional about these activities from the beginning. Although you can do activities just for fun, I find that the more purposeful you are, the better the activity will go, the more the students will get out of it, and the more effective they will be in the long run. It does take a bit more time on the front and back end (because you also want to make sure you debrief the activities, including icebreaker activities [link]).

Icebreakers

Icebreakers are great activities to use for your classroom. There are all kinds of icebreaker exercises that you can use. They are good for having your students get to know each other (and you) better. They are fun and high energy, so be aware that they might get your students engaged but some will also be loud and spirited.

Depending on your goals, there are different categories of icebreakers that you can use. There are problem-solving icebreakers, get to know you games, and more. Check out a few problem-solving activities here. [link]

Icebreaker Ideas
Group Juggle 

Groups of students form circles of 12-15 each and attempt to toss a number of objects around the circle without dropping them.  There are a few helpful suggestions:

  • Say the name of the person you are tossing to before tossing
  • Toss across the circle (don’t just hand it to someone next to you)
  • Underhand tosses only
  • Everyone gets it once, except the person who started.  The game starts and ends with him/her.

Name Samurai

Using a foam sword, students sit in a circle with legs extended. The “samurai” stands in the middle trying to tag the people speaking. Someone in the circle starts by saying their name and then “to [another person’s name], so it would sound like, “Jeff to Amy”, “Amy to Molly”, “Molly to Braden”, etc. The player who gets tagged while speaking then becomes the Samurai. Great activity for learning names!

Man – Gun – Bear

Think the full-body version of rock-paper-scissors. Divide the group into pairs (perfect for a large group). The pairs start back to back and after the facilitator counts to 3, they jump around assuming one of the 3 characters (man, gun or bear). Karate man beats the gun-slinger, gun-slinger beats the bear, and the bear beats the karate man, and if you tie, both die! Play until there’s one winner.

Team Initiatives

Team initiatives are great for getting groups of students working together to achieve a common goal. You can focus on leadership, communication, problem solving, and more. These challenges can vary from short 10-15 minutes problems or longer (30-45 minutes or more) exercises that require some planning.

Marshmallows & Knives

Using the large marshmallows and knives (like you would find in your school cafeteria), teams must figure out a way to keep the knives off the table using only the materials given (just those 2 items). This is another great problem-solving and brainstorming challenge!

Tallest Tower

Using strands of dry spaghetti, small marshmallow, and a roll of tape, teams must create the tallest free-standing tower possible in 10 minutes. For an extra challenge, give all the teams less time. {You can also do this with a roll of aluminum foil and see how high they can go).

Hula Hoop Hut Relay

Teams use 6 hula hoops to create a “hut” and then all team members must pass through the hoops without letting the hut fall down. Want to make it more challenging? Require each team member to start through a different opening or have the team member passing through be blindfolded!

team building exercises for students

 

(photo courtesty of Flickr, Create-Learning, no changes made)

Helium stick

Teams figure out how to lower a lightweight dowel rod with just their forefingers. The crazy thing is – it wants to go up instead of down! Great for communication and leadership!

Icebreaker and Team Building Resources

Teampedia is a collection of team building activities and icebreaker ideas.  It’s a great collection that is searchable by activity name and category.  You can also add team building activities here if you know one that’s not in the database.

www.teampedia.net 

Playmeo is also a collection of team building activities, icebreakers, group games, and more.  The difference is that many of the activities also have a video to accompany them, and they also offer a monthly or yearly subscription that allows you to access ALL of their activities, videos, and awesomeness!

www.playmeo.com (affiliate link)

 

What team building activity will you use with your students?  What other team building activities have you used?  Let me know in the comments below. 

There’s No “I” in Team (But there is “me”)

There’s No “I” in Team (But there is “me”)

You’ve probably heard the saying.  You may have even said it.  I think it’s quite funny.  It’s probably just my weird sense of humor, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I know what the saying means, and what people who say it are referring to.  There’s no room for selfishness when it comes to being a part of a team, just as there’s no space for egotistical and narcissistic behavior.  I’m sure you’ve worked with people like that, as I have, and it makes for a very tough work environment.

All teams are made up of individuals, and there is an individual responsibility to make the team work. What, then is an individual’s obligation to the team, and where does individual effort come into play?  Here are several things that make a team player effective.

Team Players Buy into the Vision

A leader needs to set a clear and compelling vision, but the team members must buy into that vision, and know that the success of the team is dependent on their commitment to it and their work towards it.  Team members buy into the vision and dedicate themselves to knowing their role in the vision and doing their part to accomplish it.

Team Players Serve Others

Part of what makes a great team is a willingness on the part of team members to really serve each other.  It’s amazing to be a part of a group that serves each other – not out of selfish motives or a “payback” attitude, but just out of a desire to see the team function well.

Teams who have members that function like this grow an atmosphere of trust that yells, “I’ve got your back!”  It is evident not only to the members of the team, but to everyone this team comes into contact with.

Team Players Help Others Succeed

This is similar to the characteristic above, but goes a step further.  You can serve someone without helping them succeed.  I believe team members should be each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  Often, we get into this competitive mode (which can serve its purpose), but more often than not it keeps people from collaborating effectively.

Seek others success, and you will be a success.  Find ways you can really help others succeed.  Go the extra mile to assist your team mates.

Team Players Know Their Strengths

I’m a big proponent of strength-based work theory.  There’s too much to go into in this blog post, but the main premise is that people do better when they work in their areas of strength and minimize their work in weak areas.  (As opposed to focusing on improving weak areas).

There are plenty of personality and strength assessment tools to use. One of my favorites is the StrengthsFinder 2.0.  It’s a very quick assessment that shows you your top 5 strengths out of 34.  Based on the results, a leader can shift team members around to work in their area(s) of giftedness.

Check out the Team Building Resources page for more personality assessments and strength assessment resources I recommend.

Team Players Ask for Help

Everyone needs help at some point.  No one person can do it or know it all.  When I was working with students at a high school, we would talk about their grades and if they needed tutoring, I would tell them, “Don’t suffer in silence.”  Meaning, there are plenty of resources for help.  There’s no need to suffer.

The same is true for a team.  Even if you’re not part of a team where everyone willingly helps each other out, you probably know someone who has the answer or resource you need to be more effective.  Don’t be afraid to ask.

Team Players are Constant Learners

The strongest team players that I’ve worked with do not need to be told to learn.  They are constant learners and are self-directed in this area.  You can tell the “hungry” team mates from those just wanting a pay check or recognition.  Typically, they are quick to take the credit and last to do the work.  Interesting, yes?

The hungry learners ask you what they can read and do and the best way to grow.  They see you as a mentor and are also hard-workers.  They know their strengths and also know where they need to grow.  They might now always know how to do something or how to improve, but you can tell that they want to and that they are loyal to the team and to you.  These are the ones to pour yourself into and invest in.  It will pay off huge dividends!

If you work on these, then you will be an effective “I” in the team, or “me”, whichever you prefer!  🙂 And, hopefully, we can change that saying together!

What else do you see as an effective characteristic of a team player?  What area does your team need to work on?  Let me know in the comments below.  

Photo credit: Big Stock Photo by muzsy, Stock Photo 40606411

Developing a Compelling Vision Statement for Your Team

Developing a Compelling Vision Statement for Your Team

Creating and defining a vision statement for your team can be tough.  What do you include?  What do you exclude?  How long or short do you make it?  There are a lot of thoughts that go into defining the vision for your team or business.

Here are some tried-and-true methods for not only defining your vision, but for developing a compelling vision statement for your team that will get them motivated, empower them to work, and engage them and your organization for success.

The Vision Statement Must Be Clear.

Clarity around a vision and goal is one of the things that separates high-performing teams from ineffectively functioning teams, according to the authors of Teamwork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong. A sense of mission is a characteristic of both top-performing teams and leaders.

Mission can be defined as a vision of a future state that inspires action.  The vision has to be clear.  People want to know where they are going, what they need to do to get there, and what’s in it for them.  Beyond money, bonuses, or tangible rewards, people will get behind a challenging goal that is bigger than themselves

Think about the teams you’ve either led or been on.  When there was a clear vision, were you more or less productive?  More or less stressed?  When a clear vision is defined, it is much easier to know when you’re on and off course and know what you need to do to adjust.

The Vision Statement Must Be Compelling.

In additional to clarity, a vision must also be compelling.  It must drive production and goals. Each project and every goal work to further the vision of the organization.

A compelling vision encourages risk.

This kind of vision encourages risk, not perfection.  Teams are encourage to develop risky goals to meet risky objectives.  (This is not risk for the sake of risk, but a mission that drives teams and people to risk more than they would otherwise.)

A compelling vision inspires ownership.

A vision like this assumes people are capable of not only working toward the mission, but also contributing ways to achieve the vision.  People want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  A compelling vision produces the idea that the person’s work is meaningful beyond just the paycheck.

A compelling vision empowers teams to action.

Have you ever been so engrossed in completing a project that you totally lost track of time?  A compelling vision can do that, especially if it makes a difference.  People love to rally around a cause.  It creates a sense of urgency, moving people to take action.

The Vision Statement Must Be Communicated.

You might think that since you created a clear and compelling vision statement that everyone would think about it and obsess over it as much as you do.  You would be wrong.  For most people, the vision statement must be communicated on a consistent basis.

In order to communicate your vision statement effectively, it must be short enough to memorize, but long enough to include key components. For example, a local school district’s vision statement is: “To graduate every student prepared for success beyond high school.” This is a very compelling mission statement.  It is short enough to memorize.  It is also not too specific regarding “success”.  Will success look the same for every student graduating high school?  Of course not; however, this district desires to achieve success with every student, regardless of how that looks.

Vision statements are great if they are communicated.  They are fairly useless if they are not.  People forget.  They get busy.  Team members get distracted with the day to day tasks and tend to lose sight of the overall vision.  Team leaders need to keep the vision in front of people.  Remind them why they are doing the day-to-day tasks.  Leaders remind people of their purpose in the grand scheme of things and why each person is important to the overall vision.

Ways to communicate your vision:

– Talk about it.

– Celebrate team members who embody it.

– Display it everywhere.

– Invite dialogue around it.

– Get feedback from others.

– Create “calls to action” around it.

The Vision Statement Must Be a Commitment.

To have a vision statement is one thing.  To be committed to it is altogether quite different.  Most companies these days have a mission or vision statement.  How many in the company know what it is?  Or seek to work by it on a daily basis?

The best teams and leaders know the vision statement and are committed to seeing it lived out day by day.  It’s part of the DNA of the organization and each team and team member strive to work towards the vision.  Every goal that is set and every project undertaken is driven to fulfill the vision.

How else do you create a clear and compelling vision statement for your team?  What ways do you communicate and commit to it?