Team Building with Your Staff: 3 “Game-Changer” Activities

In my recent post, Team Building with Your Students, I shared a variety of ice-breakers, energizers, and team-builders that you can use with students. However, I would be remiss not to include that so much of student culture at a school is rooted in the staff culture. When a school’s staff culture is prioritized and strong, this models for students what a strong team looks and feels like, and it lays the foundation for the staff to work together in order to create a team mentality amongst the students.

With a slight change in the facilitator’s tone, and possibly a small shift in front-loading or framing, all of the activities in the previous post can also be used with adults. The best part about leading activities with school staff is being able to state the purpose of the activity as, “This is a possible strategy or activity you can use in your classroom.” From that point on, you are able to have adults participate in activities that, outside of a school setting, may be a bit juvenile or bizarre. Yet, with that messaging, you can have entire room of adults clapping and singing along to activities more clearly geared toward our youngest students (i.e., Hickety, Pickety, Bumblebee). This is excellent for school leaders, because we are then able to have our staff both participating in an activity that will indeed break the ice, and often erupting in laughter, as well as learn a new technique or activity to be used later with their own students.

However, because in this case, we are leading team building activities with adults, we do have an opportunity to dig a little deeper and push people a little farther outside of their comfort zone. Three consistent activities I have seen do just that are:

  • Who are you?
  • Three Islands
  • Amazing Race!

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WHO ARE YOU?

Time: 25 minutes

Group Size: 10-60 people       

Materials: Questions for facilitator

Directions & Activity (20 min)

Have group members partner with the person they know the LEAST in the room. They need to sit facing each other (knee to knee) and have enough space between pairs so that conversations from one pairing won’t be distracting to another pairing. Once group members are situated, give the following directions:

  • “Choose one person to be Partner A and one to be Partner B. Partner A raise your hand. Partner B raise your hand. Partner A – you are going to ask the question I’m about to disclose first. You ask the question and then Partner B, you will have 3 minutes to answer the question. B, you must continue to talk/share for the entire 3 minutes. If you stop speaking, Partner A will simply repeat the question. Partner A – you are NOT allowed to verbally respond at all. The only thing you can repeat is the question. The first question is: ‘Who are you?’ When I say go, Partner A, ask the question. Go.”
  • (After 3 minutes) “STOP. Partner B – it is now your turn. Same rules apply. You ask the question and only the question – no verbal responses to Partner A at all. If they stop speaking, simply repeat the question. Partner A – you must share for the entire 3 minutes. Ready, Partner B – Go.”
  • (After 3 minutes) “STOP. Partner A – back to you. Same rules apply, but now a different question. The question is: ‘Who do you pretend to be?’ When I say go, Partner A, ask the question. Go.”
  • (After 3 minutes) “STOP. Partner B – Same rules. When I say go, ask ‘Who do you pretend to be?’ Go.”
  • (After 3 minutes) “STOP. Partner A – Same rules. Final question and this time it’s a slightly different question. Partner A you are now going to ask, ‘Who do you think I am?’ Partner B you reply using everything you’ve just learned about Partner A in the last 12 minutes. Partner A – Go.”
  • (After 3 minutes) “STOP. Partner B – Same rules. When I say go, ask ‘Who do you think I am?’ Go.”
  • (After 3 minutes) “STOP. Now take the next 3 minutes to thank your partner and tie up any conversations that you didn’t finish.”

Facilitator Note: Sometimes I shrink the last question (“Who do you think I am”) down to 2 minutes per person depending on time.

Briefly Debrief the Activity (5 min)

Either discuss as a group or give people time to write their responses to:

  • Which question was hardest for you to answer?
  • Were there answers you were hesitant to say?
  • Which was hardest for you to ask?
  • Did any of your answers surprise you?
  • Did anything your partner say surprise you?
  • How do you feel after going through the exercise?
  • What have you learned about yourself?

Activity Summary

  • Partner up and directions
  • (Partner A) Who are you?
  • (Partner B) Who are you?
  • (Partner A) Who do you pretend to be?
  • (Partner B) Who do you pretend to be?
  • (Partner A) Who do you think I am?
  • (Partner B) Who do you think I am?
  • Thank and tie up any conversations.
  • Debrief

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THREE ISLANDS

Time: 45-60 minutes

Group Size: 24-72 people

Materials & Setup: (Both options below are fine)

  • Use rope to create 3 islands that are somewhat far apart (should take work to get people from one to the next and slightly farther than one’s ability to jump).
  • Island 1 will need 3 tennis balls and one small trash can or bucket
  • Island 2 will need 4 placemats
  • Island 3 will need 2 balls on 2 safety cones, an extra piece of rope, and one small trash can or bucket

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Instructions

Divide participants into either three or six groups (islands) and have them stand inside the rope on their “island.”

Depending on the amount of people, each group should have about 8-12 people in it. Three small groups (islands) make up one large group. If you have six groups, have them each play at the same time (two large groups).

Explain to the large group that each island is to accomplish a task given to them. Hand the objectives and rules to one person in each group and have them share the objectives/rules with their group, while also ensuring the other islands do NOT hear the instructions. Then blindfold participants on island number one.

Island 1

Objective: to get three balls in their can

Resources: three tennis balls

Supplies needed: three tennis balls, one trash can, blindfolds, rope to create the island.

Rules for island one:

  • You cannot step off the island onto the ground
  • Balls will automatically float back to your own island.
  • You may not remove your blindfold.
  • Only a blindfolded person can throw the balls into the can.
  • The can cannot be moved.
  • You can NOT see where the can is.

Island 2

Objective: to aid all the blindfolded people in their task and utilize available resources.

Resources: 4 placemats

Supplies needed: table placemats, rope to create the island

Rules for Island two:

  • Resources can’t touch the ground outside the island without a person touching them or they float to Island one.
  • People can’t touch the ground outside the island or they float to Island one.
  • You can’t use or touch any of your resources until people on Island 1 have completed their task.
  • The Islands can’t be moved.
  • You are MUTE for your entire activity.
  • Only the blindfolded people can touch the balls on their island.
  • Jumping from island to island is not allowed.

Island 3

Objective: to get everyone on your island, to get the balls on the cones into their can, to get untangled.

Resources: two tennis balls, piece of rope.

Supplies needed: two tennis balls, one can, two safety cones, piece of rope, rope to create island

Rules for Island three:

  • Resources can’t touch the ground outside the island without a person touching them or they float to Island one.
  • People can’t touch the ground outside the island or they float to Island one.
  • No one can come onto your island until you have completed all of your tasks.
  • You can only knock off tennis balls with the resources given to you.
  • Islands cannot be moved.
  • Jumping from island to island is not allowed.
  • Your team must start in a human knot.

Participants begin, and facilitators must bring everything that touches the water to island one (depending on time, the tennis balls on Island 3 can or cannot follow this rule).

Debrief/Reflection

  • What was going on at each island? What was the goal of each?
  • What conflicts did you experience during the course of the activity?
  • What communication took place during the activity?
  • Was any part of the process frustrating to some? Why?
  • Was the process different on each island?
  • What was the turning point of the exercise?
  • How can we apply the lessons learned to our work together?

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AMAZING RACE

This activity takes a lot of preparation, about half of a day to complete, and will vary depending on your city; however, it is by far, one of my favorite team building experiences for a staff. I do have to give credit to my dad, Jimmy Thompson, as he has been the ultimate game creator my entire life. From turning my senior prom party into an all-night Survivor event, to creating Amazing Races and Tri-Wizard Tournaments for every Christmas morning, he has outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted even Jeff Probst in my book.

Key Steps in Designing Your Amazing Race:

  • Determine your goals for the Amazing Race.
  • Ask external judges (or decide if anyone from your team or leadership staff will NOT participate and will instead be a judge) and plan a time to meet and train the judges.
  • Decide the teams (groups of people) that you want to bond.
  • Decide the course and pit stops. If the pit stops are too close together, groups will just be following each other and part of the fun is not knowing where the other people are because then groups don’t know the place they are in. It is okay to have them go back and forth across town.
    • Map out the times between locations online. If there were no delays whatsoever, how long does it take to get from Point A to Point B? Then, given this, do you need to add more or remove pit stops? Anticipate groups getting lost, etc. (TIP: You usually need to remove pit stops.)
    • Remember the number of cars that will need to park somewhere, so, pit stops should have ample parking.
  • Drive the entire course, time it, look for barriers or obstacles (parking situations) & change or remove any pit stops.
  • Write the clues and decide if you want them to do challenges in order to check-in at the pit stop. If so, plan the challenges.
    • Label each clue with the group number and stop number. Then rubber band the clues together by stop number.
  • Create a one-pager of directions for each judge

Running Your Amazing Race

  • The first pit stop has to be the same for everyone to go over the rules and expectations.
    • Disclaimer: obey the laws (parking, driving, etc). If you choose to disregard the laws, that’s on you.
    • Remind folks to take time to pause and enjoy the adventure.
    • If wearing something that represents your school or company, remind groups that they are publicly representing the school, so respect time, place and people over competition.
  • Ideally you have two pitstop judges.
  • The plan always breaks down somewhere. Be ready to change something up. Decide which goal of this adventure is most important and try to lean on that goal when changing things.
    • Example: This is taking too long. Need to eliminate a stop.

For the Amazing Baton Rouge Race Adventure that I created last summer, I have posted all resources here. For ours, I combined the idea of the Amazing Race with the ideas from Questival, which if you have never done, I highly recommend. So, in addition to the points earned for which place teams arrived at the pit stops, they could earn just as many points for the random activities throughout the day or in between pit stops! The videos, pictures, and memories were a blast!

As you embark on creating team-builders for your staff, remember the ultimate goal of creating a strong and cohesive adult culture. Ensure your activities are purposeful and encourage your staff members to step outside their comfort zones and rely on one another to successfully follow the instructions.

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meghan thompsonMeghan Thompson joined Teach For America in 2008 and began her career in education as a 9th-12th Special Education Teacher in Charlotte, NC. In 2010, she was a member of the founding team at Henderson Collegiate (a school that has ranked in the top 3.5% of all NC public schools for the past 4 years). In 2014, she was a member of the founding team at Democracy Prep Baton Rouge and throughout her time at DPBR served as a middle school ELA teacher, middle school math teacher and the Middle School Campus Director.

 

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