Team Building Exercises – Creativity

Strengthening Creative Thinking in Your Team

Team Building Exercises – Creativity - Strengthening Creative Thinking in Your Team

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JohnathanAustinDaniels

Balloon sculptures can help people drop their defenses and connect more effectively with one another!

Jessica has a great team. Each person she manages is capable, experienced and hard working. But in team meetings, people seem reluctant to share insights and ideas.

What's more, even though everyone respects one another's views, they seem afraid to say things that might be perceived as silly, off-the-wall or wrong.

Jessica wants her team meetings to buzz with activity. She pictures a scene where people bounce ideas around, inspiring and challenging one another with their creativity and passion. But the reality is quite different.

What can Jessica do to invigorate team meetings and give people the confidence to join in and be more creative?

This article looks at five team building activities you can use to strengthen your team members' creative thinking and collaboration skills.

Supporting Creative Thinking

Creativity is essential for driving innovation and a commercially competitive spirit. Yet, as organizations grow, the structures they put in place to improve productivity and efficiency often stifle creativity.

When organizations focus on productivity, they impose rigid procedures that make it difficult for team members to be creative, so it's important that managers support creative thinking. According to business and management professors Nora Madjar, Greg Oldham and Michael Pratt, employees who felt they were supported in their creative endeavors demonstrated significantly greater creativity than those who didn't.

Research also shows that managers who make it clear that they expect team members to work creatively are perceived as being more supportive of new ideas. One way to do this is through creative thinking exercises that enhance and encourage creativity in your team.

Creativity exercises also help people relax and de-stress. By encouraging play, interaction and bonding, they also help to increase engagement and improve morale.

Creativity Exercises

Use the exercises below to help your team think more creatively, or to "jump-start" a stalled problem-solving session.

You can use them in various ways, for example with department-specific or cross-functional teams. You could also use them to strengthen trust and communication between senior leaders, middle managers and front-line employees.

Exercise 1: Brainstorming

No article about promoting creativity in groups would be complete without the all time classic – Brainstorming.

Uses

Use brainstorming whenever you need to generate new ideas. Deciding which ideas to use comes later.

People and Materials

  • Someone to record ideas.
  • Something to record them on: sticky notes, a whiteboard, a flip chart, etc.
  • Sticky dots.

Time

  • Flexible: typically 15-20 minutes.

Instructions

Brainstorming was the brainchild of advertising executive, Alex Osborne, and quickly became the most widely used creativity technique in the world. Today, there are many different versions of the rules, but there were only four in Osborne's original account:

  1. Focus on quantity.
  2. Withhold criticism.
  3. Welcome unusual ideas.
  4. Combine ideas and link them together.

Advice for the Facilitator

By the end of the activity, your team should have come up with a large number of ideas, some of which could have great potential.

Rather than treating the exercise as an end in itself, and letting all those ideas go to waste, use Affinity Diagrams to group related ideas together. Then, invite people to vote on their favorite ideas using the sticky dots, and discuss why they thought those were the best. You could then schedule a follow-up session for the team to come up with a plan for implementing their ideas.

If there is time at the end of the brainstorming session, ask the participants whether they thought it was a useful exercise in terms of team building as well as idea generation. Discuss what skills people need to participate fully, such as listening, encouraging, and persuading others.

Exercise 2: Debate

Psychology Professor Charlan Nemeth, of Berkeley and the London Business School, challenges the orthodox view of brainstorming. Her research showed that the instruction not to criticize the ideas generated can be counterproductive. Instead, brainstorming participants who freely debated came up with significantly more and better ideas, both in their meeting and afterwards, than their counterparts who conformed to the usual rules. Nemeth’s theory is that dissent invigorates our thinking, even if it can feel difficult.

Uses

This exercise gives your team the chance to experience increased creativity through debate. Together they’ll practice being open to hearing and suggesting new ideas, and help break down barriers to their performance in the future.

People and Materials

  • Someone to record ideas.
  • Something to record them on: sticky notes, a whiteboard, a flip chart, etc.

Time

  • Flexible: typically 15-20 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Present your group with a problem that needs to be solved.
  2. Ask them to generate as many ideas as possible.
  3. Freewheeling is welcome – encourage team members to say anything that comes to mind.
  4. Encourage debate and discussion of ideas as they arise.

Advice for the Facilitator

During a debating session, discussion – and even criticism – of one another's ideas is to be encouraged, but it is important that the participants focus on the problem in hand, and criticism is not allowed to become personal. You may wish to borrow the "rules" of Constructive Controversy to keep the debate positive and co-operative.

At the end of the session, ask each person to write down any ideas they had during the session that they did not express, and also any ideas they may have had now that the discussion is over. Don't force people to share these ideas publicly, but discuss, first, their reasons for not expressing ideas – was it a case of self-censorship, fear of disapproval, or simply that someone else was speaking at the time, and the moment passed?

Second, talk about the ideas that people had after the session was complete. Discuss how debating with others stimulates your thoughts. Sometimes, you need time to digest all that has been said so that, after a period of reflection, yet more ideas are generated. Talk also about how individuals felt when others criticised their ideas. Did it shut them down, or open them up to new perspectives?

When all the ideas have been collated, encourage the group to reach a consensus on the best solution using a technique like Multi-Voting, and consider arranging a follow-up session to begin implementing the best ideas.

Exercise 3: Rolestorming

Rolestorming is a type of roleplay activity. It's great for encouraging team members to lose their inhibitions by adopting another character. It also helps them explore different perspectives and opinions, opening their minds to different viewpoints and helping them come up with new ideas in the process.

Team members are asked to approach a specified problem or issue from someone else's perspective. This could be a world leader, a celebrity, a hero, another member of the company or team, or even a family member.

Uses

Use this exercise to help cross-functional teams understand one another's roles better. This is also an ideal activity for exploring ways to improve company procedures, by removing bottlenecks and making handovers between teams more efficient.

Rolestorming can also be used any time you need to spark fresh ideas and re-energize a brainstorming or problem-solving session.

People and Materials

  • Any number of team members – people can work on their own, or in pairs or small groups.
  • A list of "role models," each written on a small slip of paper. There should be enough role models for everyone taking part in the exercise.
  • Paper and a pencil for each person to jot down notes.

Time

  • Flexible: Typically 15-20 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Ask everyone on your team to take a slip of paper.
  2. Make sure each person knows who their role model is before you begin the activity. If they're unfamiliar with this person, let them choose again.
  3. Tell everyone to think like their role model: how would this person approach the problem? Give them ten minutes to come up with as many ideas as possible.
  4. Once the time is up, discuss each person or group's approach to the problem.

Advice for the Facilitator

Write everyone's ideas on a whiteboard. Talk about how this activity helped them break their current thinking patterns and come up with fresh ideas.

If the activity involved pretending to be someone else from the group, consider allowing that person to give their perspective and facilitate further discussion about the implications of their role that may not be obvious to "outsiders." This will help the team to understand one another's role and responsibilities more clearly, so that they can work together more efficiently in future.

Tip:

Use role models that everyone will be familiar with.

If you are asking team members to think like one another, it may be safer to ask them to think like an unnamed person in that role (an account manager, a developer, a project manager, etc.), rather than risk things becoming personal.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use leaders in the business world. Well-known figures from literature, history, movies, politics, and pop culture would work as well. Some examples include:

  • Sir Richard Branson.
  • Superman.
  • Hillary Clinton.
  • Steve Jobs.
  • Mahatma Ghandi.

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Exercise 4: Balloon Sculptures

Encouraging your team to "think out of the box" can be a great way to get them to drop their defenses and connect with one another.

In "Quick Team Building Activities for Busy Managers," Brian Cole Miller suggests getting your team members to make balloon sculptures that reflect how they see the team. For example, balloons that are linked together could represent interdependence, while ones that are touching show connectivity.

Uses

This team building activity spurs creative thinking, and helps team members express their commitment to the group. It's also useful as a way to discuss difficulties and communication breakdowns when people are not cooperating well.

People and Materials

  • One long balloon for each team member, along with spares.
  • A number of balloon pumps (not necessary but helpful).

Tip:

Instead of using balloons, you can build sculptures with building blocks, or even with your organization's products.

Time

  • Flexible: typically 15-20 minutes.

Instructions

  1. Give one balloon to each member of your team. Demonstrate how to blow the balloons up, leaving an inch or more at one end to give enough room to twist the balloon into the sculpture without bursting it.
  2. Tell everyone to work together to build a balloon sculpture that represents the team.

Advice for the Facilitator

The informal nature of this activity can be particularly useful for building a team where individuals have different levels of authority. Often at work, participants lower down the organizational hierarchy feel inhibited by a more senior person's status. A non-threatening activity like this, which does not call for people to demonstrate great knowledge or skills, can help people connect with one another.

Often, different roles will emerge within the group that do not reflect their formal roles in the organization. Natural leaders may emerge to organize the activity, and people who typically perform very structured roles may demonstrate surprising creativity and flair.

Once the activity is finished, talk to your team about their experience. Ask what they have learned about other participants that they didn't know before, and how they think this activity will benefit future teamwork. Consider conducting a Team Management Profile based upon the exercise.

To complete the exercise ask a representative from the team to present the finished sculpture to you, to the group – or even to another team at work – and discuss what the final design represents.

Exercise 5: All the News

In "The Big Book of Leadership Games," Vasudha Deming suggests this exercise, in which you ask your team to mock up a newspaper predicting future events in your organization.

Uses

All the News allows team members to get creative about what they think will happen in the organization or department in the future. It also promotes collaboration, loyalty and a sense of empowerment, as they develop an appreciation of how each participant is capable of shaping future outcomes.

You may prefer to keep this activity for an occasion when you can dedicate more time to it, such as at a team building Away Day or company retreat.

People and Materials

  • Enough people for groups of three to four participants, or a larger group of six.
  • Photocopies of the instructions for each group.
  • A flip chart and marker.
  • Tape, scissors, glue sticks, and plenty of newspapers (spanning different days) for each group.

Time

45 minutes to one hour.

Instructions

  1. Each group will put together a newspaper using headlines only (not full stories). If you have one large group, ask them to create a complete paper. If you have several small groups, ask each to create a different section of the newspaper.
  2. With the help of the participants, list the different sections (international news, local news, sports, arts and entertainment, and so on) on the flip chart. Assign sections to each group.
  3. Pass out the instruction sheet and go over it so that everyone understands what they're doing. Remember, the group will create a newspaper, or newspaper section, out of headlines only. Ask them to "report" on predicted events. Be creative in how you interpret each section. You could, for example, use the obituary section to cover future "deceased" policies, products or procedures.
  4. Once everyone has finished, put the newspapers up on the wall so everyone can read them.

Advice for the Facilitator

At the end of the activity, talk with your team about how it helped foster collaboration and spur creative thinking. Discuss Tuckman's stages of team formation and the Four Dimensions of Relational Work, and look at how the group evolved. What roles emerged? Did anyone adopt the role of "editor," for example, and how did everyone else feel about that?

Ask everyone how they came to an agreement about what to put in the paper. Encourage participants to discuss the implications of particularly interesting stories. What inspired them? What emotions do they arouse in others? Do people agree or disagree with the vision of the future that they convey? And what, if anything, do they think should be done about it?

Consider bringing the group together again some months later to revisit their newspaper and see if their vision of the future has changed at all. What do they think of their headlines now?

Key Points

Creative thinking is essential in organizations today. It is necessary for driving innovation and competitive spirit and an excellent way to promote team building, communication, trust, and problem solving skills.

One of the best ways to build creative thinking skills is to use exercises that encourage "out-of-the-box" thinking. Five examples of creative team building exercise are:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Debate
  3. Rolestorming
  4. Balloon Sculptures
  5. All the News

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