Social interactions and games

When building an effective team, social interactions are a key tool used by facilitators to bond the team members together. Games make social interactions easier because they provide a structure in which the team members interact. Another benefit in the structure is that it involves all of the team members – even the shy ones. In addition, regular use of team building games will make the team development process faster because of the amount of interactions that will occur while the members are having fun playing games.

So just what are social interactions?

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Social interaction is a dynamic, changing sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions according to those of their interaction partner(s). In other words, they are events in which people attach meaning to a situation, interpret what others are meaning, and respond accordingly. Social interactions can be differentiated into:…Regulated – planned and regulated by customs or law, will definitely raise questions when missed. Interaction in a workplace (coming to work, staff meetings, playing a game, etc.), family, etc. In sociological hierarchy, social interaction is more advanced than behaviour, action, social behaviour, social action and social contact, and is in turn followed by more advanced concept of social relation. In other words, social interactions, which consist of social actions, form the basis for social relations.

Anne T. Heatherton,A. T., & Walcott, V.A., (2009) Handbook of Social Interactions in the 21st Century, Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge, New York, U.S.A. page vii

The most common social action is talking. This involves skills in: oral language, conversation, listening, etiquette, manners, body language, interpreting tonal inflections, questioning, honesty and eventually trust. Other social actions include: making friends, meeting people, hosting, commercial transactions, playing sports, being a member of a club etc.

Another advantage of using team building games to teach social interaction skills has to do with our age of digital communication. With the ubiquitous use of social media, texting, instant messaging and email these days, skills in face-to-face communication and social interactions are becoming less well developed then when communication was mainly done in person. These face-to-face skills are the very ones required in team work. They are also the very ones being developed through the use of team building games.

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Benefits of play

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In a previous post we discussed the relationship between movement and learning. In this post we will look at the benefits of play. When you are using games the team members are participating in play. Here is one quote about play.

Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.

Ginsburg, Kenneth R., (2010) page 183

The following video has a different take on play but certainly illustrates creativity and imagination.

So what are some of the other benefits of play.

…it [play] allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths… Play enhances physical health by building active, healthy bodies… Play contributes to healthy brain development… In addition, play and recess may increase children’s capacity to store new information, as their cognitive capacity is enhanced when they are offered a drastic change in activity… Play is essential to developing social and emotional ties…It teaches them leadership as well as group skills that may be useful in adult life.

Milteer & Ginsberg (2011)

This quote lists a tremendous number of benefits of play. Playing is important to our daily lives and our maturation. So can play be just as beneficial to adults. The following TED talk continues to look at play as being more than fun. It also looks at play as an important endeavour throughout the life span. Stuart feels that play should be constantly part of our lives.

Adding games to team training adds play to the lives of all of the team members. It can be a very beneficial addition to the program for so many reasons.

References

Ginsburg, Kenneth R. ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’, Pediatrics 2007;119;182 (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full.pdf+html)

Milteer, R.M. & Ginsburg, K.R., ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty’ Published online December 26, 2011PEDIATRICS Vol. 129 No. 1 January 1, 2012, pp. e204 -e213

Learning with games and fun on the agenda

Team building is seen as a serious endeavour. So why would you want to add games and fun to this environment?

According to Maarten van Aalst, the director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, “Games are an excellent means to get through often complex messages of scientists and can help bring about real change”. When playing games, the participants are learning.

In 2009, Volkswagon initiated thefuntheory.com program. They have created a contest and a web site which has the aim to:

This site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

In the video below, a research team decided to use fun as a means of increasing the use of the recycling bin on the street.

Games add an element of fun to your team building program. Through this fun, you can lighten the serious mood and re-engage the participants with the subject matter. In addition games help the team members to both create and strengthen social ties with their fellow team members. This is turn helps to unite them in their learning.

Here is another way that a fun theory team found to alter human behaviour. This is a new way to do an old behaviour. Putting rubbish in the bin has not always been top priority for everyone. But add a bit of fun and it can become so.

We may not want the games in training sessions to radically change behaviour but we do want them to change into effective team members. How well we achieve this goal depends on:

  • the quality of the games being played
  • the fit of the games to the needs of the team members
  • what games are best for that stage of the team development cycle
  • the choice of game based on the goals of the team and/or the training session during which the game is played
  • the participation level of team members.

Why use games in team building

There are many reasons for using games in your team building program. The most important reason for most facilitators is that games can add an element of fun. In the other training activities, fun may not be the foremost goal. Games can entice team members to become involved. Team members will interact with each other in a different type of activity from the rest of the training program. Thus, games bring them together in a new situation. While participating, they get to know another side to their team mates.

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Some of the other reasons are listed below.

  • Participating in games provides team members with an opportunity for movement that can be sadly lacking in the daily training/school routine.
  • Physical activity/movement promotes an increase in brain activity and re-energises the body.
  • Both increased brain, muscle activity lead to increased blood flow that will both refocus attention and improve the individual’s mood.
  • Any change in activity level will refresh participants and offset boredom. This is often called a brain break.
  • There is some evidence that goes further to say that if the games require movement that encourage participants to be active they can improve learning, concentration and memory.
  • Interactive games  build relationships between team members.
  • Games can provide a structured, interesting activity where participants are unconsciously learning team building concepts
  • In the developing of relationships, team members can get to know one another and start to trust one another while having fun.
  • Games can be educative in subtle but effective ways.
  • All games can help develop a range of communication skills and some require use of literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Good educational games can be motivational and promote a range of higher order thinking skills such as:
    • creative thinking (as found in the energiser and team bonding games)
    • problem solving and analytical thinking skills (icebreakers, energisers, team bonding and trust games)
    • collaborative, cooperative thinking plus negotiation skills (team bonding and trust)
    • reflective, evaluative and critical thinking (closure games).

Relationship of movement to learning – 3 recent research studies

The connection between the student’s ability to learn and their physical activity has been known for decades. But the implementation of the practice of physical activity during learning has not been consistently practised. The use of games in your team building program can add the physical activity that according to these reports will improve the learning that will occur.

There are many articles in this area but I am confining my references to three of the latest reports. They are all from the U.S.A. and have been published in the last three years. The most recent report was published in May of this year by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active… [They went on to add] In addition, students should engage in vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the school day, such as through recess and classroom time dedicated to physical activity.

Institute of Medicine (2013), Educating the Student Body – taking physical activity and physical education to school,  National Academy of Science, Washington D.C., U.S.A. http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2013/Educating-the-Student-Body/EducatingTheStudentBody_rb.pdf [accessed 15/10/13]

When learners are asked to stay sedentary for long periods of time they lose focus and and find it hard to concentrate. They may even become bored. But with a short break for some physical activity, they become energised and more attentive.

movement and learning - increase movement increases the ability to learn

The next report is from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and was published in 2010. The authors studied 43 research articles and reports and made summaries of the findings. The most relevant quote in the Executive Summary for us with respect to movement and learning is:

Nine studies (reported in nine articles) explored physical activity that occurred in classrooms apart from physical education classes and recess. In general, these studies explored short physical activity breaks (5–20 minutes) or ways to introduce physical activity into learning activities that were either designed to promote learning through physical activity or provide students with a pure physical activity break. These studies examined how the introduction of brief physical activities in a classroom setting affected cognitive skills (aptitude, attention, memory) and attitudes (mood); academic behaviors (on-task behavior, concentration); and academic achievement (standardized test scores, reading literacy scores, or math fluency scores). Eight of the nine studies found positive associations between classroom-based physical activity and indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement; none of the studies found negative associations.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 2010, The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, including Physical Education, and Academic Performance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Summary, page 2. http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/health_and_academics/pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf

When using games in team building programs, they are generally 5-20 minutes in length. Thus, they should have a similar impact with corresponding learning improvements.

In a 2010 study in the USA involving 2000 principals, they found:

Key findings from the survey include:
• Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
• Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
• Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).

Gallup Poll (2010), Principals say recess has a positive impact on learning; students are more focused, listen better after recess, Robert Wood Johnson Institute, http://www.rwjf.org/en/about-rwjf/newsroom/newsroom-content/2010/02/first-of-its-kind-gallup-poll-links-recess-to-academic-achieveme.html [accessed 15/10/2013]

Recess is slightly longer than games that you might use in a team building program but the concept bears comparison.

Based on the results quotes from these reports, inclusion of movement in your training programs will improve the participants’ ability to learn your program.