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).
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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.

The lost art of gaming without a computer

In this age of constant digital inputs if you ask a young person what the term games means, their answer will most likely be about computer games. The fact that people can play fun and exciting games without a digital device is often quite surprising to them. The additional fact that they can play games with a group of people all in the same room may also be a foreign concept. They will know about team sports. But possibly not about team games.

So adding games to a team building program can not only be helpful in building the team, non computer games can add:

  • an element of novelty to the program
  • movement
  • face-to-face communication
  • freedom.

The novelty of adding non digital games to your team building program can add interest and anticipation into the sessions. Participants will look forward to the next game – e.g. what will it be, how might I achieve, what new way to have fun will I discover. This will help to motivate them to pay attention to the sessions so that they can complete their work and then move onto another game. The down side of being novel is that there will be a certain amount of inertia to overcome to get started in the first game. But once the inertia of trying something new has been overcome, the excitement of playing the game with their team mates will take over.

Movement in our lives is very important. Most involvement in digital activities is very sedentary. We are developing a generation where many mus

small group throwing around beach balls

cles are not being used enough. Low tech games at least require getting out of the chair and generally require a lot of movement. Since researchers have linked movement with learning in so many ways, low tech games will be helping the participants to learn, have fun plus focus their attention on the rest of the program.

Face-to-face communication seems to be a dying art form. The closest digital equivalent is Skype, FaceTime and other forms of video conferencing. All non-digital games require some form of face-to-face communication. It may be verbal or non-verbal or a combination of both. It may even require some writing or sharing of symbols. The more your participants communicate with each other the greater their skills will become in the various forms of communication.

Freedom from digital games allows freedom in so many ways. Some of these include freedom:

  • from the constraints placed on participants by the digital medium – for example:
    • Internet access
    • number of digital inputs available for a game
    • the size of the screen to enable everyone to see
    • the battery power or requirements for electrical outlets and cables
    • being able to hear from the device speakers or the requirements of amplification
    • limits imposed by the gaming programmers on the participants
  • to play games anywhere, in various locations at once, including outside
  • to have any size of team or large group participating at once with the fluidity of instantly changing the numbers playing during the game
  • to move around with total flexibility without worrying about damage occurring to electrical devices including inputs
  • to make your own noise
  • to let the creativity of the group modify the game or the leader to add variations on the spot.

Playing games without computers may be a dying art but it is one worth preserving. Why not add some non digital games to your team building program and see the difference they can make.

What makes a good team building game

Before starting this discussion, lets agree that games are beneficial to your team building program. Then how do you find appropriate games to use. There are lots of games available on the Internet, in books and passed on through oral traditions. But not all these games are going to be beneficial to your team building program.

Lets face it. You don’t have unlimited time to build your team. In fact you probably don’t have any time to waste. So each activity and game the team members participate in must help to achieve your goals. So what criteria should you use when selecting games? (There are extra criteria for trust games.)

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If you keep these seven criteria in mind it will help. The games should involve:

social interactions – To increase the opportunities for the team members to build relationships the games should involve communication. It is fairly hard to play any game without some form of communication. So there must be more than just that. You want the game to get them talking to each other or discovering more about each other’s skills, personality, values and reliability. How the members should be involved the game depends on the teams working arrangement. It may be that these interactions should be as a whole team, in sub groups, triads or pairs.

thinking – Games should involve a range of thinking skills. The main ones used in team building games are analytical, creative, lateral, logical and systemic thinking skills. An improvement in the use of these skills will lead to enhanced problem solving skills and innovation. These are two highly valued skills of team members.

fun – This is a given. Games should be fun. If they are not fun then why would the team members want to participate. Just remember that fun comes in various levels from hilarious fun to deep satisfaction.

movement – To take a break from formal learning a success, you need to get the body moving and doing something different. The amount of movement in games will differ by the type of game you want to use. Energisers should stress movement. Whereas, team bonding and closure games may limit the amount of physical movement but expand the amount of movement within the mind with social interactions and different thinking skills.

engagement – There are two levels of engagement – captivate their interest in achieving the goal; inclusion of all team members irrespective of physical or mental impairment, gender, cultural beliefs or language fluency. All members of the team need to be engaged in each of the games. If someone is excluded they can feel less important and loss confidence in their role in the team.

risk taking – Any games that are designed to achieve the above goals will require some risk taking behaviour on the part of the participants. It may be talking to someone you don’t know (ice breakers) or doing something silly in front of others or invasion of personal space. Your task in selecting games for your team is to determine what level of risk the team is prepared to undertake at the time that are going to use the game.

speed – The game should quick: preferably completed in 10 – 15 minutes. The team members need to have a break and refocus but you don’t want to use too much time for this. The games should have goals that are accomplished quickly so there is a feeling of achievement or success at the end of this short time.