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?

887006_63662379sm

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.

3 types of icebreakers

Icebreakers are the most important type of game to kick start an effective team building process. But did you know that there are three types of icebreakers. They fall into these categories:

  • getting to know your name
  • getting to talking to you
  • getting to know something about you.

Knowing which type of icebreaker you need will help you to select more appropriately.

icebreaker3

Getting to know your name

This is the type of icebreaker that is often deemed to be synonymous with the term ‘icebreaker’. It is needed when the team is first forming. It is most important to use when the participants are strangers. But also important when team members have not interacted regularly before the team formed. In all social interactions when two strangers meet, the first thing they do is introduce themselves. This icebreaker provides a structure for those introductions to be accomplished quickly in larger groups. And sometimes there is some fun added. It is important as a first step for everyone to know the names of their team mates.  The ‘Getting to know your name’ icebreaker is the most non-threatening of the three types.

Because this is most renowned form of icebreaker, many facilitators only use one icebreaker with a team or group. But just like in a social gathering when meeting a stranger the conversation then develops in stages, so icebreakers come in stages also. So you can use as many icebreakers as you feel are necessary to break down the normal personal barriers that exist when people are thrown together with strangers and/or casual acquaintances.

Getting to talk to you

The ‘Getting to talk to you’ icebreakers mimic the next step in meeting someone – talking to them. In a social gathering strangers often talk about the weather – a topic which has few emotional ties. You can spin this topic for quite awhile without investing anything of yourself into it. So it is a comfortable topic. These icebreakers are a structured way of having a light or ‘comfortable’ conversation. They ask the participants to talk about anything except themselves. They are providing  social interactions that are starting to build tenuous links between team members. They can be confused with entry level team bonding games. But in these games, emotional investment is very low. Thus the ‘Getting to talk to you’ icebreakers are low threat.

Getting to know something about you

These icebreakers are seeking to provide a structure for everyone to talk about themselves. This is the next level of  normal conversation. Even though this is an easy topic for most of us, it incurs a slightly higher threat level than the other two types of icebreakers. There is now some emotional attachment to the content. Thus, it is usually used after the other two types. Sometimes, the ‘getting to know your name’ icebreakers will also include some personal things. But generally they are there to provide a context for the name. In the ‘Getting to know something about you’ games, the structured activity is providing a fun way to explore like and dislikes, values and skills. The links between members are growing very slightly stronger.

Since conversation is involved in these quick activities, many of these games are done in smaller sub groups. Thus, tenuous links are not forming between members of the entire team, but with some members within the team. For that reason, there may need to be a few of these type of icebreakers used to start the team bonding process. The facilitator will feel the difference between working with quiet strangers and working with a team that freely talks with each other. At that point, icebreakers are no longer needed. Energisers and team bonding games take over.

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.

wordle_games600

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.

Are you ready to start building your team? 8 questions to consider

Preparation for any job can be the most important part of the job. Are you ready? Here are 8 questions for you to consider as part of your preparation.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What do you want this team to accomplish?

You need to be clear about what you want the new team to accomplish before you start the process. You don’t need to know the specifics but you need to know the general objectives. For example if this is to be a SRC team then you need to know if there are specific tasks that the school executive and/or student body want them to achieve this year over and above the general goal of student governance and all that entails in your context.

Along the way the team will also achieve other goals. These will be determined during the life of the team and can not be foreseen at the beginning. You can only prepare for the known not the unknown.

What skills will they need to accomplish this?

Once you know the general goals to be achieved then you need to consider the skills that the team will need to be able to accomplish these goals. Some of these will be the skills that any team will need. Others will be skills specific to the jobs this team is expected to accomplish. Some of these skills may not be needed in the initial team training. They may suit an on the job training model or point of need training.

It would be helpful if you could divide the skills into those needed now and those needed later. This will make your planning for the initial training easier to organise.

What roles will team members play?

The answer to this question is directly related to the type of team you are developing. Different teams will require different roles. Once determined, you will need a set of role descriptions that are easy to understand. These should include the potential extra skills required to effectively function in these roles.

In addition, some teams have a hierarchical structure but many have a horizontal structure. If the team is hierarchical, then everyone has a base set of skills but each level of the hierarchy will require extra skills. Even in horizontally structured teams there may be specialised roles – for example the communication sub group may need further skills in using the specific websites for the team.

What cultural factors will impact on the team?

You cannot completely prepare for which cultural factors will impact on the team life. You should have an understanding of the main cultural impacts in your community. You will also know the composition of the body from which your potential team will be selected. The first factors you should consider will be the possible cultural factors that may impinge on the team training. One example would be: girls from traditional Eastern European families  will not be allowed to stay late after school or go on overnight excursions.

Another example may be language. If the population from which the team members will be selected contains a high percentage of new migrants from non English speaking backgrounds then the possibility will be high that the depth of understanding written and spoken language will be a consideration.

What barriers may exist to full participation by disabled members?

Most venues for community meeting are now being made more accessible for all. You cannot be fully prepared for bars to participation until you know the nature of any disability that a team member has. Even then, you will have no way of knowing about any injuries that may occur that result in temporary disability. Once the team members are selected then you will be able to determine what barriers exist for the long term participation of each member in the team activities. You can then work towards minimising them. You will also be able to plan activities that are inclusive for all.

What information needs to be available to potential team members?

This is one of the most important steps in your preparation. The membership of the team will determine the possible effectiveness and/or success of the team. You need potential team members to have as much information as possible about both the goals of the team and their possible role. When equipped with this information, each potential team member will be able to make as informed a decision as is possible for their maturity about whether they want to be part of the team.

Another consideration is how to present the information. You want potential team members to know what they are becoming involved in but you don’t want to scare away potential effective team members. You may need to provide some personal counselling with candidates you feel would make excellent team members.

What method will be used to select team members?

There is a tendency when team members are younger for the adults to select them. This is the process used in many businesses also where managers select teams. This could be an effective procedure for some teams. But there are other methods that can be used. In some cases such as peer support, the selection process may be volunteers from a particular pool of students. Another example for teams such as the SRC there would need to be some form of representative selection.

Whatever selection process is used in your situation it is important to ensure that it works. You may find recommendations for change in last year’s evaluation. This is the time when you can examine the procedures currently in use and determine if changes would improve it.

What games would be most in tune with your goals?

Once you know the answers to all of the above questions, then you can work through the selection of games and choose ones that meet your unique needs. Each game should come with a set of aims or objectives. You can select those games that best suit your aims for skills development. You can also examine the procedures for the games and determine full participation of all is possible based on your cultural and potential physical impairments. This is when you can make variations to steps to provide total inclusion. You don’t want any team member sitting on the sidelines.

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.)

text from the post

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.

4 Cs of effective team building programs

When it comes to designing a team building program you need to include skills development in the specific area in which the team is working as well as skills in being an effective team member. Often the former skill set is the one that is stressed with little attention paid to the latter. It is the level of the team building skills that can often make all the difference to the outcome of the team’s endeavours.

So what skills do team members need? When exploring which components should be in the team skills program there are four Cs to consider:

  • communication
  • creativity
  • collaboration
  • credibility.

These four characteristics are required for a balanced program that will build an effective team. Each of these four Cs have particular skills that need developing before team members will be competent in those areas. Not all teams need all of these skills. Informal teams will not require training in many of these skills. But members of high functioning teams will need competency in all these skills.

Communication: Proficiency in these skills is the basis of interpersonal relationships both within the team and with everyone with whom the team interacts. There are many forms of communication so highly effective teams diversify their communication skills.

Collaboration: Without the sharing of ideas there is no team just a group of individuals. The level of collaboration sets both the mood of the working environment and the synergy of the ideas.

Creativity: Skills in this area will differentiate an ordinary team achievement from an amazing accomplishment. Creativity does not necessarily mean talent in a particular artistic endeavour although it may. It encompasses creative thinking which can lead to innovation.

Credibility: It is accomplishment in these skills that will increase the speed of the team’s accomplishments and make the journey they follow more enjoyable. It also aids in the acceptance of the team’s ideas and performance by others.

Once you know which skills you need to develop in your team, then you can select games that also are developing these skills. These games will add value to your formal learning.

Facilitating team development – 10 characteristics

The facilitator of the team can be deemed to be the most important person in the team. They may not be known by the title of facilitator. They may be called a mentor, a leader, a teacher or a coach. Whatever their title, their role is critical to the successful creation of an effective team. In some team situations they may not be visible. But they are vital.

If you are a team leader (facilitator) rethinking your role, investigating if you should become team facilitator or trying to determine who should become a team facilitator (leader), then the following list could benefit you. There are some skills and qualities that are common to all highly successful team facilitators regardless of the type of team they are facilitating (leading). This list is not exclusive but gives a summary of the main attributes.

The ten most visible characteristics of successful facilitators building teams include:

  • prior experience in being a team member (generally in the same type of team) with an understanding of the roles of team members and the skills they require
  • enthusiasm for the role of facilitator encompassing an eagerness to develop the team members into a team combined with a willingness to continue learning
  • having a relaxed and cheerful personality that may also be called optimistic
  • objectivity when dealing with all of the team members and the ability to judge behaviours not people
  • excellent verbal and non verbal communication skills plus in some situations this may extend to good digital skills
  • being a first-class role model combined with a willingness to demonstrate and join in when required
  • holding a set of values that are in alignment with the corporate and/or community structures of the team
  • having a critical eye to see both potential talent and realise where new skills development is required
  • flexibility when faced with unforeseen obstacles barring immediate progress towards an agreed goal
  • inclusivity of all team members’ rights including disabled, indigenous and migrant members.