Team Building Activity: The Hats We Wear

Posted by Kristin Arnold on May 25, 2016

The Hats We Wear

This exercise works great to demonstrate the concept of informal roles and how it affects the team dynamic and decision-making process. Assemble a group of six or more people. The activity takes 30 minutes and you will need to have the following materials ready:

  • List of items that can be prioritized
  • Six baseball caps with the following printed on the front of each cap:
    • Obey me
    • Ask my opinion
    • Ask my opinion, but ignore it
    • Ignore me
    • Laugh at me
    • (Nothing)

    Hint: You can print these easily on index cards and tape the card to the front of each hat or print the caps with liquid paint.

Place six chairs in a circle with the “observers” standing or sitting around the outside of the circle Begin with a list of approximately ten items that need to be prioritized. Note: you may have to put together a list, based on previous team discussions, but make sure that the list is meaningful and relevant to the team.

Ask the team members to individually rank the importance of each item from one to ten with one being the most important and ten being the least important.

When the team members have completed their individual ranking, ask for six volunteers. Ask them to bring their chairs and sit in the center of the team. Ask those who remain to be process observers and watch how this team of six individuals accomplishes it’s task.

Ask the team of six, “Please reach agreement on the priority of the listed items. You have ten minutes to accomplish this task. However, before you start, you must follow a few ground rules. I have six hats that I will place on your head. Please do not take them off until I tell you that you can. For those of you who are looking at these hats, please follow the instructions to whatever extent you choose. Process Observers – please watch how the team achieves its objective. You have ten minutes.”

The team will be very uncomfortable and probably ask you for clarification. Simply repeat the ground rules.

After ten minutes, if the team has not finished, allow thirty seconds to finish. (Note, do NOT let them look at their hats!)

Debrief and Summarize
After the group has prioritized the list, ask for the “final product/list” that the team agrees to.

Ask the team member with the loudest complaint what they don’t like about it. Individually debrief each team member wearing a hat without letting them look at the hats until told to do so:

  • Do you like the list? What do you like/don’t like about it?
  • Process observers: What did you see this team member do?
  • Do you know what is on your hat? (If they say no, press them for an answer!)
  • Ask the team member to look at the hat. Are you surprised?
  • What did you think of the process used?

Note: Save the team member wearing the hat with nothing printed on it for last. This team member will think that there is something on it – reemphasizing the point that we all come together with “hats” on.

Debrief the entire team:

  • What do think about this activity?
  • What do you think about the hats we wear when come together on a team?
  • How do our hats affect our decision-making process?
  • Do you see this dynamic on our team?
  • How can we prevent this dynamic from occurring?
  • How might we be able to help each other when we see this dynamic occurring?

If you like this activity, check out my book, Team Energizers, for 49 other team activities!

Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping leaders and their teams think things through, make better decisions and achieve sustainable results. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues. 

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