I love using this activity to demonstrate how teams assess information to make a decision. This works well with 5 or more people and time required is 15 minutes.
Use a space large enough for the team to sit in a circle or U-shape and the following materials:
- Prepared easel chart
- The following bullets neatly printed on separate index cards
- The team agreed that Mondays are a bad time to meet.
- Everybody’s just returning from the weekend and preparing for the work week.
- Mary usually takes the minutes.
- Many people in the office go bowling on Thursday nights.
- The coffee machine is three doors down from the conference room.
- The conference room has an oval table with ten chairs around it.
- John and Kathy always arrive at work by 6:30 a.m.
- There are markers and an easel chart in the conference room.
- Sally and Roger have to leave work by 4 p.m.
- The team agreed that Fridays are a bad time to meet. Everybody’s preparing to leave for the weekend (if they haven’t already left).
- The company has 211 employees.
- Kristin is the team leader.
- Treena thinks that team meetings are usually a waste of time.
- Ken has been looking forward to the team meeting. He has a very important issue he’d like to raise.
- The overhead projector light bulb is burned out.
- There isn’t a whiteboard in the conference room.
- The team leader prepares the agenda and leads the meeting.
- Kristin is going to be out of town on Tuesday and Wednesday.
- The conference room is booked on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
- The conference room is booked on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
Invite the group to participate in a team activity that will give them a glimpse into the group dynamic. Tell the group, “The team needs to meet for four hours next week. You have been exchanging emails to determine the best weekday and time to meet. The emails are written on these index cards.”
Mix up the cards and give at least one card to each team member. Remind them that their task is to answer the question written on the easel chart: “Given the following information you received by email (on the index cards), when will your team meet (weekday and time) next week?”
Then stand out of the way and watch the team dynamics!
The answer is deceptively simple: The team must meet on Thursday from 12 noon until 4 p.m. The team has agreed it cannot meet on Mondays and Fridays. Kristin has to be at the meeting, and she’ll be out of town on Tuesday and Wednesday. The conference room is booked on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
As the team attempts to solve the riddle, you may witness some common traps:
- No process. The team just starts shouting out the information they have on the cards, without planning how to handle the task.
- Process loss. The team ignores someone who has the answer (or something close to it).
- Assumptions. The team begins to make assumptions about the information—what is relevant and what isn’t—without any criteria to assess it.
- A hero emerges. One person solves the riddle and declares victory, while making his/her teammates feel left out or stupid.
- Poor communication skills. Talking over each other, interrupting, dominating the conversation.
- Agonize about the irrelevant. Just in case they miss something, the team goes over each piece of information.
- Paranoia sets in. Could it be a trap? Could it be one of those team activities that “get you” in the end? Is there something the facilitator just isn’t telling us?
Eventually, the team figures out it needs structure/process. One person will take the “leadership role,” define a process, and facilitate the team to the logical conclusion.
Debrief and Summarize
- What worked well for the team?
- What helped the communication process?
- What frustrations did you encounter?
- What could the team have done better?
- How might we apply these lessons to our team’s work?
If the group is large or you want to add to the confusion, add your own irrelevant information cards!
If you like this activity, check out my book, Team Energizers, for 49 other team activities!
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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.
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