Performative team building: a case history

team building

One of the best and most creative task we get to deal with as event planners is coming up with ideas for team building activities. Despite often having similar goals, team building projects can be carried out in a variety of different ways, virtually as many as the individual personalities we come into contact with. Each team makes for a case history of its own and each situations requires a different action in order to increas internal cooperation, foster team spirit or boost leadership skills. There are sport-based team building activities and adventure trails, there are treasure hunts and there is artistic expression: all these activities share share a common element, consisting of an unusual situation the participants have to resolve by working together. When asked to plan a team building evening for TOM TOM, we opted for our own version of the popular game known as the wheel of fortune”, specifically design to provide an evening of light-hearted entertainment and help participants socialise.

Atmosphere is key

When designing a team building project, it is essential to know what kind of mood and atmosphere we are hoping to create. We wanted to go for an informal and relaxed vibe, that could facilitate human interaction and exchange. Team building activities do not necessarily have to be competitive and pose complex challenges: teams can benefit greatly from sharing an experience that helps participants make memories and feel that they are part of a community.

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The wheel of fortune

The game we devised had very simple rules, designed to encourage a laid back and positive attitude. That’s partly why we schedule the game to take place during the company dinner: it was meant to be a time for overall socialisation and fun, when conventions and formalities could be dispensed with. Participants were divided into teams, each team in turn was to spin the wheel we had created. Each slot on the wheel contained instructions on tasks that the players had to perform and that could involve singing, dancing, acting and answering questions. The evening unfolded among funny karaoke moments and participants reenacting iconic dancing scenes and dialogues from famous movies (such as Grease, Dirty Dancing, Titanic and The Gladiator) or answering movie-related questions. We had appointed a jury to give marks to each performance.

Team building and performing

Communication skills are essential in a variety of professional settings and they are also essential in building functional and positive interactions in general. Society and our job environment require that we stay connected, that we build internal and external network and convey messages rapidly and effectively. How can we hone all these skills in order to apply them to our career? There are several options, each with different implications and possible outcomes. Improvising a dialogue, for instance, can be an excellent team building activity, particularly to those who have no prior training in acting. A complete beginner participating in such an exercise might find themselves completely clueless and not a little embarrassed and the first skill they will have to employ in order to extricate themselves from an awkward situation is the ability to listen to their partner, to act quickly and change tack on the other’s intuition and pick up on the other’s cue, thinking creatively. This is even more evident when a complete novice is asked to dance: coordination and the ability to listen are paramount, particularly when dancing with a partner or a group.

Overcoming that awkward feeling

These activities are specifically designed to help participants overcome the feeling of awkwardness and unease that most people experience when they are the center of attention. Why are we embarrassed to let our colleagues see us dance, sing or act? Because most of us are not very good at any of these things and we are not comfortable with the idea that our colleagues, that are used to seeing us perform the tasks for which we are most prepared and qualified, might see us being goofy or giving a poor or even ridiculous performance and change their opinion of us. There is, of course, no rational basis for such concern – the opinion others have of our professionality or character will not be tarnished by the fact that we do not have John Travolta’s Pulp Fiction moves – and yet we can’t seem to let it go. These team building activities are meant to provide a controlled setting in which participants can let their hair down and allow themselves to enjoy being silly, having fun and sharing the experience with their colleagues, in full knowledge that nobody has any idea what they are doing.

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In conclusion

Picking the right team building activity for each specific event is a delicate process that involves a detailed analysis of the team’s needs. Not everyone, for instance, could get over the embarrassment of having to sing or act in public and forcing someone to perform may turn what is meant to be a fun and liberating activity in an unpleasant one, spoiling it not only for the individual concerned, but for the whole group. Similarly, it is not advisable to plan intense sport-based team building activities unless team members have explicitly confirmed that they are mentally and physically equipped to undertake them. There is no universal recipe for an effective team building project: each company and each team is its own universe and we should first and foremost make sure we understand how that individual universe works, before we can attempt to improve it in any way.

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Angela

She is a part-time digital nomad. She would go full-time, if only she could stay away from Berlin for long enough without pining for a Pretzel. She was born in Italy and she enjoys life as an expat, but visits home often enough and can still remember how to bake a perfect lasagna. She is passionate about writing, marketing, languages and the systematic demolition of cultural stereotypes.

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