I recently had the immense pleasure to facilitate a team building activity for 110 people for a local non-profit organization, where I do some work with various teams and leaders to support better communication and collaboration. My contribution for this activity was nested in the annual staff day. Upon talking to people about this event and reflecting on what activity would be best to do, I decided on the bridge building activity. The activity and game were very successful and I had just about 100% participation, which amounted to 110 people, by far the biggest group I had worked with heretofore. Below is most of the ‘speech’ I gave before the activity as well as the guidelines for the game itself. I began with getting the crowd to shout 3 times to my call “Are you ready?” to get some collective energy going. Then I thanked those people that brought me to the table as well as those people I work with in the agency. I also set up ground rules, such as no side conversations, bring your best to the game, be respectful of others’ styles, etc. Then I had people look across the table from one another and ascertain what they really love about working in the organization.
Today is very special and I am honored to be part of the festivities. This is an auspicious occasion to put our best feet forward and move in an energized collective direction. Change, challenges and even trauma are inevitable in life as well as org life. They can bring upset, volatility and negativity. Most of you folks have had your share of these things over the last couple years in your organization. But in the midst of change and challenge is an opportunity to come together, to foster positive regard and collaboration for the betterment of each other and the organization, to move forward in the best possible way. It is also an opportunity to understand yourself deeper and more fully. What do you need? What do you envision? What do you want? What makes you tick? These generative ideas and insights can cross-pollinate and take root over time when we reflect on them.
If I asked you all why you work here, most of you would say that you deeply care about the mission and relationships at this organization, that it’s not just a job. You resonate with the values of dignity, respect, and empowerment for those in need. And playing off these values the hope for the vibrant future lies with you! It is my belief that to build a culture of continued greatness, of positivity and transparency, of accountability and collaboration, it rests on each of our shoulders, not just the Executives and the Board. Each and every one of us has the ability to transform the agency in real time, right now, because the now is all we ever have. We can go from a collection of “I’s” to a collective “we”. After all there is no us vs. them. We are all on the same team, supporting the same mission and vision at the same organization. We just happen to do different roles.
So how can we achieve this? 5 things to think about: First off, we need to appreciate each other more. Not many people I have crossed paths with have complained about having too much of it. Best of all it is free. Dole out specific appreciation as much as you can. Secondly, getting to know each other is another paramount strategy. By building stronger relationships with people across departments people feel more connected and the us vs. them diminishes. Thirdly, managing your negative emotions and calming yourself down quick enough to not take a negative action. By understanding that you are 100% responsible for your emotions and actions liberates you to choose wisely how to address something challenging. Fourthly, the art of feedback, being able to talk straight to each other respectfully for what we are seeing and wanting to be different. It is risky but one of the most prescient tools that I know of to transform a culture. And finally, is our ability to listen deeply to each other. In the midst of a busy day, listening intently can take the backseat, which can cause a lot of problems and stress inadvertently. Open your ears more and you will reap the rewards.
So, today we are building a metaphorical bridge to the future and each other. A bridge is a structure that supports you to get from point A-B, to stop and reflect, or to get over some trouble or turbulence with ease. Sturdy bridges have solid foundations and enough support for each span so that it can take the load of the weight it is bearing. In the outer sense you act as bridges every day, connecting resources and services to people who desperately need them. What the bridge activity is about is a symbol of the internal bridge building that is needed to take this organization into a phenomenal future.
The bridge foundation is always trust, building trust through appreciation, relationship building and transparency. The supports are speaking up respectfully, managing negativity and listening well. The span is how these translate up and down and across the organization and hold each other accountable for the culture we want to create.
So now to the actual bridge building game: The purpose of this game is to foster friendly competition between teams, to build teamwork, to collaborate, to problem-solve and create and to learn about yourself on the team you are on.
Here is the objective: to build a bridge using newspaper and tape, that can support the water jug and have the basin pass through underneath the long way. There are many aspects to consider when contributing to the group: who is good at strategy, implementation, leadership? Also, consider how you facilitate the time together. Is it chaotic or do you put form to who speaks when? Only 3 groups will stand the test of the judges. You will be judged on creativity and functionality. It must be free standing, no taping it to the table.
You will have 8 minutes to plan it, feel free to use the paper on the tables to draw ideas. Then you will have 12 minutes to build. Then I will give you 4 minutes to re-assess then 6 minutes to finish. I will keep the time and let you know when to change. After we finish we will each show our bridge and the judges will take note. 3 groups will win a prize. Any questions?
Debrief questions (after building and judging): What did you learn about being part of this team? What did you learn about yourself? (have people shout out the answers one at a time).
Thank you for engaging in this activity and here is to the future of building bridges.