Case Study Team Building Exercise For Conflict

Here are techniques, theory and ideas for designing and using your own team building games, exercises and activities, and tips for using the many free team and group activites and ideas on this website.

And here's some guidance about using games and group activities...

Team building games, exercises and activities help build teams, develop employee motivation, improve communications and are fun - for corporate organizations, groups, children's development and even kids parties. Team building games, exercises, activities and quizzesalso warm up meetings, improve training, and liven up conferences.

These free team building games ideas and rules will help you design and use games and exercises for training sessions, meetings, workshops, seminars or conferences, for adults, young people and children, in work, education or for clubs and social activities. Team building games, exercises and activities can also enhance business projects, giving specific business outputs and organizational benefits. We cannot accept responsibility for any liability which arises from the use of any of these free team building ideas or games - please see the disclaimer notice below. Always ensure that you have proper insurance in place for all team building games activities, and take extra care when working with younger people, children and organising kids party games.

Great teamwork makes things happen more than anything else in organizations. The diagram representing McGregor's X-Y Theory helps illustrate how and why empowered teams get the best results. Empowering people is more about attitude and behaviour towards staff than processes and tools. Teamwork is fostered by respecting, encouraging, enthusing, caring for people, not exploiting or dictating to them.

At the heart of this approach is love and spirituality which helps bring mutual respect, compassion, and humanity to work. People working for each other in teams is powerful force, more than skills, processes, policies. More than annual appraisals, management-by-objectives, the 'suits' from head office; more than anything. Teams usually become great teams when they decide to do it for themselves - not because someone says so. Something inspires them maybe, but ultimately the team decides. It's a team thing. It has to be. The team says: 'Okay. We can bloody well make a difference. We will be the best at what we do. We'll look out for each other and succeed - for us - for the team. And we'll make sure we enjoy ourselves while we're doing it'. And then the team starts to move mountains.

Using and planning team-building activities

People are best motivated if you can involve them in designing and deciding the activities - ask them. Secondly you will gain most organisational benefit if the activities are geared towards developing people's own potential - find out what they will enjoy doing and learning. Games can be trite or patronising for many people - they want activities that will help them learn and develop in areas that interest them for life, beyond work stuff - again ask them. When you ask people commonly you'll have several suggestions which can be put together as a collection of experiences that people attend or participate in on a rotating basis during the day or the team-building event. Perhaps you have people among your employees who themselves have special expertise or interests which they'd enjoy sharing with others; great team activities can be built around many hobbies and special interests. If you are planning a whole day of team-building activities bear in mind that a whole day of 'games' is a waste of having everyone together for a whole day. Find ways to provide a mix of activities that appeal and help people achieve and learn - maybe build in exercises focusing on one or two real work challenges or opportunities, using a workshop approach. Perhaps involve a few employees in planning the day (under your guidance or not according to the appropriate level of delegated authority) - it will be good for their own development and will lighten your load. See also the guide to facilitating experiential learning activities.

Team exercises and events for developing ethical organizations

Team-building exercises and activities also provide a wonderful opportunity to bring to life the increasing awareness and interest in 'ethical organizations'. These modern ethical business ideas and concepts of sustainability, 'Fairtrade', corporate social responsibility, the 'triple bottom line', love, compassion, humanity and spirituality, etc., are still not well defined or understood: people are unclear what it all means for them individually and for the organization as a whole, even though most people are instinctively attracted to the principles. Team-exercises and discussions help bring clarity and context to idealistic concepts like ethics and social responsibility far more effectively than reading the theory, or trying to assimilate some airy-fairy new mission statement dreamed up by someone at head office and handed down as an edict. Fundamental change has to come from within, with support from above sure, but successful change is ultimately successful because people 'own' it and see it as their change, not something handed down. See for example the Triple Bottom Line exercise.

Ensure that team-building activities and all corporate events comply with equality and discrimination policy and law in respect of gender, race, disability, age, etc. Age discrimination is a potential risk given certain groups and activities, and particularly so because Age Discrimination is quite a recent area of legislation. Team-building facilitators should be familiar with Employment Age Regulations and wider issues of Equality Law and its protections against discrimination for reasons of race, gender, disability, etc. While this is UK and European legislation, the principles are applicable to planning and running team-building exercises anywhere in the world, being consistent with the ethical concepts.

Corporate events and social responsibility

Also consider the effects of team building and corporate events in terms of effects on employees' families and people's broader life needs. It is easy to become very narrowly focused on the organization and the community within it, without thinking of the families and social needs outside. Alcohol is another increasing area of risk for organizers of team building and conference events.

An employer's duty of care (and potential liability) at corporate events traditionally was fulfilled by ensuring no-one tripped over the electrical cable for the overhead projector. Nowadays organizations have a deeper wider responsibility, which is progressively reflected in law. Alcohol and discrimination are big issues obviously, but arguably a bigger responsibility for employers is to the families and social well-being of employees, which impacts directly onto society as a whole.

Today's well-led and ethically-managed corporations understand that divisive treatment of employees' partners and families undermines loyalty and motivation of employees, and creates additional unnecessary stresses for workers in close loving caring relationships, especially for young families, which have evolved a strong sensitivity to such pressures.

If you read about Erik Erikson's Life Stages Theory you will understand why parents of young children especially are not helped by this sort of work pressure. Thwarting or obstructing people's instincts - evolved over millennia - to be with and take care of their partners and young families is extremely destructive. Employers who have a blatant antipathy for these crucial life needs of their people are therefore socially irresponsible.

Inevitably strong work commitments put pressure on employees' families and partners. This is particularly so in big modern corporations where travel and lengthy absence from home is unavoidable in key roles. Modern ethical socially responsible organizations should be doing whatever they can to minimize these effects, not make them worse.

Where possible employers should reward partners and families for their support and loyalty, rather than alienate them by creating selfish staff-only events.

Laws are not yet clearly defined about the employer's liabilities arising from such situations, however there are clear principles (e.g., related to stress, duty of care, social responsibility, etc) which demand responsibility and anticipation from employers in this area.

Moreover, fostering a healthy work and home life balance tends to make organizations run smoother and less problematically, notably in areas of grievance and counseling, stress and conflict, disputes and litigation, recruitment and staff retention, succession planning, company reputation and image.

Risks and dangers of socially irresponsible events and activities

I was prompted to add this item because I received a question about the implications of running a staff-only dinner dance at a conference event.

If you are considering a staff-only social event - especially at night, involving alcohol, dancing, overnight accommodation - or you are wondering generally where to draw the line between working relationships and intimacy, or between fun and irresponsible risk, these observations might help you decide.

Implications and risks of organizing socially irresponsible events concern chiefly:

  1. Romantic/sexual relations between staff, whether extra-marital or not.
  2. Stresses on partners and families, and thereby on staff too, if partners are excluded from intimate social events.
  3. Problems, accidents, incidents arising from alcohol.
  4. Impacts on performance, management distraction, and staff retention arising from the above.
  5. Risks of litigation and bad publicity arising from any of the above.

The risks of running a socially irresponsible corporate event are emphasised if you consider a scenario containing the following elements. Do not run an event containing these elements. This is a negative example for the purposes of illustrating risk and responsibility:

  1. Evening dinner and dance or disco.
  2. Dressing up - especially black tie, long dresses (and whatever the women will be wearing - no, seriously..)
  3. A bar, or other access to alcohol (the more freely available then the more risk).
  4. Overnight accommodation.
  5. Heady atmosphere of achievement, motivation, team-working, relationship-building and general showing off (many conference events contain these features, especially those aiming to motivate, reward, entertain, etc., and especially events for staff involved in sales, management and the more extroverted people-oriented roles within organizations).
  6. Scheduled on the last night of the event (sense of climax, relief, tension release, "...Tomorrow it all ends and back to normal...", etc.)
  7. Partners excluded (for whatever reason - either because the CEO is a thrice married and divorced dirty old man, or because the event necessarily brings delegates together from a wide geographical area, which prevents partners attending due to logistics and costs).

You do not need to be a professor of social anthropology to guess that the above circumstances are unlikely to be a useful corporate defence against any of the following problems which could arise, directly, indirectly, or ironically if actually nothing whatever to do with the event itself - try telling that to the offended party afterwards...

  1. Extra-marital liaisons of various sorts between various people away from home, whether serial philanderers, or momentarily weak in the face of temptation.
  2. Seductions or more serious sexual behaviours resulting in a victim or complaint of some sort.
  3. Abuse of power/authority/bar-tab by a senior staff member, resulting in scandal when a junior victim subsequently emerges, and says it all happened because they got drunk downing umpteen free sambucas with the directors and then got taken advantage of.
  4. Someone deciding to drive away on the night three or four times over the legal limit and getting arrested or causing an accident.
  5. Damage to person or property, or violence resulting from too much alcohol.

You could probably add to this list. There is no limit to human ingenuity when behaving irresponsibly under the influence of drink and any other stimulants of emotion or substance. A socially responsible employer should be able to demonstrate they have been duly careful and diligent in minimizing such risks when organizing any work events.

Excluding partners from events...

Executives, managers and employees of successful organizations hopefully love their work. They live and breathe it, which is great - but what about the partners and families? Do they love the organization? Sometimes not. Overly demanding work is a threat to family life - and thereby to society. And just because a few staff members and crusty old directors can't wait to get away from their spouses (a feeling no doubt reciprocated by the spouses), doesn't mean that all employees feel the same way. The vast majority do not.

Staging intense social staff-only events can be upsetting to employees' partners and families.

A modern ethical employer's duty of care and social responsibility extsnds to the families of its employees.

Divorce, separation and family conflicts and breakdowns are directly linked with many social ills. Socially responsible ethical employers should be doing all they can to reduce these causal factors - not to make them worse.

Remind yourself of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs if you are in doubt about the acute stress which arises when anyone is threatened at the level of family, loving relationships, home, etc. Consider the stresses and difficulties caused to employees' partners excluded from such occasions, and the effects which inevitably rebound on the employees, and cascade to children. These are truly basic needs and an organization which jeopardises these factors is irresponsible in the extreme.

Materials and ideas for teambuilding

Here are some examples of different resources which can be used in creating teambuilding events and activities.

free quizzes - questions and answers - trivia, general knowledge, and management and business quiz

free motivational and amusing posters - ideas for themes and maxims to underpin team-building

body language theory - provides an excellent angle for exploring relationships and perceptions

brainstorming">">brainstorming theory and tips

how to run workshops - tips for motivational, development and team-building workshops

role playing process and tips - for role play games and exercises

buddha maitreya's japanese garden and meditation centre - an example of an innovative venue for team activities and events

fantasticat - the Fantasticat ideas for motivating, teaching and developing young people - grown-ups too..

see also the free puzzles and tricks - ideal for team building exercises

and the training and business acronyms for more team building and training sessions ideas.

Easy way to start to the team building process

If you are a manager, supervisor or team leader, and are wondering how to select a team building activity, an easy and effective way to begin the process is to simply ask the team what sort of activity they would prefer. For example - do they want to play games, or would the team prefer to use an activity that focuses on a work issue, or work skills, in the way that workshops can do. Asking a team what they want to is particularly relevant if the team is mature and/or contains mature team members. Younger inexperienced teams will need more guidance and perhaps a list of possibilities to choose from.

Involving the team in deciding what activities to use is empowering and participative, and will help to lighten your management load.

Refer to, explain and remember the POB acronym, which is a great mnemonic (memory aid) to reinforce the need for all team members to be involved and engaged in team work - teams work best when everyone contributes - which means no passengers. It's the team leader's, or manager's, or facilitator's responsibility to structure and help teams to ensure that all team members have the opportunity and incentive to contribute and participate in team activities, and ultimately the team's success.

It is helpful to use and refer to these models when using, planning, designing, and evaluating team building activities or games:

Kirkpatrick's learning evaluation model

Bloom's Taxonomy of learning domains

See also the Team-Building Activities Evaluation Form and Outcomes Notes (Excel file).

Here's a sample video from the Communication and Conflict youtube channel: Why Using I-statements Helps to Create More Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution!

4-Word-Build - A Conflict Resolution and Teamwork Exercise

4-Word-Build is an excellent conflict resolution exercise to elicit a shared understanding, or a shared vision of an idea or concept. It also identifies that we usually do not have such a shared vision - but that we can create one.

The exercise can also provide an insight into the ways in which decisions are made within any given team or group, and as such is an excellent teamwork exercise.

Written for the Trainers and Facilitators section - Newsletter 1

So what is the 4-Word-Build Exercise?

Choose a word, idea or concept that you want the group to explore.

This could be:

*An idea you are providing some training in - for example I have used it for the words 'Mediation', 'Conflict', 'Teamwork', 'Communication' etc..

*A new initiative in your organisation - the exercise will enable you to find out what people's understanding of it is at the moment.

*A difficult situation that it has been hard to discuss - for example it could be 'smoking breaks' or some other issue.

The exercise:

Ideally groups of 4, 8, 12, 16 etc. but this is not essential - other numbers work as well ....

First of all give each person in the group a sheet of paper and a pen.

Ask each person to write down 4 words that come up for them when they think of the word or concept being explored. They should not consult with others, just write down their own ideas.

If they seem hesitant, point out that there are no 'right' or 'wrong' words, just their own ideas.

For example, if the word being explored is 'conflict' someone may have written:

War - Argument - Disagreement - Fight

Next, ask the members of the group to form pairs.

If there is an odd number of people, a group of 3 can also be formed.

In the pairs, there will now be 2 people with 8 words between them which represent, for them, the word being explored, in this case 'conflict'.

Ask them to agree on 4 words to keep from their 8 original words, and therefore they will also have to eliminate 4 words.

This exercise is taken and adapted from the following book:

The book contains many other innovative exercises to help explore communication and conflict.

This can lead to a lot of discussion about the words and the reasons why they chose them. Through doing so they will come to understand each other's reasons for the words they chose and how they understand the original word or concept. Their decision to keep or eliminate a word will need some form of decision making and the means by which this happens can, in itself, be of interest later in the exercise.

For example, for 'conflict', the 2 people may have:

War - Argument - Disagreement - Fight


Anger - Difference - Change - Disagreement

and they may agree on

Anger - Change - Argument - Disagreement

So now the pair have 'their' 4 words for the word or concept being explored. (In the case of a group of 3 they will have reduced their original 12 words down to 4)

Ok, just one more word to find..... !

Next ask each pair to join with another pair and do exactly the same thing.

That is, there will be groups of 4 people discussing 8 words and they will need to reduce the 8 words down to 4. (Again, if the numbers don't quite work, you may create different sized groups....... see below for an example of ways you can do this).

This further discussion of the original word, this time with each pair bringing their learnings and insights from their own discussion, creates even deeper exploration of the word or concept.

The outcome of this will be groups of 4 people with their group's 4 words to represent the word being explored.

This process can obviously continue again and again, but ideally you need to end up with about 8 words for the whole group of people you are working with

Next, the review of the activity:

Ideally, have the whole group's 8 words visible to all, for example on a flip-chart or whiteboard, with the original word or concept above the list of 8 words.

Various different questions can then be asked about the exercise.

Choose from some or all of those given below and, of course you can create other questions that you feel are relevant:

- Ask for any observations any of them have about the final words.

- Ask if there are any new insights into the original word that they gained through the exercise.

- Ask how they felt about doing the exercise.

- Ask what, if anything, they learned from doing it.

The group will already have had a rich discussion of the word or concept the exercise is exploring, but now they can see where they got to as a group. This is likely to have led to various insights and learnings for many of them and sharing them in the group is likely to increase this.

Depending on the original intention for exploring the word, this can lead to:

* a wider understanding of the different views about a training topic being given

* a more consensual decision and greater shared vision about a new initiative

* a greater insight into the relevant issues affecting or causing a difficult situation

It will not be possible to list all the different possible nuances and aspects that can arise in facilitating these different applications of the exercise, as they will be very dependent on the context of the situation. But hopefully it can be seen that this is a very non-threatening, all-involving exercise that can tease out the different views and understandings held by the members of the group that are associated with the word or concept being explored.

A common cause of communication breakdown in groups or organisations can be a range of different interpretations of a basic idea or concept. There can be many assumptions that there is a shared view when in fact there is not.

This exercise can vastly increase the level of consensus regarding a particular topic or initiative or concept or issue and its potential for application is extremely broad.

But it doesn't stop there........

One of the other very useful aspects of the exercise can arise when there is a discussion of:

'How did you come to the decisions in your pair or group with regard to which words to keep and which ones to drop?'

This can lead to a lot of insights into 'how' each person present took part in the process of the decision making, irrespective of the word:

Were they passive in one group and more active in another?

Did they try to 'dominate' the discussion and decision reached?

Did they take into account the contributions of others?

Did they feel listened to in their group? etc.

Various questions can be asked and discussion of the answers enables reflection and observation on the approaches used to come to decisions in a group.

It is important that there is not deemed to be a 'better' way or a 'worse' way of doing so but that this review is used to identify the kinds of approaches used. Obviously if an approach is used which is genuinely not felt to be effective then the approach should be challenged and not any particular person.

Anyone could be prone to using the approach at some time, even if one person is seen to use it more than others. It is unlikely to lead to a useful discussion if finger pointing and criticism occurs.

It is a very useful Teamwork exercise when used in this way and if this is the intended focus then the original word is of lesser importance.

Of course you could actually use the word 'Teamwork' for the exercise and see if the words that come up for the whole group match the experience of the group members in carrying out the exercise!

That can then lead to another interesting discussion with regard to the group's perception of itself compared to the reality experienced in carrying out the task.

The Principles of Effective Communication and the Underlying Philosophies of Mediation will inform good practice in facilitating the discussion.

If the numbers are difficult...

Play around with the numbers involved.

For example if you have a group of 7: When each person has listed their own 4 words you could ask them to form 2 pairs and a group of 3. The next stage could be to ask one person from the 3 to join one of the pairs and the 2 remaining to join the other pair taking their 4 words to each group. This then leaves 2 groups, one of 3 and one of 4 which can then go on to do the exercise again, leading to 8 words for the whole group.

Alternatively you could ask the 7 to do 3-word build on their own and then go straight to a group of 3 people (9 words in total) and 4 people (12 words) and ask each group to agree on 4 words each, again leading to 8 words for the whole group at the end.

And of course with both options there is the possibility of a final round where the 2 groups join to make a group of 7 to reach just 4 words for the whole group!

The variations are endless!

We use this exercise in much of our training and particularly on our Mediation Skills Training course: 

The Guide to the Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution e-book.
Click here for further details.

Buy The Guide for just $7 and get a FREE COPY of Listening, Summarising and Questioning - The Simple, Effective Skills of Conflict Resolution.

Other Conflict Resolution Exercises and Communication Exercises

If you liked the above exercise, you may also be interested in the following conflict resolution exercises and effective communication exercises that I have also used on training courses.

Does he take sugar?

An exercise exploring our assumptions about others, that I have used on training courses for Mediators.

One of the benefits of the exercise is that it promotes self awareness with regard to how we see others, and how this can affect our impartiality, when we work as Mediators, but also how it affects our responses to others whether as mediators or not.

The Facts and Feelings Listening Exercise

This listening exercise gives participants an opportunity to reflect on various aspects of the experience of listening and being listened to as well as the experience of being the speaker in a situation.

It can easily be assumed that we all experience these in the same way, but this exercise can highlight a range of differences amongst participants. This, in turn, helps us to understand what constitutes good listening and effective communication.

Connect with Alan Sharland, creator of the Communication and Conflict website on Google+

Find CAOS Conflict Management on Google+

Leave 4-Word-Build to find out more about Alan's Conflict Resolution Skills e-book.

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