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Reflection Exercises for Team Building

Tom Wright  •  Updated Nov 30, 2021

Team building activities are essential to any company, but it's critical to pair them with reflection exercises that help teams identify what happened, why they think it happened, what problems and opportunities resulted, and what they might do as a result. Reflection team building activities are tools for self-learning, yet they also shed light on individual differences within the team.

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Team building activities are essential to any company. The purposes of team building activities are to help team members develop bonds, identify their strengths and weaknesses, work well together, and develop as employees.

According to Gallup’s research, 51% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged. Team building activities present an opportunity to engage workers by making them feel valued and included. Engaged workers are productive workers. Teams that work well together are good for the company’s bottom line.

What is the Purpose of Team Building Activities?

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Team building activities promote positive company culture. People want to work for companies and participate in groups they feel good about. This is especially true for Millennials.

Team building activities help team members get to know each other better. Team members work on challenging activities that show them different sides of each other. During the process, members learn the strengths that each person brings to the team and how to collaborate more effectively. During team activities, natural leaders emerge, and quieter personalities become apparent.

A successful team building activity:

  • Establishes and builds trust -- When team members have to work on challenging team building activities, they learn to rely on each other.
  • Strengthens bonds between team members -- Teams that have fun and solve problems together grow closer as people.
  • Makes team members feel valued -- In daily work settings, some groups don’t feel like they are seen or heard. Other groups may be at odds with one another. Team building activities help tear down these walls.
  • Creates shared experiences and memories -- People who experience activities together create a bank of memories to look back on. These memories foster positive feelings and a sense of camaraderie.
  • Promotes creative problem solving -- Teams that work together on challenging team building activities develop a sense of accomplishment when solving tough problems. This victorious feeling translates over into the everyday workplace when teams are faced with challenging projects.
  • Improves communication -- Team building activities let people see other sides of each other. This insight helps them understand how to communicate with people with personalities who differ from theirs.
  • Increases motivation and productivity -- Team building activities make people feel they are part of something, which leads to increased motivation. Engaged and motivated employees are more productive and have lower absenteeism.
  • Promotes a positive culture -- Research from Limeade shows that 90% of employees agree that an organization’s culture influences their desire to work there. Eighty percent agree that an organization’s culture influences whether they want to put as much effort as possible into their work.
  • Creates high-performing teams -- Teams that often collaborate and solve problems successfully establish trust among each other and become highly effective.

Team Building Games

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Team building games can be beneficial and fun, but it’s critical to select appropriate activities and plan carefully. Otherwise, the games will be of little value or even dangerous.

The Society for Human Resources Management recommends that you assess the team’s needs and set clear goals for the results to be achieved by the team. Suggestions include:

  • Present real-world problems -- Keep your team building games focused on solving a real problem. Playing games for sheer entertainment has its place (for example, at a team dinner), but during team building activities, you want the team thinking about challenging realistic scenarios.
  • Be respectful of individual differences -- Some people aren’t athletic and don’t want to do activities requiring a lot of physical exertion and contact. Others are quiet and don’t do well in loud scenarios. Still, others may suffer from anxiety or other mental health issues that make it difficult to engage.
  • Be mindful of personal time -- If you’re planning a retreat, for example, make sure you keep it to two days. People have personal and family obligations that they need to attend to during their regular free time.
  • Understand that people have different comfort levels -- Some people may be fine with bungee jumping, but others would be mortified. Don’t pressure people into doing things they are not comfortable with.
  • Take religious and cultural factors into account -- Be cognizant about your timing so as not to interfere with religious traditions and holidays. Accommodate team members who need to take brief time away from the group to attend to religious customs. If food is involved, consider dietary requirements.
  • Designate a facilitator/team leader -- Before any team building activity happens, be sure you have a designated team leader in place. A trained facilitator is ideal. There is nothing wrong with managers facilitating, but be aware that the team may feel more comfortable when managers are participants and observers rather than facilitators.

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Team building games can take place indoors or outdoors. It’s best to select an off-site location to get employees away from the stressors of the workplace so they can focus on the team building activities at hand.

Examples of team outings include cooking or painting classes, escape room adventures, canoe trips, or volunteer days for nonprofit organizations. Classes bring out the creative side in individuals, while escape rooms bring out collaboration and problem-solving. A canoe trip requires a high degree of coordination, as does a team project volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen.

Other types of outings involve retreats, trips to new cities, and tours of museums or other points of interest. More elaborate and expensive outings are usually best handled by a training consulting firm that can coordinate the particulars and the programming to ensure that you get the best return on your investment.

In addition to outings, there are many fun team building games and activities your team might enjoy. Examples include:

  • Tower building -- This activity can take place with wooden building blocks, LEGOs, cards, or food items. See which team can build the highest tower before it falls.
  • Scavenger hunt -- Scavenger hunts are ideal because they force your team members to work both individually and as a group. As members study the hints and experience ‘a-ha’ moments, they bond, solve problems, and have fun at the same time.
  • Battle games -- Games like NERF battles or capture the flag can be great fun when played in the right spirit. Making these games too competitive will defeat your purpose.
  • Trivia competition -- Trivia games are fun because they get people thinking -- and laughing. As a bonus, have the trivia questions revolve around your area of business or a related area.
  • Mystery solving -- If there are mystery lovers in your group, they will be thrilled to participate in mystery adventures. Like scavenger hunts, mystery-solving activities promote collaboration and problem-solving.
  • Skits -- Roleplaying and skits bring out the creative side in your team members. Scripted plays can be great fun or have groups designate who is playing who.
  • Egg drop -- This classic game has teams working together to figure out how to drop an egg from a certain height without cracking. Maybe you remember it from your high school or college physics class. Not only will this game bring up feelings of nostalgia, but it will also bring out the most creative problem solvers in your bunch.

Keep in mind that while you want to have fun, if the team building games aren’t carefully thought out in advance, they can turn into a waste of time. Equally as bad, the team members can be turned off and begin to dread any future team building activities.

Make sure that you are promoting a healthy degree of collaboration instead of fierce competition. There are different trains of thought on this, but think about it: If you pit teams against each other, are you achieving the collaboration and problem solving that you’re looking for? In the worst scenario, employees can leave competitive activities feeling defeated or even humiliated. That’s NOT what you want.

What are Reflection Exercises?

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After you’ve put in all this effort to ensure that you put the right team building activities in place, you’ll want to follow up with reflection after the fact.

Reflection exercises help teams identify what happened, why they think it happened, what problems and opportunities resulted, and what they might do as a result. Reflection team building activities are tools for self-learning, yet they also shed light on individual differences within the team.

At the heart of reflection team building activities lies the question: What can we do to get better? All teams should be working toward continuous improvement. Team building activities present a way to get teams focused on concrete goals.

Reflection exercises are also known as debriefing exercises, retrospectives, or post-mortems. During this structured time, employees reflect upon the team activities they took part in or projects they recently completed.

Reflection exercises are a key piece of the team building process and present a prime opportunity for coaching employees as they reflect on the team building process.

Reflection exercises include reflection questions that can range from basic to advanced. Examples of basic questions include:

  • How did I feel during the activity?
  • What challenges did we face?
  • What did our team do to solve the problem?
  • Did we solve the problem?
  • What opportunities arose?
  • What would we do differently next time?
  • How do I feel about my contributions?
  • What did we learn?
  • What would we do differently next time?

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Reflection exercises can take place in the form of journaling. Participants write down the answers to their questions and are then asked if they would like to share them with the group.

Reflection team building activities can also take the form of games, for example, the Snowball Revision and Reflection Activity. For this activity, participants answer reflection questions posed by the team leader on pieces of white paper. When everyone is finished, they scrunch up their papers and begin tossing them at each other. After 30 seconds, each person opens a piece of paper and reads aloud the response.

Other reflective games involve sorting team members into groups. Activities can range from card games to flip chart activities, to whiteboard, to collaging. When considering which reflection team building activities to use, think about the personalities of your team members. Some games are more physical and entertaining, while others have a more serious tone.

In addition to reflection exercises for team building activities, year-end reflections are also useful for teams. During this time, teams think about their wins and losses over the past year. Members reflect upon what went right or wrong and why and apply the learning from the past year to set goals for the coming year.

Gratitude is an essential part of the retrospective process. Teams need to know that even if things didn’t go particularly well, they are still safe and valued in their work environment. Learning is necessary for growth, and the lessons are not always positive.

Team Building in Virtual Environments

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With the move to more home-based employees, you may wonder about remote team building. Does it work? Absolutely. Today’s modern tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet make it easy to get together.

That said, you still want to ensure that your virtual team building activity is well thought out and meaningful. You can find many ideas for virtual games on the internet, but most of them are designed for fun and camaraderie, more so than collaboration and problem-solving. Such games have their place, especially if coworkers are feeling isolated by working in their homes.

Ideas for fun virtual games include online trivia, virtual puzzles and games, happy hours, virtual field trips, and virtual talent shows. Don’t forget to start with a virtual icebreaker. Virtual games promote human connection, create fun shared memories, and make people feel more engaged, motivated, and productive.

Conclusion

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Team building activities are not only good for employees -- they are good for the bottom line. Companies want productive employees who are creative problem solvers. They want people who collaborate and communicate well and who are motivated and engaged. They also want a corporate culture that fosters goodwill and teamwork. Team building activities help with all these goals.

Don’t forget one of the most important parts of team building -- the reflective period afterward. Reflective team building activities are equally as crucial as the team building activity itself. When done right, the activities and the reflective periods following them will lead to happier, more goal-oriented employees who are bonded with their teammates.