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Team Work in Safety what Scouts and Military Taught us all! Challenge yourself by stepping outside of your comfort zone

Have you been to these corporate TEAM BUILDING PROGRAMS where you walk in thinking I need a smoke and two more aspirin and why the hell am I here? REMEMBERING THE KEY PHRASE Team has no I in the letters, and it active ingredients that glues the whole work process together in life.

Team building is a collective term for various types of activities used to enhance social relations and define roles within teams, often involving collaborative tasks. It is distinct from teamtraining, which is designed [by whom?] to improve the efficiency, rather than interpersonal relations. Scouts and Military persons know this from proactive field training and going for the flag in life,

Too often, managers plan an activity with no real thought or goal in mind. This tends to be a waste of time – and managers risk losing the team’s respect when they plan an exercise that doesn’t actually help those involved. Nowadays it is almost impossible to avoid being a member of team. If you’re not on an official team at work, chances are you function within one in one way or another. So it’s important for your personal and career development to know your team working strengths and weaknesses.

Team-building activities can be a powerful way to unite a group, develop strengths, and address weaknesses – but only if the exercises are planned and carried out strategically. In other words, there has to be a real purpose behind your decision to do the exercise – for example, improving the team’s problem-solving or creativity skills – rather than because you felt like giving your people a nice day out of the office. There are four main types of team building activities, which includes: Communication activities, problem solving and/or decision making activities, adaptability and/or planning activities, and activities that focus on building trust. The idea is to perform various activities that are both fun and challenging, and that also have the “side effect” of building teamwork skills that can help improve employee performance and productivity at the office.

Workplace Safety Culture (OHS) Programs deliver a clear message that team members need to do the “right thing” so the workplace is safe.

Ask your team these simple questions can they score 100% with everyone?

 Analysis of an individuals mental state and attitude and how these influence safety outcomes and decisions. Participants will be provided with tools to consciously and positively shift mental state so that risk analysis results are both objective and consistent.

  • Application of structured problem solving techniques. Specific emphasis is given to use of problem solving techniques as these apply to the formulation of risk reduction strategies.
  • Creating an understanding of the difference between perception and observation and how to apply this knowledge to leadership techniques.
  • Analysis of the pre‐requisites required to shift behaviours toward a culture of safety excellence. Particular emphasis is given to the progression from a safety culture driven only by compliance to one that is driven by positively entrenched personal beliefs and attitudes.
  • Development of techniques for individuals to maximise their potential as group facilitators in leadership situations such as safety toolbox talks, incident analysis workshops and risk assessment workshops.
  • Theoretical understandings are enhanced and embedded through the use of practical simulations. Each simulation is designed to maximise opportunities for each participant to implement theoretical techniques whilst providing real‐world practice in the identification of hazards, assessment of risk and implementation of controls within a team environment.

The most important step when planning a team-building activity comes at the very beginning: you must start by figuring out what challenges your team faces. Only then can you choose exercises that will be effective in helping them work through these issues.

Spend time thinking about your team’s current strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself these questions to identify the root of any problems:

  • Are there conflicts between certain people that are creating divisions within the team?
  • Do team members need to get to know one another?
  • Do some members focus on their own success, and harm the group as a result?
  • Does poor communication slow the group’s progress?
  • Do people need to learn how to work together, instead of individually?
  • Are some members resistant to change, and does this affect the group’s ability to move forward?
  • Do members of the group need a boost to their morale?

Initiatives consist of an ever expanding archive of tasks that challenge groups in a number of ways. Initiative tasks will consistently have a clear objective that is obtainable if the group manages itself well. Each initiative task will contain any number of the following group dynamic, components that must be managed well by the peoples skills in order to successfully achieve the goal. Some of these factors include;

Decision Making

Problem Solving





Managing Diversity

Leadership (Situational)

Accessing Strengths and Weaknesses

Improving Communication

  • Back-to-Back Drawing– Divide your group into pairs, and have each pair sit on the floor back to back. Give one person in each pair a picture of a shape, and give the other person a pencil and pad of paper.

Ask the people holding the pictures to give verbal instructions to their partners on how to draw the shape – without actually telling the partners what the shape is. After they’ve finished, ask each pair to compare their original shape with the actual drawing, and consider the following questions:

  • How well did the first person describe the shape?
  • How well did the second person interpret the instructions?
  • Were there problems with both the sending and receiving parts of the communication process?
  • Survival Scenario– This exercise forces your group to communicate and agree to ensure their ‘survival.’ Tell your group that their airplane has just crashed in the ocean. There’s a desert island nearby, and there’s room on the lifeboat for every person – plus 12 items they’ll need to survive on the island. Instruct the team to choose which items they want to take. How do they decide? How do they rank or rate each item?

Eliminating Stereotypes and “Labeling”

  • Stereotype Party– This is a fun exercise for a medium-sized or large group. Write on nametags many different ‘personality types (see the list below), and pin or tape one tag to each person’s back. Don’t show people which tag is on their back – they’ll be able to see everyone else’s tag, but not their own.

Now, ask each person to figure out which personality type is on his or her back by asking stereotype-based questions of other people – “Am I a man?” “Am I an athlete?” “Am I an entertainer?” and so on.

Allow group members to answer only yes or no, and encourage participants to ask questions to as many different people as possible.

Here are some personality types you could consider:

  • Auto mechanic.
  • Olympic medalist.
  • Fast-food restaurant worker.
  • Postal worker.
  • Movie star.

Building Interdependence and Trust

  • Human spring– Ask group members to stand facing each other in pairs. Their elbows should be bent, with their palms facing toward each other. Instruct them to touch their palms together, and gradually start leaning toward each other, so that they eventually hold each other up. Then, instruct everyone to move their feet further and further back, so that they have to depend solely upon their partners to remain standing.
  • Mine field– This is a great exercise if you have a large room or outdoor field. Set up a ‘mine field’ using chairs, balls, cones, boxes, or any other object that could potentially be an obstacle and trip someone up. Leave enough space between the objects for someone to walk through.

Next, divide your group into pairs. Pay attention to who you match with whom. This is a perfect opportunity to work on relationships, so you might want to put together people who have trust issues with each other.

Blindfold one person, the ‘mine walker’ – this person is not allowed to talk. Ask his or her partner to stay outside the mine field, and give verbal directions, helping the mine walker avoid the obstacles, and reach the other side of the area.

Before you begin, allow partners a few minutes to plan how they’ll communicate. Then, make sure there are consequences when people hit an obstacle. For example, perhaps they have to start again from the beginning.

If your team is feeling drained and stressed, this fun exercise is a great way to refresh and energize them. It doesn’t require much time and the recommended group size is 10-20 people.

  1. Participants will need to form two equal lines facing each other.
  2. The game starts when one line turns around, giving the second line 40 seconds to change 10 things about themselves. This can include anything from jewelry or clothing being swapped with other people, untied shoelaces, a different hair do, or a switched watch or ring to the other hand. All changes must be something the other group can see.
  3. After 40 seconds, the first group turns around and tries to find all the changes the other group made.
  4. Once the changes have been recognized, the groups switch, giving each team a chance to make changes.

This game will stimulate the participants’ minds and challenge their memory. Incorporate this activity when a lack of energy is apparent.

Grab Bag Skits
This acting exercise is another great way to refresh and energize the team. It doesn’t require much time but does need some props. Depending on the number of groups you have, each group will need a goodie bag filled with five to six random objects. Recommended group size can range from 10-50 people.

  1. Form groups composed of three to eight people. (The more groups, the more time this activity requires).
  2. Give each group a goodie bag.
  3. Each group needs to create a three minute skit using all the objects in their goodie bag. Creativity is encouraged, example: a pen can be a magic wand, a stapler can be a microphone, etc.
  4. As the manager, you can either allow your groups to make-up their own skits, or assign them general topics. Topics should be work related, maybe acting out a meeting, process or event.
  5. Give the groups about five minutes to come up with their skits.
    Each group performs.
  6. Optional step: groups can vote for which group they thought had the best performance. The winning group can be awarded anything from a casual dress day to lunch.

Tip: It’s important that all group members are present for the other group performances.

This exercise is a great way to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. It encourages teamwork, collaboration, and helps people feel more comfortable with their colleagues.

Salt and Pepper
This activity is fun, excellent for energizing your team, and also great as a get-to-know-one another exercise. It doesn’t take up a lot of time and requires a few simple materials like a pen, tape, and small sheets of paper. Recommended group size can range from 6-40 people.

  1. A sheet of paper for every person.
  2. As manager, come up with pairs of things such as, salt and pepper, yin and yang, shadow and light, peanut butter and jelly, Mickey and Minnie mouse, male and female, and so forth.
  3. Separate the pairs and write only one of them per piece of paper. (Salt on one paper, pepper on a completely different paper).
  4. Tape one paper on the back of each person, making sure they can’t see it.
  5. When you say go, everyone must walk around asking yes or no questions in order to find out what word they have taped to their backs.
  6. Once they figure that out, they’ll be able to find their other pair. The two will sit down and learn three to five interesting facts about one another.
  7. Optional step: have the pairs introduce their partners and the interesting facts they learned about them.

This exercise will encourage communication and creativity among the participants. Learning how to ask the right questions will be a challenge. It will also encourage teamwork as interacting with the other team members is necessary.

Take What You Need
This exercise is an excellent get-to-know-you activity that doesn’t take up too much of your team’s time. All you need is a toilet paper roll or two depending on the size of the group (you can use pennies as another option). Recommended group size is 10-30 people.

  1. Ask everyone to sit around in a circle.
  2. Pass around the roll of toilet paper or pennies and tell them to take as much as they think they’ll need, without disclosing what the items will be used for.
  3. If your employees ask further questions, simply answer them with, “take as much as you think you’ll need.”
  4. Once that’s done, ask them to count the number of squares they each have.
  5. Going around the circle, each person has to share a fact about themselves for every square of toilet paper or penny they took. So, if someone takes 10 squares, they need to share 10 facts about themselves.

Tip: In order to avoid someone taking 30 pennies or squares of toilet paper, you could set a limit for each item. The facts don’t have to be long or time consuming.

This activity is particularly beneficial when new employees are hired. It encourages communication, bonding, and helps the participants learn more about their colleagues. You’d be surprised what a simple activity can teach you about someone you thought you knew.

Beach Ball Toss
Whether you’re adding on new team members, merging departments or trying to strengthen the bond between existing employees, the following exercise is great as a get-to-know-one-another activity and doesn’t require much time. Recommended group size is 5-25 people.

All you need for this activity is a beach ball that’s been divided with random questions written on it. (Only you, as the manager should know what questions are on the ball). Questions can be simple or more complex, i.e. what’s your favorite dessert? what are your weekly goals? if conflict were to arise within your department, how would you go about handling that?

  1. Have the participants stand in a circle and begin tossing the ball around. Whoever catches the ball needs to introduce themselves and answer the question closest to their pinky finger. (Another option would be to allow them to choose which question they’d like to answer).

Tip: When coming up with the questions, you may ask the participants to submit three questions each and pick which questions you’d like to write on the ball.

This exercise will help the participants learn more about their colleagues. Unlike a regular meeting, this is a more exciting way to give everyone an opportunity to stay current with each other’s goals and activities.

Human Knot
This brain teaser is funny and really works on teambuilding, problem solving and communication. It will take around 15-30 minutes depending on how well everyone works together. No materials are needed. Recommended group size ranges from 8-20 people.

  1. Instruct the participants to stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder.
  2. Tell everyone to put their right hand in the air and grab the hand of someone standing across the circle from them.
  3. Now tell everyone to put their left hand in the air and grab the hand of a different person.
  4. Someone needs to check that everyone is holding the hands of two different people and that no one is holding the hand of someone who’s standing directly next to them.
  5. The objective of the game is to untangle everyone without breaking the circle.
  6. If the chain is broken, participants will have to start over.

TIP: Announce that this game requires casual clothing. Also remind others to be mindful of colleagues, especially those with certain physical limitations.

This exercise will prove to be extremely challenging and will heavily rely on teamwork and communication, without which, participants will find it extremely difficult to successfully complete the task.

Now that you’re equipped with a variety of choices, don’t be afraid to incorporate these activities in the office. Not only will you enjoy it and benefit greatly, but so will your colleagues and employees.  Don’t forget to post back and let us know which exercises you used and what you learned from them!

What Not to Do

If you were a marathon runner, would you train just a few times a year for your next race? Of course not. You would run almost every day. Why? Because only through regular, continuous training and exercise would you have a chance at winning.

Team building works on the same principle. Most managers plan one or two events per year, and that’s it. There’s rarely any regular ‘training’ or follow-up, and this can hold back the group’s long-term success.

Effective team building needs to happen continuously if you want your group to be successful. It needs to be part of the corporate culture.

If you lead a group, aim to incorporate team-building activities into your weekly or monthly routine. This will help everyone address their different issues, and it will give them a chance to have fun, and learn to trust one another – more than just once or twice a year.

Finally, make sure that your team-building exercises aren’t competitive. Think about it – competition tends to make one person or team work against another. This probably isn’t a good way to build team spirit and unity. More likely, it’s a way to divide a group.

Many companies use sports for team-building activities. Yes, baseball and soccer can be fun, and some people will enjoy it. But these activities can do far more harm than good if they focus just on competing, and they can really de-motivate people who are not particularly good at these sports. Plan an event that makes people truly depend on others to succeed, and stay away from competition and ‘winning.’

For team building to be effective, leaders must first identify the issues their group is facing. Then they can plan activities to address these challenges directly – and make sure that the team will actually gain some benefits from the event. Keep competition out of the exercises, and aim to make team building part of the daily corporate culture, instead of a once-a-year event.

Terry Penney

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