Thursday, May 7, 2009 by Dave Blum

My favorite movie reviewer is a guy named James Berardinelli, who writes at http://www.reelviews.net/movies.php. In a current review, he wrote:

“It has been argued that for characters to be three-dimensional, they must have a past, a present, and a future, not to mention an arc.”

As a team building facilitator, I find this interesting for what it suggests about the telling of stories during our corporate team building activities.  In other words, when relating a story or anecdote (during scavenger hunts, business team building games, etc.), your listeners want you to really set the scene–past, present and future:

  • Who are the main characters?
  • What’s their back story?
  • What are they doing now?
  • What would they like to be doing in the future?
  • Where are they right now in their emotional development?

This is not only true when you’re relating a story about other people; it’s true, as well, when you’re sharing an anecdote about your own life.

For example:

On 9/10/2001, I was sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans, LA, getting set for next day’s corporate scavenger hunt program, outside in the French Quarter.  All my team building ideas were written up on notecards, all my treasure hunt clues confirmed and ready to go.  But I was on the road — alone — which can be something of lonely situation.  Although I was single at the time, I had great group of friends and family back in San Francisco.  I recall wishing that some of them could’ve been there with me in Nawlins, the Big Easy–sharing this great place and soaking up the atmosphere.  Instead, I was alone, as was often the case back in those days of frequent travel.

The next morning, I turned on the TV in my hotel room and was, of course, stunned by the dramatic events taking place in New York and Washington D.C.  Immediately I called my client, Sherie, and said, “Surely with all that’s going on up North, we won’t be proceeding with the treasure hunt!”  To my surprise, Sherie replied, “Actually, we would like to go ahead with the hunt.  It’ll help take peoples’ minds off of things.”

As far as corporate team building outings go, that one proved to be one of the strangest. At least three of the clue locations — such as the House of Blues — were unavailable due to shop closure, making things difficult for both me and the clue hunters.  Periodically, a hunt participant would ask, “Do you mind if I step aside and make a call or check my Blackberry.”  Even the wrap-up was skewed.  Sherie had rented out a private room for us at a local brew pub–needless to say, the hunt participants kept drifting over to the bar TV set to check on the status of their friends and loved ones up North.

Surprisingly, the hunt went fairly well, with the emphasis shifting inevitably to “How do you maintain focus and morale in times of strife?  And, “How do you support your teammates when times are tough?”  Afterwards, I had my own challenges to overcome, namely:  how was I going to get home?    The planes were all grounded–rental cars completely booked. I couldn’t even get a seat on Greyhound.  So there I was, in the party-town, New Orleans–alone for who knows how long–and no one is partying, least of all me.  I remember thinking: “Man, this stinks.  My friends and family are at home, hugging and supporting each other through all this, and I’m here on the road, single and alone.”

I, of course, eventuallly did make it home (after 3 days).  A lot has changed since then.  I travel a lot less now (thanks to my national training staff).  I’m happily married.  I think that experience in New Orleans, on 9/11, served as a wake up call for me — that the solitary road warrior life I had been living was no longer tenable.  It was time, as it were, for Dave to settle down.

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Past, present, future, and character arc…

Good luck in your story telling.  🙂

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Creating a Safe Team Building Environment: 6 steps

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 by Dave Blum

One of the tricky things about running corporate team challenges in public settings is that it can be tricky to create a truly SAFE physical evironment.  Indoor corporate team building events —  museums, for example — are much more reliable.  All our indoor museum hunts require no driving or walking on busy streets, and there’s always a restroom somewhere nearby.  Outdoor, city-based scavenger hunts, however, are much more challenging.  Participants absolutely need to assign one person on their treasure hunt team to be their “safety monitor”, keeping a keen eye out for taxis, buses and inattentive drivers, bikers and cyclists.

What I want to write about today, however, is not physical safety but “emotional safety”.  No matter how fun or light-hearted the business team building exercise, participants are still looking for the team building facilitator to create an envirnment where it feels emotionally safe.

Here are six tips for creating emotional safety, from the “Conflict and Communication Activity Book”, by Withers and Lewis:

1) State up front that all questions are good and welcomed.  There are no “dumb” question.

2) Place a “parking lot” at the back of the room where people can express questions during the break without asking them aloud.

3) Tell the class explicitly that this is a safe place to learn–that everyone is a learner, including the so-called team building experts.

4) Post ground rules, including a rule about not making disparaging remarks or making fun of anyone.

5) As an instructor, personally relate to each question and show public appreciation. For example, use phrases like, “I am sure there are others that wanted to know that also. Thank you.”  Or, “I used to wonder the same thing.”  Or, “You know, people ask me that all the time when I teach this.  I’m glad you asked that.”

6) Watch participant behavior and reaction to your team building games and activities.  If people seem threatened or look uncomfortable with the level of interaction you have chosen, change your approach.

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