Dr. Chris Cavert is an internationally known educator, trainer and speaker and recipient of the AEE Karl Rohnke creativity award. He has been working with groups of all ages for more than 25 years. Chris is the author of over a dozen books related to activity-based experiential group development. He holds an undergraduate degree in physical education, a master’s degree in Experiential Education and an educational doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction. As an educator Chris focuses on how to use team building activities to develop social-emotional intelligence and pro-social skills within groups of all ages. For more information visit: FUNdoing.com
On a regular basis, what could a manager do in their role to help build a better team?
Build personal relationships with every member of the group that you as a manager supervise or are accountable for. If a manager is purposefully taking time to get to know everyone on his or her team, that opens the door to so many other problem-solving opportunities. You work through conflict a little faster and smoother if you know more about each other and each other’s needs. This to me is the simplest and most important thing for any manager who is leading people: put your pencil down and take the time to go out and talk to people.
A quote from my friend Molly Foote, that I use all the time is, “The more we know about someone, the less likely we are to hurt someone.” Connecting with people and getting to know them on a deeper level creates more empathy, strength around dealing with conflict, accepting each other’s differences, and the ability to work together to move forward.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t take anything personally. In life and in being a leader, it’s hard to not take things personally when you’re being attacked by a person or a group of people who are really in need of help. But they attack the person who’s trying to help.
And the biggest challenge for leaders is not to avoid conflict. Because a lot of new managers I encounter will create an environment or will have behaviors that sweep things under the rug. They’ll do everything to avoid conflicts because they don’t want to deal with it. But that doesn’t move a group forward. Groups need to be able to push through difficult challenges.
I was given great advice years ago, that we need to experience difficulty so that we can learn to recognize and choose difference behaviors.
How can a manager get buy-in for their team building event? Because so often in this field, people hear “team building” and they might start to roll their eyes.
When people are forced to do something, they react to it and they’re defensive. And it takes longer to get through the defenses. So to me, it goes back to the whole personal relationship among team members aspect. If you’re creating relationships and the group can get to a point of saying, “Wow. We did a great job together. We accomplished something.” That same group is also going to be able to say, “We really suck at this. We need help.” Only then are they ready to accept a change or outside people coming in to help. When the group is able to ask for help, that’s where the buy-in is.
What is a simple workplace team building exercise that a manager could deliver at their next staff meeting?
One of my favorite workplace team building exercises is actually on my blog. It’s called “Name Letter Opener.“It’s an easy activity to do where everyone gets index cards. Everyone gets the same amount of index cards as the number of letter in their first name. Then you write each individual letters of your name on a different index card. Now gather everyone’s letters and challenge the group to create a single Scrabble-like puzzle with those letters. Using all the letters, create words that are spelled top to bottom, left to right. In every case I’ve done this, the group has been able to figure out how to use all the letters.
The group observes that not all their letters are in the same place. Their letters are likely used with other people’s letters, but probably not used with every other person’s letters. From there, the discussion is that we don’t have to sit all together at the same time on the same project. People have different skills and abilities and that’s okay. The more important question is, how do our skills and abilities work together so that we fit together as a group? It’s a simple activity that gives the group a sense of the diversity that they bring to each other.
How can people find out more about your work?
The easiest way is to go to my website at FUNdoing.com. There are a lot of team building related resource on there. And I have a blog that’s been going on for over a year now that also has a lot of workplace team building ideas. You can sign up for FUNdoing’s Friday email, which is a handful of team building ideas related to growing team and helping them be better at what they do. That comes to your inbox every Friday.