Why Helium Stick doesn’t always fly for team building
Helium Stick (or magic stick) is powerful energiser and...
In this series of articles, I’m trying to capture some of the immense experience and knowledge held by our senior facilitators at MTa… today I’m talking to Jamie Thompson, Managing Director, about his favourite activity
Which MTa experiential learning activity is your favourite for developing high performing teams and why?
Digital Display from the MTa Team Kit, because of the profound and long lasting impact it has on team performance. It’s hard hitting and this leads to attitudinal change. Participants tell us it’s the most powerful activity they’ve ever experienced.
What contexts have you used Digital Display in and what benefits did it bring?
It’s fascinating to look back on the range of contexts that I’ve applied it in. From sales teams in Saudi Arabia, to University students wanting to improve their employability, to senior leaders in a UK bank. I often also use it on the MTa Facilitator Masterclass. Despite all these diverse contexts, I’ve always seen the same benefits. Namely, participants:
– experience the value of a culture where the needs of the team are put first
– feel the power of true, selfless collaboration
– realise how they often focus on just the task, and forget about their colleagues
So, why is the task so powerful?
There are two critical facets to the design of this activity which create a perfect microcosm for learning about effective teamwork:
1) Prioritising personal objectives makes team success difficult:
Unless the team work in a way which puts their own personal success as secondary, the task cannot be successfully completed. Any dysfunctional behaviour that exists within the team, such as those types identified by Lencioni, will come sharply into focus in this task and will need to be overcome.
2) Participants are not allowed to speak to each other during the task:
The silence of the activity focuses attention on non-verbal communication. To be effective individuals must risk public failure (trusting their team mates not to judge them) and be observant of others’ work. Most importantly they must use their emotional intelligence, reading others’ emotions, including assessing their confidence, level of understanding and needs.
In short, they have to shift from a mindset of ‘how can I succeed’ to ‘how can I help others achieve their goals so that we can all succeed?’
Participants can experience a lot of different emotions during this task, from the satisfaction and relief of completing their own individual task, to being grateful for help from another team member. They may feel frustration if they are not supported by their team, or they may have a fear of failure when they want to try out an idea which might help the team. Many eventually experience guilt that they didn’t help their teammates sooner.
As the activity progresses, an effective group will begin to work together, forming a transactive memory of others’ actions, noting what behaviour has helped, or hindered, progress.
From this the natural next step is a shared mental model of how to reach their goal. Once the team reach this stage, there is a rush of euphoria as the team makes fast progress. The contrast between any difficult emotions they have felt and the positivity of now having pulled together and made progress powerfully reinforces the learning.
How do you ensure that the learning is embedded?
It’s crucial to facilitate meaningful discussion about how the task went. Reflection by each individual upon their input to the activity must be carefully facilitated, so that they are able to be honest, objective and constructive about their own, and others’ contributions. We must help people let go of the plastic (task) and focus instead on the interactions, as that is where the beneficial team skills learning lies. This may sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done. All the review materials, and some helpful guidance, is provided in the Facilitator’s Notes manual.
What feedback have you had after using this activity?
Team members and managers alike have reported an uplift in team morale, and improved co-operation, due to a heightened awareness that they all need to consider others’ perspectives in order to succeed as a team. Fuelled by the sensory memory of emotional experience gained in this task, underlying attitudes have changed; positive behavioural change is the natural consequence of this.
With this culture shift comes the biggest foundation of great teamwork – trust. It’s the foundation of Lencioni’s big five. What’s more, psychological safety (comprising shared team norms that centre around all members having an equal voice and a culture of high social sensitivity) was the only statistically significant factor found in successful teams in google’s massive Project Aristotle. They built upon the finding that teams where members have an equal share of voice succeed in having a higher collective intelligence than teams where a few key personalities (however intelligent/competent) dominate and others are intimidated out of interacting fully.
Finally, do you have any tips for someone using this activity for the first time?
I would not recommend this as the first activity in your programme; the task put in front of the participants is conceptually advanced. It is best to build up some rapport with the group first and help them build their confidence and understanding with some easier tasks.
Digital Display is quite an emotive activity and requires a skilled facilitator. It’s human nature to want to help, but you mustn’t give the team advice on how to solve the task. You also have to police the rules about communication strictly, otherwise the activity loses its power. Also, feel free to pick up the phone to us if you have any questions beforehand.
Activity: Digital Display
Kit: MTa Team Kit, containing 16 activities
Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours
Would you like more information?