In many diagnostic tools for leaders and teams there is a scale which indicates how far the leader or the team is on a ladder between two opposite behaviors or style preferences. This could be for example critical evaluation on the one end of the scale and compassionate encouragement on the other side of the scale. (see example below).
These kinds of results are often used to coach and develop leaders and teams towards a desired behavior or culture. In many cases the distinction between the “right” behavior and the “wrong” behavior is more linked to the situation at hand, associated risks and/or the person you have in front of you than a simplistic view of correct behavior. For example it may be less desirable behavior to be overly critical in an evaluation of someone who is new to the role and the company or team. In another instance where the risks are high and the people on the team very experienced it may be more appropriate to perform a critical evaluation in the event of a major failure to achieve desired outcomes than to offer supportive encouragement.
This leads to the concept of managing or working with both of the ends of a linear scale. Choosing both sides in terms of developing leaders and teams can help them to have a bigger capacity to choose the right response depending on the situation. The key is to develop awareness in them. Encourage leaders and teams to embrace more than one behavior or style to respond to specific situations or a tasks.
If we go back to the example above. You may be coaching someone or guiding a class of developing leaders through an exercise and this approach may be useful. Ask them to first of all identify the extreme ends of a scale of possibilities. Then identify for both extremes – the possible positive outcomes from that approach and also the possible negative outcomes.
In a class situation you can also assign it as an exercise between two or more people to brainstorm together.
Once the exercise is complete you can lead a discussion with examples from the class or the leader you are coaching. When may it be appropriate to use one or the other behavior for the best outcome? You can also choose to ask groups that had completed the exercise to prepare a demonstration (role-playing) to show the appropriate way to respond to a situation based on an example they discussed in the group. Or you may choose to provide some case-studies where the leader or class have to identify which may be the best approaches. These practical exercises will further help your participants understand the choices that they have as leaders when facing different situations and how to at least evaluate the best path forward before they go into action.
As a followup action you can ask participants or your coachee to capture examples they come across in the next few weeks/months where they had to make a choice between two opposite approaches and used the exercise above to identify the potential positive and negative outcomes. When using this approach one will will not necessarily avoid mistake or guarantee the most effective approach. The process of pausing and considering options will make the leader or team more effective over time and will improve decision-making.
Some examples you could consider for the exercise above:
Working independently vs working in groups/teams
People focused vs Task focused
Having a structured (fixed) approach vs a creative/open approach
Formal vs Informal approach to others
Monitoring others closely vs holding them accountable for outcomes created
This approach does not invalidate the tests which offer leaders and teams valuable insights into their own typical approaches and style preferences. This is merely another way to approach the outcomes from those tests to help develop more adaptable leaders and teams, which is highly needed in the current environment where change has become a constant and successfully working across borders, cultures and generations have become essential.
Cross cultural awareness and skills in the workplace are vital to companies striving to enter new geographical areas or aiming to build successful operations at international locations. Ineffective cross-cultural collaboration and communication in international teams have caused many global projects to under-perform and fail to reach desired outcomes. Luckily there are quite a number of tools and team interventions available by now to improve results in these areas. Today I am sharing an exercise with materials, which you can use to conduct a cross-cultural exercise with teams or groups of people.
This particular team exercise was developed in such a way that it could be used in many different ways and configurations. For example: you can use a simplified version of this as an ice-breaker during a team-building program or you can use it as a 2 hour-exercise in a full day training program on related topics.
In essence the objectives of using this exercise with teams or groups of people are:
To increase cross cultural understanding and awareness by providing experiences and discussions for team exercise participants
To prepare someone to enter or engage with another culture – such as those who will start to work with another culture, whereas the person/team previously worked mainly with homogeneous teams (you could make up a small group of people who are selected to receive cross cultural awareness training).
To help multi-cultural teams pay more attention to cultural differences which could make it hard to communicate and collaborate effectively.
To help team members understand where and how cross cultural communications could possibly end up with unintended outcomes.
Once you have reviewed how the exercise works, I am sure you will be able to come up with additional ways to use it with the teams/groups that you work with.
The exercise can be run with groups as small as 12 and you can also do this with groups of 30 people – should you have enough additional facilitators to support the coordination, support and debriefing portions of the exercise.
How it works
Click on the video below to see a short video on how this exercise works
The materials needed include:
Culture-preparation sheets for different cultures – named after random colors (see below). These sheets are used by “foreigners” to this culture to prepare for interaction. This mimics information that one can typically find online or in books about another culture and which can be studied to prepare oneself before engaging with another culture for the first time.
The way the cultures look or seem to outsiders
Own culture descriptions for each group
Only people who have been chosen to be a part of this group will see these more comprehensive information sheets and only the sheet that pertains to the group that they are a part of. (Not to members of the team they are about to meet with)
More comprehensive cultural sheets to help group members of a particular culture (as set up in this exercise) to understand their own culture. This means they are better able to act according to their own culture when they encounter another culture in this exercise. This material goes a bit deeper than surface-level behaviors to explain to some degree WHY this culture would do certain things and how their past beliefs and experiences have shaped them into the culture they present today.
Assignment to indicate to each cultural group what they are hoping to accomplish in the upcoming interaction/negotiation meeting with some members of another culture.
How to set this up:
Size and dividing into sub-groups
With groups of less than 20 people I tend to just pick two cultures and not all 4. You may of course go with more than cultures – just remember to add more time to debriefing and discussion sessions after the exercise. Make sure that each cultural group has at least 6 members so that it is easy to divide into 2 cultural delegations of no less than 3 members. For example: If you have a group of 20. Split them into two cultural groups of 10 members each.
Make sure each cultural group can meet uninterrupted in a dedicated space to discuss and prepare for their assignments. When the sub-groups meet there should be enough space for them to be able to talk and see each other while doing so.
Planning the session
Imagine you pick the Red and the Blue cultures only for your exercise. And imagine you have 20 people at your event so 10 of them will be from the Red culture and 10 would be from the Blue culture. Out of the 10 members of the Red culture, 5 will (after preparation) meet with 5 members (which is half of the members of the Blue culture) to work on their assignment. And the other 5 members of the Red culture will meet with the remaining 5 members of the Blue culture. So this means: you will have two intercultural meetings taking place between Red and Blue delegations with two different assignments.
The Color name called out in the assignment information above refer to the traveling delegation. So in the case of Red and Blue – the delegation from the Red Culture traveling to meet at the Blue culture location will work on the assignment called “Red” and the delegation from the Blue culture that will travel to meet with the Red culture will prepare for the “Blue” assignment. Those remaining at the location to host the traveling delegation will prepare for the discussion that the other cultural team will want to have. (see graphic below for further illustration).
Before starting the exercise I typically share some slides and have an overview discussion on the topic of how cultural differences can be viewed. There are quite a few models and slides posted online to help you with this part. (see two links below)
Use a basic framework of looking at cultures to set up the exercise portion, which comes next.
Share with the group: We will divide you into different cultures and we will provide materials to help you understand your own culture as well as other cultures that you may need to interact with. Each culture will gather in a different place to prepare for the assignments. When the preparation is done, each cultural group will divide into two parties. One party will “travel to” meet with a delegation from the other culture at their location while a delegation from their culture will “travel to” meet with the remainder of your cultural group at your own location. You will decide in your group who will go to the other location and who will host the visiting delegation at your own location.
Steps for the exercise
Divide the large group into an equal number of smaller cultural groups. (choose to work with two cultures or four cultures in each case pairing two specific cultures) Each culture group should have at least 6 members as they will need to select two small delegations to meet with one other culture. A delegation should have no less than 3 members.
Having separated the different cultural groups (from the exercise) into different areas/corners in the large room or into separate breakout rooms, you hand out the comprehensive cultural sheets to each individual in a particular culture. Do not share this with other cultures. Only members of the group that represent for example the “Red” culture get to read the comprehensive sheet for the Red culture. Allow about 5 minutes for them to read through it.
Now hand out the Culture sheet showing all of the cultures in summary form. Each member of each cultural group gets this handout. At the same time you verbally share with each culture what their assignments are in meeting with a delegation from the other culture. (see assignments above). They know which culture will interact with them. Give each cultural group about 15 minutes to study their assignments and what is shown on the Culture preparation sheets for all cultures vs their own culture in order to prepare how to approach interactions with them.
Half of the first cultural group will “travel” to have a meeting with half of the second culture. Half of the second cultural group will travel to meet with the remainder of the first culture to engage in the assignment. Allow 15 minutes for delegations to engage and execute their assignments with the other culture.
After 15 minutes ask everyone to come back to the large meeting room for a discussion and debriefing session on the exercise.
Cultural group members sit together (both delegations) and discuss the following questions before reporting to the big group:
In what ways did we encounter unexpected behaviors?
How did their way of interacting make it harder for us to succeed?
What would we do differently on this same assignment now that we have experienced the two interactions with the other culture?
Each of the culture groups reports back on those questions to the larger group.
In large group debrief further on learnings from the exercise and how team members may approach some team aspects differently when they are interacting with someone from a different culture then their own? Do they have tips and advice for others who have to regularly communicate or collaborate with those from other cultures?
Bonus debrief points – if you have the time. How did the way women were perceived make a difference in the exercise? Do you think that it mattered whether the delegates were from a different generation? How would you advise others on how to take additional aspects into consideration when it comes to cross cultural communication and collaboration?
Consider an add-on exercise where each participant is asked to jot down the areas where he/she may have had the most difficulty, questions or had the most insights during this exercise. Is there an area that he/she would like to explore further to improve own understanding or skills? This should be captured in the Personal Development Plan of each participant.
Do remember to mention stereotyping and how that can cause hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Avoid doing this trap while facilitating the exercise.
Be aware of showing any “funny” videos or clips that depict how cultures misunderstand each other. They are often based on stereotypes and can easily cause upsets. Humor is not universally interpreted in the same way by those from different cultures.
Define that in this case (Exercise) culture refers to national cultures, but clarify that there are several subcultures, which can also make collaboration and communication tough. i.e. operations and sales.
I recommend that you share the iceberg model, which helps teams appreciate the vast amount of cultural data which is not visible, but which can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations with others.
Workshare – means that more than one office is working on the project. There is typically one office which is in the lead while other offices collaborate on the project. They all have to follow the same project protocols in order to avoid confusion and differences in end results produced.
Existing teams often go through phases of renewal, which requires that new team members and existing members come together to create a new or changed vision and way forward. This could happen when the project changes from design to implementation or from one conceptual to design. It could also happen if the leader is replaced. There are many reasons when an existing team can benefit from a renewal exercise to remind them of what they need to do, how they will do it and how they will measure success and collaborate.
Elements that can hold the new team back include existing members holding on to the past too strongly and new members not understanding why some things are done in a certain way within the team. Lacking the background and context of the past and a shared vision for the future the team could easily remain divided between the “new comers” and the “old timers” who know everything.
This exercise has two parts and helps to make the past easier to understand especially in terms of how it may have shaped the current belief system of existing team members – i.e. what they believe works and what does not work. The second part of the exercise helps new teams map out the new way forward together, which helps all team members be a part of what they plan to achieve and do going forward.
This exercise does not replace any classic team chartering activities i.e. crafting a new or changed purpose statement, or reviewing/creating new roles and responsibilities going forward or agreeing on key team performance indicators. This exercise forms more of a bridge towards renewing the team and its activities and path forward. This exercise can best be followed by some more classic team chartering activities and exercises.
Monitor the communication process closely during the first part of the exercise: the sharing that happens has to remain constructive vs existing team members slipping into defensive behavior and/or new team members being overly critical of the lessons learned from the past.
This exercise has also sometimes been used as an ice-breaker to start off a one- or two-day team-building activity. It would be good to schedule this just before a natural break to allow team members to spend unstructured social time together as an aftermath of this exercise.
Trustworthiness is the undisputed main characteristic that we look for in a leader and frankly also in any other person we encounter on a daily basis. Trust is a topic that is often discussed in a business context after employee satisfaction or engagement survey results are known in organizations. The topic also often comes up when leadership training or development is considered.
The resource I am sharing consists of some slides highlighting the nature and importance of trust in teams and then it has an exercise which you can do with a group of leaders.
You can use this (download above) file in a few ways:
As a quick exercise (about 20 to 30 minutes) with meeting participants where Trust and Leadership is the topic of conversation or discussion. For example: in a meeting to discuss a recent employee survey where trust came up as an area to be addressed.
As a sub-section within a leadership training course where Trust and Leadership is an aspect of the course.
As a coaching discussion topic where it is important for someone to learn more about actions and behaviors that can contribute to being viewed as more trustworthy.
These slides won’t teach someone all of the aspects of trust and leadership, but they do provide a context for you to explore the topic. You may always choose to follow-up with more exercises or conversations about the topic in future.
(Note that the last “Slide” in the resource is not for display purposes, but for you to print out so that the small groups in the exercise have a way to capture their thoughts while going through the exercise.)
The basic learning points of this activity would include the importance of communication in teams, helping others develop by letting them make their own mistakes (and learning from them), and recognizing the importance of the contribution by each team member (vs taking over an activity/project and not allowing all team members to participate in important team activities).
This is a team activity which you can either use as an ice-breaker or an energizer between two other agenda items. It does not take much time to execute, but it does require some upfront preparation. The upside is, once you have made these squares and the puzzle pieces you can always re-use them in future with other groups and teams. (Remember to store the pieces in separate envelopes to keep the different puzzles from getting mixed up).
The instruction sheet (which you can download below) details how to make these squares, how to set up the activity and offers some debriefing questions to use afterwards. The activity does not take long to complete and does not typically create a lot of anger/frustration or resentment between people or teams leading to the need for longer debriefing and discussion sessions.
If you have more time and would like to get more points across to the teams you could consider moving the puzzles to other tables for additional rounds. Each team then has a new puzzle to complete. This way the challenge is different to the teams for further activity rounds and the additional instruction or activity handicap you introduce could take them deeper into the experience of working together as a team. For example: you could lift the rule around “no talking” to see if the teams find the challenge easier or harder?
You could also give them the same puzzle they had in the first round and let them practice to see how fast they can complete it (with or without talking as per your instruction). Then when each table/team feels that they have optimized their ability to complete the puzzle you can take one person from each table and have them join a new table. Each team would then have one new team member and no time to practice with the new team member. Then ask the tables to compete seeing who can complete the puzzle the fastest.
This icebreaker works well with new teams or when you have had quite a few new members who recently joined a team. The time, materials and space requirements are very economical so this is easy to combine with team meetings. Running this exercise can help you lead a new team into the right discussions to break down barriers to trust among (new) team members.
This ice breaker is a simple exercise which requires very limited instructions to get started and completed.
The most valuable part of this exercise is most likely the debriefing questions you (as the facilitator) choose to use: (some options)
Did anyone see something on an advertising board that was surprising about team members?
What are the strengths you think this team has?
Where do you think this team could get into trouble (given these team members and what you now know about them?)
This exercise is fun to do and the creativity of your teams may surprise you!
I would recommend that you use this exercise as part of a series of exercises to help new teams succeed in the long run. The Team Effectiveness Snapshot can be a great follow-up tool to introduce to the new team to help them on their journey of trust building and achieving a high level of performance.
Brand-new teams typically work well since most of the team members are “playing nice” at first, but as the team moves through the various stages of team formation things can change. A lot of teams never make it out of the Storming phase so early introduction of team orientation, induction and assessment tools to help teams understand naturally occurring team dysfunctions can help them deal with these situations successfully. The advertising board icebreaker is a great way for teams in forming mode to break through the “niceness” and go a little deeper into the “who are you really” and “what do you bring to this team” discussion.
Inbox exercises are often used when there is an evaluation of leadership/management style and skills or training in time management, judgment or decision-making. I believe the value of this resource lies in revealing the thought processes of an exercise participant. It reveals HOW the person going through the exercise reasons and reacts to typical tasks that they could face as a manager or supervisor.
While you can keep track of how many pages the person completed within the time provided or how many of the actions the person chose aligned with what is considered “correct” in your company (and desired company culture) the highest value (for me) is the coaching conversations that can be had around the reasons that the actions were chosen. These conversations can really help leaders understand their impact on others and improve their self-awareness as a result.
The exercise setup
The attached inbox exercise requires you to print out items and provide them to intended participants in the exercise. The first page describes the situation which you should share with the participant(s) as part of the exercise. The next two pages are then for your eyes only and they will help you to understand the set-up and what you, as the facilitator, should do with that particular exercise page. The section that follows behind the “Worksheet” page is provided to participants once the Q and A portion of the instructions discussion is over.
Once the participant understands the scenario the worksheets are handed out to him/her to complete. This is the inbox exercise and it is usually a timed exercise. Exercises include aspects like this:
If you choose to include priory setting as one of the test elements, consider using something like the Eisenhower/Covey matrix:
You can read more about it here : Priority matrix write-up If you decide to include priority-setting as an element, this approach will give you a better foundation for debriefing discussions.
You can use this exercise with a class of participants and then I would suggest you have each participant check the work of his/her neighbor once the exercise has been timed-out. Read out the action considered best for each of the incidents and assign a score for correct answers. Of course you can use your own judgment when some participants have similar answers/responses, but just worded it differently.
I prefer to use this with a small group of people who are in a coaching program. The results of their work can then be debriefed more fully with their coaches who can explore their responses deeper by asking questions around : how did they interpret the note/incident? Why did they choose that action? Did they consider other options? If so, which ones? How/why did they decide to select that particular action? How did the limited time impact their thinking and responses?
Leaders learn through reflection and an experience such as this inbox exercise is full of opportunities to reflect on own actions, choices and mindsets. The hardest part about improving one’s mindset or way of doing things, is gaining awareness of one’s own style or impact on others. The specific examples that come out of this inbox exercise is a very tangible basis for reflection with a coach and then choosing better ways in the future.
Starting a meeting or dealing with the after-lunch session involving a group of people often requires that you use some sort of ice breaking exercise or activity to help participants get to know each other better, have some fun and in many cases move around the room a bit. Most facilitators have their own set of ice breaking activities and exercises in their mind in case they need it. If you are new at it, you may need some inspiration and this post may be for you!
There is a list of questions you can download below. Use them and then you have a few ways to use them for ice breaking activities:
Use it to start the meeting and incorporate the introductions and capture expectations at the same time. Ask each participant to share his/her name, location, role, expectations for the session/day and then answer one of the questions on the list. (There is a reason to ask them to share their answer to one of the questions AFTER they stated their expectations – so you have time to write down their expectations on a flip-chart before the next participant starts sharing)
Use it at the start of the meeting. Ask participants to get up and move around the room while introducing themselves to others they encounter along the way. Sharing their answer to the question you gave the group and asking the other person to share his/her answer to the same question. Let them mingle in this way for about 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the size of your group). Ask them to return to their seats and ask a volunteer (or a few) to share the most surprising response they heard.
If the groupissmall (12 people or less). Ask each person to provide an answer to the question you selected on a post-in note. Collect all of them. Read out the answer and have participants try to guess who responded in this way. (Rules for this exercise includes that the writer of the answer cannot participate in guessing who wrote it).
If you have more time, you can do this: Give the group a question and ask them to first consider how they would answer it and write their own answers down on a post-it note. Then you ask them to walk around in the room and when they encounter another meeting participant, to guess what the other would have answered then have the other reveal how they really did answer the question. The other then guesses the first person’s response and again the first person would reveal how he or she really did answer that question. Encourage them to briefly discuss why they guessed the answer in the way that they did. It can get to deeper discussions about assumptions we make about people – whether we already know them or not. You can time the interactions and give them a signal when to move on to a new conversation participant to engage with around guessing each other’s answers. When everyone has completed the conversations you can debrief the group with questions like: How often were you right in what you guessed the other person would say? Did you learn anything surprising from those you talked to ? (aspects of his/her personality that you had no idea about?) How accurate do you think guessing is when it comes to how other people think?
Ice breakers can be really effective in breaking down barriers to making contact with people you have never met before at a meeting or training event. Yes, extroverts mostly don’t have any difficulties approaching and talking to strangers, but introverts often do. These kinds of exercises help everyone to get to know each other without feeling too inhibited during the initial contact moments.
Scavenger hunts are fun activities to help teams blow off some steam, get to know each other better and learn new things about the project or any other topic of choice.
The team-based activity can last anything from one hour to maybe 2 hours – be sure not to overload the teams. It must be possible to complete the assignment within the allotted time. The size of teams working on the list o tasks and questions matters too. A group of 3 to 4 people will typically take longer to complete the exercise than a team of maybe 5 or 6 people. Split larger groups into sub-groups of 3-5 people to work on a worksheet of assignments. The assignment usually consists of a worksheet listing questions to answer, locations to visit and can also could specify items which teams are to collect and bring along with them when they hand in their final answers. The team that completes the assignment the fastest wins.
When the group is ready, you would first share the instructions with them. Be sure to include areas that they are not to visit or boundaries for the exercise. Include the maximum time they should take to work on the assignment and where everyone should meet at the end of that time period.