Understanding Team Building Experience

Team Building Malaysia @ Cherating Lagoona Villa Resort

Understanding Team Building Experience

Team Building Malaysia @ Cherating Lagoona Villa Resort

deciphering team building experience
Understanding Team Building Experience

6.1 We play to learn to live

Participation in a game will be an enjoyable experience for the players, but not always the lesson they try to convey will be well understood by them. The game should not remain at the level of fun or sport; the player should not be allowed to go through it like a duck through water, but should be helped to “soak” as much as possible. Therefore, deciphering the experience he has lived through participating in the game is of major importance for him to understand the message of the lesson.

Clarifying the teaching that the game intended to convey is done through discussion for deciphering the experience, after the activity unfolds. This discussion for clarification and understanding of the experience is an integral part of every game:

Teaching = Game + Deciphering the experience

Deciphering is done through an interactive discussion skillfully directed by the instructor with the help of questions. He will not provide answers, draw conclusions, give lectures, or explain to them what they felt and experienced; all these must be found by the participants, with their own minds and effort of thinking. The instructor’s role in this stage is to clarify and focus the discussions, giving some useful hints and drawing the group’s attention to relevant details they did not notice. He will lead the students to understand how their behaviors influenced the group’s/team’s performance. The astute instructor emphasizes the important moments of the game, with enlightening effects, which empower the participants to think differently than they usually do (to say to themselves: aha, that’s it, I get it!), or to consider factors they neglected.

But the instructor does not lead; he is just a consultant, a guide, a group helper. For educational success, it is important that the outcome of the activity/game/teaching belongs to the group – not the instructor. Players need to be helped to rationalize the emotions they experienced during the action.

However, discussing the feelings and emotions felt during the game/experience can be overwhelming for some participants. Although some of them will be willing to discuss, usually many will not be able to express their feelings in words. But if they do not talk and do not realize what happened, the experience (the game) they went through will be less understood, or even not at all, and the educational effect on them will be smaller, perhaps even nil.

Final discussions to ensure a full appreciation of the game are of paramount importance and should not be underestimated. Sometimes it may be useful to interrupt the game even in the middle to help participants gather and organize their thoughts, to resume the activity with more enthusiasm.

Activity analysis is vital for the group’s attention to return to the core issue of the action: why do we play? why “waste” time here?

Within the deciphering of the experience, it is analyzed how the problems posed by the game resemble the problems posed by social collaboration, looking for parallels between the way the game theme is solved and what could be done to achieve a common goal or interest in real-life cases – similar to those in the game (situations possibly indicated by the players, or previously indicated by the Client/manager, etc.).

Even though they are adept at conducting practical activities/games, some instructors are intimidated and unable to lead discussions for understanding the experience.

Here are some suggestions that could help them:

  • Deciphering the experience is not a separate, distinct activity, but part of the educational action, which includes: introduction, warming up, the games themselves, etc. This totality is represented by the cyclical image of educational action. The game unfolds like a cycle: it starts with presenting the rules; then the instructor leaves the players to manage on their own, and the group moves on to a first attempt to solve; finally, the game ends, and a discussion follows, during which players self-analyze to see how they solved the game tasks and how this solution can help them in the broader scope of their everyday lives. The group has returned to the starting point, the cycle has closed – and will repeat at the next game.
  • Sometimes instructors may think the session went well, only to discover much later a lot of dissatisfied participants: one felt ignored, another was forced to jump when he was scared, another was harassed by colleagues, and so on. Discussing the experience helps to discover these problems and solve them. It is much better and more productive for both the group and individuals for these issues to be transparently discussed with all participants rather than in a corner with a few or privately with the instructor. Open discussion with everyone becomes an educational means for positive change in the group.

Remember: interactive discussions, not moralizing preaching!

Deciphering the experience should be seen as a creativity game, with the following characteristics:

  • Everyone participates;
  • Priority goals are: avoiding accidents and building trust;
  • The Collaboration Agrement is applied (#4.12.);
  • The instructor creates the framework of the activity, but the group provides the solution;
  • The group focuses on tasks it can accomplish;
  • The activity aims for positive, constructive results;
  • Individual and collective tasks are just problems to solve (not matters of honor, life or death, etc.);
  • Instructors and participants are bound by the activity carried out together;
  • The present experience is the only one that matters;
  • Discussing (deciphering) the experience is done after each game or whenever necessary;
  • Participants themselves are the factors that provoke their own development, and gradually, they need to become more responsible for their own education or growth.

Discussing the activity conducted should be simple and logical. Even when the instructor respects the aforementioned ideas, there may be the danger of “overdoing it” if he talks too much and does not give students time to understand what they experienced and formulate their opinions. Such mistakes occur if the instructor:

  • Provides too much information at the beginning/presentation of the game, so there is not much left for students to discover/find out;
  • Talks more than listens;
  • Directs students towards the classic solution instead of letting them handle it as best they can – even in an unorthodox way;
  • Discusses the experience in more detail than necessary;
  • Stops the action too often;
  • Does not wait for situations/moments of enlightenment (“aha”);
  • Encourages students to be creative – but restricts their creativity with unnecessary rules and conditions for the game’s unfolding.

The instructor will carefully balance the two complementary components of the game: practical activity and deciphering the experience. Both are equally important.


6.2. Participant Monitoring

Preparing for the smooth running of the final part of the lesson from the very beginning, the instructor will gather and retain as much observations and information as possible throughout the session about what happened and the participants’ behavior. The instructor will closely monitor the group during the game, memorizing various phases, incidents, interactions, and significant issues, gathering any relevant information (see also #4.13). These observations will be skillfully used during the discussion for deciphering the experience.

Thus, from the first contact and the first ice-breaking game, students’ behavior will be carefully monitored:

  • How well do they collaborate with each other?
  • What aspect of collaboration needs improvement?
  • Is everyone participating?
  • Does the activity reveal that some players are natural leaders?
  • What is the overall “tone” of the group, positive or negative?

Sometimes spectacular aspects are memorized, and minor aspects, which may be much more important from an educational point of view, are overlooked. In the case of a multi-day training, it’s good to use a notebook to jot down impressions, possibly in the evening. Even better is a video camera, which turns all participants into actors, then into delighted spectators.


6.3. How to Decrypt the Experience?

The information gathered from the game must be capitalized upon.

How can they be integrated into the process of deciphering the experience, which should also stimulate the participants’ initiative?

The instructor will prepare a detailed written plan for conducting discussions (with standard questions) for each game included in the lesson plan. But life takes precedence, meaning the plan will not become dogma: it is very important to discuss unexpected issues and specific incidents for each group.

Here are some essential guidelines for the success of deciphering:


6.3.1. Everyone Joins the Discussions

It is preferable for the students to sit on the floor, in a circle, so they can see each other. The rule is that no one should be interrupted, or laughed at by others when speaking. Anyone is allowed not to speak when their turn comes, but the instructor’s role is to create an atmosphere of trust, where no one is afraid to speak their mind. Discussing the just-lived experience will be organized and conducted in such a way that everyone participates in it without embarrassment or fear. The discussion will focus on tasks and their resolution.

Do not be surprised by the participants’ resistance to discuss. Many will not express themselves without encouragement. Use player engagement methods (see #6.4.1) that “force” them non-aggressively to speak, to share an opinion or idea.


6.3.2. Respecting Each Participant is Mandatory

Emphasise that every individual has different talents and weaknesses. Each participant is equally important to the group. If a player makes a disrespectful statement about themselves or another player, address the issue immediately. Do not let the situation escalate!

Ask the individual to apologise and rephrase the idea in a constructive, friendly (positive) manner.


6.3.3. “Guiding” the Discovery

The instructor will not explain to the group what was learned from the respective game, but the group will be skillfully provoked and manipulated to discuss in such a way that participants discover the lesson themselves, draw their own conclusions from what happened during the game.

For a good deciphering of the experience, clever questions are necessary. The questions will direct the group’s attention to a specific idea (the task of the game), will lead the players to say why that particular idea is important to them, and finally, what are the group’s feelings about the idea.

Instinctively, every group needs an instructor because he “knows everything” and constitutes the guarantee that during the (apparently “dangerous”) game, nothing bad will happen. But the instructor’s task is not to spoon-feed, but to create the optimal framework for the progress of the participants, to teach them to think and solve problems. The instructor will not do all the work: the “treasure” must be found by the participants, even if it will be difficult for the instructor, as a person, to refrain from appropriating the “glory” of discovery. Any intervention by the instructor aims to guide the group towards the target, not to satisfy or inflate his ego.

“Solutions will be found by the group”, through free discussions, but the instructor usually participates in all activities and will intervene especially to clarify some more intricate aspects. Often, a clever question breaks the dam that blocked the discussions better than a wise monologue.

The following types of questions are useful for discussing games and reflecting on the lessons to be drawn:

  • Questions without a clear answer: avoid yes or no answers: “What was the purpose of the game?” “What did you learn about yourself during the game?”
  • Sensation questions: force players to think: “how did you feel when you acted?” “How did you feel when you all started pulling?”
  • Judgment questions: impose decisions on participants; “What was the best part?” “Was it a good idea?”
  • Guiding questions: guide players back to the purpose of the activity and keep the discussion focused on the subject. “What made you all go in the right direction?”
  • Leadership and subordinate questions: how many leaders were needed? What qualities are required of a leader?
  • About group support: what did it consist of? How did it appear (or not)?
  • About peer pressure: does it have positive or negative effects?
  • About distrust or hostility: how can it be managed? Why does it occur?
  • About efficiency and quality: after saying “it’s enough like this”, “it’s ready like this”, “it works like this”, we find that something else needs to be done to finish the job really well!
  • Competition questions: with yourself, with other teams, with an imaginary record.
  • About assurance: why can’t it be done without it?
  • About sexual discrimination: who, what role did they play?
  • About fear: were you afraid of failure? of falls? of making a fool of yourself?
  • About pleasure: what did you enjoy?
  • Closing questions: help participants draw conclusions and end the discussion. “What have you learned?” “What would you do differently?”
  • About the transfer of learning: what significance do these games (conventional, arranged) have for real life?

6.4. Facilitating Discussions

For the novice instructor, the most challenging question is “how to begin the discussion for deciphering the experience?” Often, they jump straight to the heart of the matter with questions, which can block and silence the players.

A structured approach in three stages is recommended:

“What (happened)?”,

“So what (did we learn)?”, and

“What will we do next?”.

By using this framework, participants can more easily focus on the experience, gaining the courage to think for themselves and share their impressions publicly.


6.4.1. What happened?

The deciphering will start with discussing the experience (the game).

The instructor’s questions will aim to encourage the players to remember what they and others did, to relive events (perhaps forgotten) during the game. The idea is to evoke memories of each participant regarding what happened to them and how they felt then. Also, how did the group feel in general?

We will examine: what were the various proposed solutions stated, and by whom; who else has ideas about solving the problem – which were not expressed or were proposed to the group but were not heard or listened to.

The discussion can focus on the roles played by categories within the group such as: men and women, young and adults, athletes and scholars, etc.

  • Participants will speak in the present tense: each describes what they did, what they felt during the game, but expressing themselves as if the action were happening at that moment: “I’m climbing”; “my legs are trembling”; “I can’t jump well enough”; and so on;
  • Video recordings are very useful and effective.

The conversation can be directed towards comparing how the task of the game was resolved with the work process in the team within the company (office, workshop, etc.), or school. Describing the group’s experience and reaction to the common task can clarify many aspects of group psychology.

Players will be invited to speak in a friendly, controlled, non-aggressive manner about what happened. Here are a few suitable techniques:

  1. In turn, everyone: each player must say a word or a sentence about what happened.
  2. The observer colleague: one or two participants are appointed observers of the game. An observer can give advice during the game or make some general observations at the end. They will be instructed to present what they have to say positively, possibly through constructive criticism. A volunteer who takes their task seriously and provides positive feedback will be chosen.
  3. Memory game: one of the players starts to describe the game. Everyone else listens. Whoever thinks the storyteller has forgotten something, or who wants to add a comment, shouts “Stop” and continues, expressing their opinion until they shout “done”. Then the storyteller resumes the description. It continues until the end, when everyone agrees that nothing has been forgotten.
  4. Definitions: ask the players what teamwork means, ensuring a colleague, leadership, etc. Don’t give the answers yourself!
  5. The speaker’s scepter: only the player with the “scepter” (a stick or other equivalent object) can speak. Even the instructor will give instructions or ask questions only when they have the scepter, then they will pass it on to the participants to answer.
  6. Instant photos: before starting the game, participants are explained that at a command (for example “photo”), everyone must look around and memorize the situation, as if taking a picture, in order to describe it later. These mental pictures will be used later in discussing the experience.

6.4.2 So, what have we learned?

After the group recalls what they did during the game, the next step is to see what impression the activity left on them.

This topic has become accessible because participants have opened up with the help of the previous stage of the discussion. Now they can sense the meaning of what happened, abstract and generalize what they learned from the experience. The conduct of discussions must be organized in such a way as to reach bold (disruptive, etc.) ideas and conclusions.

A good question is: “Was the Cooperation Agrement respected?” It is not threatening, nor does it refer to anyone specific. But it means: “Did we respect each other, or did we disrespect each other? Did we help each other, or did we behave like fools? Did we follow the rules of conduct we agreed upon, or not?” This leads to the perception of the group as an entity that needs to be taken care of, just like a colleague.

Although many participants may not willingly open up, or find it difficult to express their feelings in words, this stage is vital for the game to have an educational influence on them.

The following techniques can help break down these mental barriers and get the group to discuss their feelings about the experience:

  1. Everyone in turn:
    1. Each player describes a feeling they had during the game.
    2. Each player defines the main themes of the game (assuring a colleague, fear, the impulse to lead, giving instructions, etc.) and how they felt them during the game.
  2. Contribution: each player contributes with a constructive, non-threatening sentence – for example, starting with “I’m glad that I…” or with another perspective.
  3. Checking: if certain performances were established before the game or lesson, questions will be asked to clarify if the task was completed.
  4. Ratings: a rating scale from 1 to 10 is established to evaluate how the group functions as a whole. Each player, in turn, will verbally give a score for the group’s behavior, explaining why they rated it that way.

6.4.3. What’s Next?

In this stage, participants will seek to imagine how they can apply the lessons learned and discussed in the previous stage (at #6.4.2 “So, What Have We Learned?”) to other situations. Now, a connection can also be made with the future game by presenting them with a task that can be solved by applying the knowledge gained in the previous game.

A good question is: “How can we use what we learned in … (the previous game) for … (the next game)?” This way, the group realizes the general nature of what they have learned during a game, understanding that they have actually learned how to behave in many situations in their lives.

The behavior of the players during the game and the way they discuss afterwards express what they have learned and how they feel. Listen to them carefully. Try to guide the discussion so that participants can transfer the game’s conclusions to real-life situations. Encourage players to set broader goals for the future than those strictly resulting from the game.

Discussing the course of the game can be an opportunity for participants to appreciate the influence of their relationships on the overall performance of the group (team). The instructor’s obvious importance given to discussions can help the process of processing and deciphering the experience become a significant learning experience for participants.


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