Are your team-building sessions becoming tired and samey? Whether your group gatherings are lacking engagement, or your Zoom socials are feeling a little lacklustre now that the novelty of home-working has worn off, injecting a fun twist into your next calendar invite could be just the tonic.
Research out of Harvard Business School indicates that creative workplaces spawn more closely bonded teams, stronger engagement, increased morale and happiness, and better problem-solving and productivity. Inspired by our everywoman book club title, You Are An Artist by Sarah Urist Green, we’ve handpicked the creation-sparking assignments that work best for groups, whether they’re assembling on- or offline.
LOST CHILDHOOD OBJECT
Groups are divided up into pairs, where two colleagues interview one another about an object they owned and cherished as a child, asking questions to understand its dimensions, material, texture, and form, acquiring enough detail to paint a mental picture. Each partner then has a set amount of time away from the group to recreate the object using only materials they have on hand — old towels, cereal boxes, tape, string. They then present their object back to the group, talking through their process, before gifting the object to the person. This can be a fantastic ice-breaker for a new colleague or project teams. In a remote world, the interview can be done over Zoom or in writing, and the objects shared via pictures and video either 1-2-1 or as part of a group unveiling.
Two acts of creation are at play in this assignment: firstly, having to conjure up your own lost object and describe it in a way that provides inspiration for a third party; secondly, having to tune into someone else’s description and then use physical materials in real space. At the heart of this assignment is a need for active listening skills, but colleagues will need to use out-of-box thinking, story-telling abilities and presentation skills too.
THE ART OF COMPLAINING
Even if you haven’t heard of The Guerrilla Girls, it’s likely you’ve seen their work in some guise. They’re the expert ‘complainers’, who since 1985 have been creating and distributing posters in major cities as a way to highlight injustices. In this assignment, you’ll come together as a group to agree on something you want to complain about. Once you’ve agreed your subject matter, design a way to communicate your group’s message in a unique, unforgettable way that will raise awareness and bring about change within your team, organisation, industry or the wider world. This is a fantastic way for groups to explore their collective passions and work together to share these in a way that brings others along on the journey — all the hallmarks of a great leader.
This is a quick and easy way to inject some fun and creation into your meetings. A participant is chosen to source and circulate an image (you can find plenty of high quality and unusual imagery on image banks like Unsplash or Google Images). Each member of the group comes up with a caption for the image — it can be a quote, a line from a movie, a play on words or something random like an in-joke that only people in your team would ‘get’. These can be revealed in round-table format, or whoever’s collating can create a slide showcasing all the captions anonymously.
A useful mood lightener, this light-hearted exercise hides a deeper significance. Studies have shown that people who regular engage with puzzles perform better on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory. Furthermore, researchers calculate they have brain functions equivalent to ten years younger than their age. Mix up caption competitions with cryptic crossword clues, riddles and number puzzles and you’re onto a neurological winner.
This assignment gives you the chance to channel your inner journalist. Every month, choose one member of the team to turn sleuth on a particular topic. It could be a new industry trend, or the latest goings on in a little-known team that sits in a completely different area of your organisation or even elsewhere on the planet. The ‘journalist’ then goes off and uncovers everything he or she can on the subject, reporting back to the group with headlines, stories, interviews, pictures and/or videos that tell the ‘story’.
This assignment utilises multiple skills — research, communicating with disparate groups, analysing data and material, asking the right questions, deciding what information to retain and what to discard, presenting back to the group, and sharing information in an engaging, visual way. Meanwhile, the group gets informative, or even business-critical information handed to them on a plate. Win-win.
THE INDISPENSIBLE GIF
This assignment asks you to think about something or someone that’s made a difference to your working life, and channel your gratitude digitally by creating a thank-you GIF. A Graphic Interchange Format is, quite simply, a way of animating static images — the Internet is awash with them (cats and babies feature prominently) and they’re easier to make than you think, honestly. So rise up to the mini technical challenge and create your own a gif (YouTube has plenty of tutorials) that demonstrates what or who you’re grateful for, inviting others to do the same at your next team catch up.
A final word...
As you’ve browsed these suggestions, you may have found yourself dismissing a concept or deciding that an assignment wouldn’t work in your group or project. As part of the creative process, ask yourself ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ Don’t be afraid to tweak the format to make it fit your needs, and if one of these ideas sparks an altogether different one, go with it. The object here is not to create perfect, polished works of art, but to enjoy the process and the dynamic it offers the team, both as a collective and on an individual level. If a particular assignment goes brilliantly; ask what it was about it that lead to success. If another falls flat on its face, explore why it didn’t work. Invite the team to find alternative creative assignments and bring them to the group to try out. And don’t forget to thank everyone for their contributions, remembering that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approaches to any of them. Most of all, enjoy.
Visit everywoman.com/bookclub to listen to our podcast with art curator and author, Sarah Urist Green, and register for a live Q&A with the author of You Are An Artist.