- Communication: Coach the Builder
- Accountability: Bring Clarity to Goals and Expectations
- Problem Solving: Team Collaboration
One of the top priorities of leaders—whether they run a small team or an entire organization—is to find ways to bolster performance. Technology upgrades and overhauled processes certainly lead to improvements in both productivity and quality. However, don’t underestimate the value of conducting simple, easy-to-implement leadership activities, in addition to formal leadership development, that bring your team together and teach them valuable workplace skills. Use these three leadership activities that are sure to take performance up a notch.
Communication: Coach the Builder
Effective communication is essential to keeping productivity high and producing results that meet expectations. Executive leaders, supervisors, and individual contributors can all benefit from improved communication skills. This exercise reinforces the importance of listening and using succinct, clear language so that you avoid misunderstandings and mistakes. Follow these steps:
- Divide participants into groups of four to seven people. Provide each group with two sets of blocks (Legos, for example) with each set containing at least 10 blocks. Prior to the exercise, you should build a sample object (such as a house) out of one set of the blocks.
- Assign a leader, a delegator, a builder and note-taker. The note-taker will watch and document how people behaved during the activity, what seemed to be working, and where the participants could do better.
- Provide the leader with the item you built, making sure that only the leader can see the object. Start a 10-minute timer. When the activity starts, the leader will provide the delegator with instructions on how the builder should build an exact replica of the object. Remember the delegator should not see the object, and the builder should be out of earshot.
- The delegator listens and then quickly goes to the builder and repeats the leader’s instructions. The delegator can go back to the leader as many times as necessary within the 10-minute timeframe.
- The builder uses the other set of blocks to construct the exact same object that the leader can see, using only the delegator’s instructions as a guide. The delegator should not see the object as the builder constructs it.
- After 10-minutes, compare the leader’s object with the builder’s to see how closely they match. Discuss what was frustrating or easy about the progress, and talk about what each person would do differently to produce better results next time.
Accountability: Bring Clarity to Goals and Expectations
When deadlines or expectations are unmet, we sometimes chalk it up to a lack of accountability. Often, this is not because the individual assigned to a task didn’t try hard enough, but because the expectations of that individual were unclear. If team members jump to action before truly understanding the task’s purpose or intended outcomes, they are more likely to make time-consuming and potentially costly mistakes.
This leadership activity teaches contributors how important it is to gain clarification before moving forward with any assignment, which results in improved accountability. Here are a few common scenarios where this activity can be beneficial:
- An executive hosting a meeting with managers
- Supervisors conducting daily stand up meetings with direct reports
- During a team building session with all employees
Here’s what to do: At the start of the meeting, say to the group, “The seating arrangement is all wrong for today’s meeting. You have 60 seconds to improve it.” If teammates ask you to offer more information, repeat your instructions. Some may continue to press, while others will immediately start moving furniture around. Observe what they do, but don’t offer any more information, feedback or instructions. When the minute is up, stop all activity, and ask these questions:
- “Did you meet your objective? How so?” Discuss how and why the lack of clarity made it difficult to complete the task.
- “Who sought clarification? How did I make you feel when I refused to provide more detail?” Explain that when participants don’t ask questions, and the project owner fails to provide the necessary clarification, everyone risks making mistakes or failing to complete the task altogether.
- “How did the time pressure change your behavior?” Discuss the tendency to respond to stress or pressure by jumping into action before confirming the plan, and how this approach can lead to major problems.
Ultimately, this activity shows individual contributors how to approach an unclear task. It also teaches leaders to set expectations, deliver clear direction, and create a culture that prioritizes communication and accountability.
Problem Solving: Team Collaboration
When faced with a new challenge, idea or project, teams need to have the ability to self-organize, determine an action plan, troubleshoot issues, and work together to reach a common goal. The following leadership activity puts creativity and collaboration to the test to help teams develop stronger problem-solving skills.
- Provide a variety of building materials, including paper, cardboard, blocks of wood, pencils, paper clips, straws, and more.
- Split participants up into teams of four to eight members. For smaller groups, teams of two or three will work.
- Explain that the goal is to construct the highest tower in 20 minutes, using any of the building materials.
- When time is up, talk about each group’s strategy, asking:
- Who took time to plan and who jumped right into action? What were the results of those two approaches?
- How did the groups figure out who would do what?
- Was there a leader? Or did everyone pitch in?
- What was the most difficult part of the task? The easiest?
- How can you apply what you learned to projects you’re currently working on?
Depending on the mix of the group participating in the activity, you may have some different follow-up questions. For example:
- For individuals: Based on this activity, what communication strategies are the most helpful from a leader?
- For supervisors: In this activity, where did communication break down? How did it impede the building process?
- For executives: As a builder, what did you need from the leader that you weren’t getting? As a leader, how accurately were your instructions carried out? How can you improve accuracy and understanding?
These three leadership development activities help build some of the skills world-class leaders need most: communication, accountability, and problem-solving. They are valuable for individuals at any level of an organization, from the executive team to individual contributors. With each leadership activity, team members learn to work more effectively, raising performance across the entire organization.