I'm not a big gimmick/team-building exercise guy. I find most team-building stuff to be a little forced, although I will say that I always dread it and emerge from it with some type of positive. The positive I get is usually empathy towards a team member that I didn't necessarily like or feel close to.
I ran across a team building/unity exercise yesterday and wanted to share. It's from the the 1998 Chicago Bulls, who had won 5 titles and where getting ready to start the playoffs for what everyone was sure would be their final run.
Their season was full of distraction, arguments and distrust. Here what Phil Jackson, the legendary coach, did to quiet the noise and circle the wagons one last time. More from Bill Simmons at The Ringer:
Jackson gathered players, coaches and trainers for a special meeting before the 1998 playoffs, asking everyone to write a message about what that final season meant to them. A poem, a sentence, a song, whatever. It had to be 50 words or fewer. Everyone obliged. They went around the room reading their messages, even Jordan, and when they finished, Jackson burned them in a coffee can. All the chaos and dissension burned away with it. They banded together for eight weeks and prevailed again, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because they employed the greatest player ever.
Before you kill me - I get it - this exercise doesn't work for most of the team building needs you have.
But I like this one a lot for teams who are getting ready to have to come together for a big challenge, teams that maybe could be fired if the next month or two doesn't go well, and especially if those teams are generally bitchy towards each other.
50 words or less. Maybe you frame it as what your job means to you. Who knows what comes out of these people's heads, right? Could be stupid stuff, or it could be fascinating.
One thing's for sure - no one is going to try and look stupid if they have the floor and they've had some time to think about it.
What I love about this exercise is that it gets you into the head of your teammate. Maybe it's someone you don't like very much. What happens when they try and have a serious moment is what I mentioned before - empathy from others.
Ahhhh. That's who you are. Got it. With empathy and understanding comes a couple of other things. Patience. A little bit of trust.
Can you use this exercise today? Probably not. Should you be looking for ways to make your team more empathetic to each other? Absolutely.
The Bulls won their 6th title in 1998, primary because they had Michael Jordan.
But a little bit of that title belongs to Jackson, who kept the lid on long enough to make the last title run with Jordan.
Don't forgot to burn the paper your people bring in.