You and your co-workers are probably a diverse group of people who had never met before you started working at the same place. Yet, you are expected to work together as a team to achieve your organization's and your department's objectives. You can enhance your teamwork by developing your communications skills. One way to do this is to introduce regular communications exercises, perhaps as a concluding item at the end of a regular team meetings.
Try this exercise with your co-workers to get them thinking about how to listen better. First, lead a discussion to identify good and bad listening behaviors, such as maintaining eye contact versus looking round the room. Write the behaviors on a flip chart in two lists. Divide the team into pairs; one talks about a work issue while the other listens, at first trying to behave like a bad listener, and then like a good listener. Discuss how the person talking felt about the differences between two types of listening behavior. Also discuss with the listeners how easy or hard it was to retain information depending on the type of listening behavior they were adopting.
This exercise reminds diverse teams that everyone has had different experiences that color their behavior in the workplace. It generates understanding of others' motivations and how to talk to them. Get everyone standing in a circle and throwing a ball randomly across the circle to each other. Introduce a word or a concept, such as "team," "education," or "success." Each person who catches the ball has to explain what that word means to her. For example, one person may see "success" simply as providing for her family, while another another may want to be President of the United States.
This exercise reminds people of the importance of being clear when giving instructions. Divide co-workers into two groups and send group A out of the room while you instruct group B in making a paper airplane. Then put everyone into pairs, a member of group A with a member of group B, and ask them to stand back to back. The group B people now have two minutes to instruct the Group A people in making airplanes, without being able to watch or to demonstrate. After two minutes, everyone gets to launch the airplanes and see which travels farthest.
Being able to trust your co-workers is essential in risky occupations such as police work or firefighting. But, it's important in other workplaces, too. You have to be able to share information, for example, and sometimes ask someone else to talk to your clients or take over one of your projects. A classic trust game is to create an obstacle course in your meeting room. Divide the group into pairs. One person in each pair is blindfolded; the other has to guide him around the obstacle course. After everyone has had a turn, invite people to talk about how they felt, either as the guide or the blindfolded person.
Lalla Scotter has been writing professionally since 1988, covering topics ranging from leadership to agriculture. Her work has appeared in publications such as the "Financial Times" and "Oxford Today." Scotter holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Bristol.