Just because you work with a bunch of people doesn't mean you and your co-workers form a team. In a team environment, everyone has a defined role to play but understands others' roles enough to step in and help when needed and to provide some level of accountability or support. Without adequate communication, the team environment can quickly fall apart. Whether you're building a new team or trying to revitalize an old one, communication exercises are key to your team's success.
Icebreakers are excellent tools for verbal communication among team members. Designed to help people get to know each other, these games are often fun or silly and give the group a chance to laugh together before moving onto more serious exercises. For example, tape an occupation, such as auto mechanic, hair stylist or accountant, to each team member's back. The team members should ask each other questions to help determine their own occupation, but they can only ask each person one question -- this means they'll have to talk to most or all of the other team members to get their answer. You can also create a story circle, where you start a story with "Once upon a time." Go around the circle with each person adding one sentence to the story. Whether the story ends up funny or serious, the exercise helps the team members focus on each other, listen to what the other people say and think fast on their feet.
Learning to work with different personalities can be challenging. Some personality types need to see the big picture or the end goal to be successful, while others prefer to break everything down into detailed, measurable tasks. Understanding other team members' work styles and personalities allows them to communicate more effectively. Most personality exercises start with all team members taking a quiz that puts them into different personality categories, which the team can then discuss. However, you can try more creative approaches, such as playing different music genres and asking each team member which genres best match his personality and that of the team as a whole. Discussing the answers can give insight into each person's personality and their perception of how the group functions.
Breaking your group into smaller teams, even teams of two to three people, can help them learn to communicate better. Give the teams projects to do, such as building a tower out of toothpicks and putty, creating a duct-tape cup that can hold water, or devising a way to get a balloon across the room using straws, strings and paperclips. Give the teams a time limit. The projects don't have to relate to the team's daily duties. Instead, they should be fun and a little pointless; the point is to learn to communicate, not to actually make a duct-tape cup.
Believing that your co-workers are telling you the truth is essential to a powerful team environment. Falling backward into the waiting hands of your co-workers is used in many TV shows, but in practice, using communication to develop trust works better. For example, you can create an obstacle course in your office using books, boxes, chairs and desks. Break up the group into teams of two, then blindfold one person from each team. The other person must stand outside the obstacle course and give verbal directions to guide the others safely through. Change the course and blindfold the other set of people so everyone gets a turn. With several people calling directions at once, the teams must devise a way to tell their partners' voices from the others.
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.