Saturday, 3 August 2013

Fun, games and objectives!

Or: The Team Away Day

On the last Friday before I went off on holiday for two weeks we had a team away day. When I say “team” I really mean the service area of which my team is a part, not just my team. It was quite a last-minute decision, so there wasn’t much time for planning, but we knew the focus of the morning would be setting the aims and objectives for the coming year! Hardly a topic for people to get excited about, but a real necessity, in the current climate, to articulate what we wanted to achieve over the next year.

For the first time ever, we went off-campus and hired a relatively inexpensive room in The Phoenix. This was a controversial decision: Some colleagues were appalled at the very idea of wasting time walking to the venue, others didn’t understand what the benefits of going somewhere else could possibly be, while others were ambivalent. To say anyone was excited by the prospect would be a gross exaggeration – except for me!!

As it turned out, the hired space was almost ideal, with three large round tables, an interactive whiteboard, coffee and tea on tap, and, best of all, patio doors that opened onto a decked area furnished with picnic benches and tables, which provided a break-out space for group activities.

I don’t know what you think, but I find objective setting meetings can be quite hard to run: It’s sometimes difficult to get people engaged in the activity, to see how what they do on a day-to-day basis contributes to the aims of the service as a whole and to the aims of the institution, so over the years I’ve tried different ways of involving people. I still remember the year I got it right and was rewarded with a bunch of flowers from the team: Never quite reached that level of success since, but it did give me the impetus to carry on doing things in my own style, so each year I try something different!

So, this year, I had a couple of days to come up with something new and different to complement the aims and objectives setting part of the meeting – and that was a tall order! I thought about things that had motivated me over the years, and tried to translate this into fun activities that would work for the team and get people enjoying themselves, but at the same time in the mood to consider their objectives.

Eventually I settled on a couple of games and a quiz, so we did two of these fun activities before settling down to consider our objectives, and then we finished off with the third one. And, during the whole of the morning, people were working on another quiz!

At first I think people were a bit sceptical about taking part in daft things, that seemed to bear no relation to their work, but once they’d relaxed into it, I think they could see the relevance and had a good time to boot. What worked particularly well was that there were three tables of eight staff, which was fortuitous as I’d already decided to divide the team into three groups, and rotate the games round the groups. It was interesting how the groups had divided themselves, and I felt little need to interfere with the composition of the groups. So, we had a table of men, with one woman, a table of women with one man, and a mixed table! All tables had a mixture of people from the three different teams that were represented at the meeting.

The three activities and the individual quiz were:

1.      The picture match where I provided a random set of pictures and each person in the group chose a picture that they think was most like them and each explained in turn why they thought this. The rest of the group were then allowed to agree or disagree with the choice, and say why. The aim of this was to help people who didn’t necessarily work together often to get to know each other better, to foster trust and an appreciation of diversity.

2.      A word game where the group divided themselves into two teams and each team taking it in turns to define either a big word or a small word, big words earning a bigger score. This was a competitive game, and the aim was to help people appreciate the versatility of the English language and that whatever words they used for their annual development review were as valid as any others.

3.      The quiz was designed to discover people’s learning style so that, like the first game, people could appreciate that we are all different, but are working towards the same goals.

4.      The individual quiz was simply a list of acronyms for which the answer was the spelled out version of the name. Of course, the acronyms were all related to our area of work, or our organisation. A small prize of a memory stick was awarded to the person who scored the highest: The winner got 35/45.

The objective-setting part of the morning, led by the head of our teams, proved quite effective too. A list of suggested objectives, together with a brief description and the names of the lead people, had been circulated to staff earlier, so at the away day, people were asked to identify where they were likely to be involved and to suggest changes and additions to the aims. I am pleased to say that there were a number of changes and additions, and I think everyone came away with a clear idea of what their part in the team’s aims was.

Overall, I think people appreciated being away from the "office" and felt able to forget the day job and devote a period of time to what is fundamentally an important activity. For my part, I felt that sandwiching the objective-setting between some fun activities allowed people to relax into the objective-setting and feel more involved and able to participate fully. What we ended up with was a fairly comprehensive, but achievable list of things to do over the coming year, and hopefully, we each also gained an insight into what made each of us tick.

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