Teams Need Shared Experiences

Are you using team-building to learn about your team’s behaviors?


Dr. Becky Barker, director of leadership development and volunteerism at the University of Oklahoma, explains what leaders can learn about their teams through shared experiences.

“Do experiential exercises,” says Becky. “Our behavior in those exercises is pretty truth-telling and it demonstrates our natural behavior in a stressful situation, a team situation [and a] problem-solving situation.”

Watch the video to learn more from Becky about why leaders should encourage shared experiences among their teams.

As a college professor, really in the area of leadership development, some of my favorite things to teach are team-building. I know that that's probably not one that a lot of leadership professors would say, but I love to take a group and get away from the textbook aspect of things, and really do experiential exercises. Because I think that our behavior in those exercises is pretty truth-telling and it demonstrates our natural behavior in a stressful situation, a team situation, problem-solving situation, and sometimes people don't see themselves as maybe a strong personality. "Oh, I'm not that way," but you put them in that setting with a challenge and it comes to life.

In a team-building situation, especially in experiential one, where you've got people engaged in an activity, it's usually physical in nature where they're standing up, they're solving a problem, or they're building something. And so their engagement helps them to look beyond how they're behaving. And then I can observe, make notes. They observe other people's behavior.

At the end of the exercise, then we're really turning the lens a little bit to where they're looking at how they behaved, how it's relevant to their leadership, how it's relevant to how they behave in a group situation, problem solving, communicating. And if a manager sees that, and is a part of that, that's pretty critical. And it gives I think a point of reference whenever you're trying to solve a problem, it gives you a maybe way to communicate that's less scary, or less intimidating, really, because so often, as a manager, we're afraid to talk about lack of communication or problems.

But if we have the shared experience, especially if you as an office, a team, are doing this exercise and then you're looking at it, then you have a future conversation and a future reference backed to the shared experience. And that's so much more fun to be reflective, and to laugh, and to remember, but then also be able to have a serious conversation about it as well. It's kind of a shared language that is really a helpful tool.

Dr. Becky Barker

Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Barker has worked in higher education since 1985 in various roles in student leadership development and leadership education. Her current work at the University of Oklahoma focuses on empowering college students to...

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