In January, the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) tapped me (Holly) to facilitate a half-day team building session for their management team as they launched a new vision, mission, and structure for the agency. As the meeting facilitator, they asked me to create a fun and interactive agenda, focus on silo-busting, and culminate in a new set of guiding principles for future management team meetings.
Working quickly, with less than two weeks to prepare, my planning process was relatively simple:
- Orient myself to the agency by collecting and reading agency documents such as website, description and history, org chart, leadership bios, progress report, revenue sources, strategic plan, etc.
- Research and brainstorm icebreakers and team-building activities by searching online and asking colleagues for their “best and worst” memories of team-building experiences
- Refresh myself on Paul Schmitz’s Everyone Leads “leadership styles” to adapt for facilitated discussion (I highly recommend this book)
- Put together an agenda and slides in collaboration with agency leadership in a series of phone calls and email exchanges
The resulting agenda went as follows:
- Seating arrangements: We sat in a square, and everyone was asked to sit next to someone that wasn’t their boss or someone they work with every day. That ensured that people were talking out of their natural work silos throughout the morning.
- Introductions: Everyone got to introduce themselves by sharing either their best vacation or the story of their name. This generated so many funny and interesting stories to loosen up the room.
- Icebreakers: Icebreakers, ugh. They’re the worst, amiright? Based on what I personally think, plus what I learned in my research and from colleagues that shared their experiences, I knew to avoid activities that are cheesy, sedentary, require people to be too personal, or to touch each other. (Some people just aren’t comfortable with activities that invade personal space, and I respect that.) So, instead, we did a lighthearted round of “Would You Rather” in which each person walked to one side of the room or the other based on my prompts such as “mountains or beach,” “puzzles or card games,” “boat or train,” “pizza or tacos,” “give a speech or be silent for three days,” etc. This was visually interesting; plus, there were insightful moments relevant to the workplace when people had trouble choosing or had strong feelings one way or another. For the next icebreaker, I asked them to physically line themselves up using criteria that required conversations with each other: 1) alphabetically by middle name, 2) # of states they’ve lived in, 3) height order, 4) in order of tenure, and 5) # of direct descendants (kids and grandkids). Watching this process was funny and also provided opportunities to point out dynamics that impact their team (e.g., most of the group has worked at INCCRRA for many years, which generates stability and depth but may create some inertia against change).
The rest of the morning went a little deeper.
- Ground Rules: We set up ground rules for the discussion first. For example, I offered the “three, then me” guideline for the talkative ones. I use this myself, since I a talker! It provides a concrete tool: I can speak after at least three others have as well. (Related: “WAIT” = Why Am I Talking?)
- Purpose of Meeting: I handed off the discussion at that point to the leadership, who presented the newly-board-approved revised vision, mission, and goal statements to the rest of the team.
- Defining Key Terms: The agency’s new guiding statements contained some new terms (specifically, equity). Since equity isn’t always an intuitive concept, when I resumed the floor, I spent some time debriefing this concept in a group discussion. For some, it was a completely new concept, at least in terms of connecting it to their work in early childhood education.
- Guiding Principles: This portion of the morning was designed uniquely for this team. Prior to the team-building session, I worked with the leadership to draft “Guiding Principles” for future management team meetings. (For example: “We commit to effectively implement meaningful changes that result from our management team meetings so our discussions and planning are not in vain.”) We asked the group to respond to the drafted statements. What was missing? What wasn’t necessary? Concerns? etc.
- Facilitated Discussion: For the remainder of the time, we got into the meatiest content, following a format in which I presented a question or framework, and they worked in small groups to record their responses on large post-its (as shown in the photos above). We wrapped the morning up by borrowing from Paul Schmitz’s leadership styles. I asked each person to pick one, and only one, of the styles shown in the slide below, and then separate into groups accordingly. Each group then brainstormed their biggest strengths and shared what they bring to the team. This process is always really funny and insightful (and cathartic)! Examples: The analysts cite their value as “someone has to do all the work;” the nurturers hesitate to report out, saying “this makes us nervous because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” Priceless. 🙂
Organizing this experiencing for INCCRRA stretched me in many ways, and was a rewarding challenge. I am grateful for the opportunity and I hope they left with takeaways that will be valuable for the team for a long time! Thank you for trusting me with your team retreat!