Today’s fast-paced workplace often requires teams to form quickly and get right to it. In a hands-on workshop at Fast Company‘s annual Innovation Festival, Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and Jennifer Sukis, design principal for AI practices and leadership at IBM, demonstrated just how quickly strangers can become teammates.
The first step, they say, is ensuring that any get-to-know-you exercises are grounded in the work at hand. There’s no need for quirky icebreakers or forced team-building exercises that can alienate some participants. (Both Edmondson and Sukis shudder at the thought of “trust falls” or other embarrassing activities.) Instead, new teammates should share pertinent facts about one another that are relevant to the project they’re working on.
Edmondson and Sukis employed this approach in the workshop, where attendees settled into tables of eight for a session entitled “Teamwork in Action.” Participants didn’t know it, but they were about to embark on a design-thinking exercise to create a state-of-the-art vending machine with a group of total strangers.
THREE CRITICAL FACTS
In a room decked out with a rainbow of Post-it Brand products, Edmondson kicked things off with a deceptively simple exercise, asking each member of the group to complete the following sentences, each on a separate Post-it note:
- My goal is:
- I worry about:
- I bring:
Then each team of eight quickly shared their individual responses. In the space of just a few minutes, they’d gotten to know why their peers were present and what they excelled at, revealed a bit about themselves and, by mentioning their concerns, acknowledged any reservations or personal vulnerabilities to the group. Along the way, they built connections to one another and could begin to envision how the pieces of their team would come together.
And then they were off to the races, as Sukis led them through a fast-paced design-thinking exercise. They had just 20 minutes to understand their product’s intended user, brainstorm the user’s needs, and design a new vending machine that would meet those needs. Participants swiftly divvied up their roles based on each person’s goals, concerns, and skills. The room became a whirlwind of activity as team members scribbled ideas on Post-it Super Sticky Notes, then sorted and re-sorted on Post-it Dry Erase Surface.
Thanks to Edmondson’s introductory exercise, in very short order a room full of strangers had become productive teams collaborating to develop creative new ideas. (Their innovations included vending machines that offer drone delivery, facial recognition, individual order history, and more.)
Skipping unproductive icebreakers doesn’t mean your team will immediately start crossing items off the project’s to-do list. However, by getting smarter about how you orient team members—and adapting Edmondson’s exercise for your own team—everyone will be inspired to collaborate on exciting new ideas.
This article was created with and commissioned by Post-it Brand.