How do you make a high performing team from 8 individuals? You start by getting to know each other. But what works well in practice? This is the first in a series of articles. In this series, I’m sharing my experience of building a brand new team of eight unruly 7th graders. The team goal is to compete in the First Lego League. Working with kids is a special challenge because they are brutally honest, highly sensitive and wildly creative.
I love LEGO, I love building great teams so I thought: why don’t I build the greatest First Lego League team I’ve ever built? Through my practice I’ve become convinced that atmosphere in a team is the greatest driver of performance, joy and success. I view the atmosphere as sculpture. It’s a rough block when you start out with a new team. It could have some nice edges. But overall it needs careful shaping. The first step with a new team is getting to know each other. With the method I describe here you can easily break the ice and lay a foundation for a safe atmosphere.
Safety is the foundation for great creativity.
How to get to know each other with The Teammate Quiz
Time needed: 20 hours
This is 20 minute game I did to quickly build relations beyond the superfluous. It has 6 simple steps. The goal is to quickly gather facts about your teammates and be able to remember them in a quiz. It’s good practice to write instructions on a flip chart while you’re explaining them.
- Instruction part 1: how to discover facts about other people.
Explain how asking interesting questions will reveal facts about other people. Suggest interesting questions to ask: Who’s your superhero? What do you detest? What makes you smile? What’s your name? What’s your favorite food? Brainstorm with the team about other interesting questions. Avoid the obvious: sports, computer games, age,…
- Instruction part 2: how to remember facts
Explain how it’s hard to remember loose facts but easy to remember stories. An easy way to make stories from facts is asking: why? For instance if I could mention my superhero is Batman. Point out that this will be hard to remember among the superheroes of 9 other people. But if you ask me why, I will tell you that I love the fact that Batman builds his own gear together with Alfred. He keeps inventing new and cool stuff to catch the bad guys. I’d like to be like that too. Now there’s a memorable story of me in my Bat Cave building the coolest inventions.
- Learn about your teammates – timebox: 10 minutes
Instruct the kids to chat in groups of 2 or 3. Instruct them to switch groups a lot because they need to gather facts about everyone in the team.
- Quiz part 1: ask one person to start
Gather around in a circle. Ask who wants to start. Have her step forward. She will expect to have to start reciting facts. However explain that it’s going to be about her. The others will be tested instead!
- Quiz part 2: popcorn!
Invite everyone to share as much facts as possible about the person who stepped forward. When no one has any facts to offer anymore, explain that it’s just like popcorn. Facts go pop! pop! pop! And when all the facts are done the popping stops. It’s time for a new person.
- Quiz part 3: have the quiz subject select another person to step forward
As a reward for daring to be the center of attention the person in the middle can choose someone else and step back. Go back to step 5.
Insights after the Teammate Quiz with FLL kids
I found that the kids were more willing to cooperate in sub-teams because they would discover new shared interests. They were eager to build LEGO with newfound ‘friends’.
Secondly, I found it hard to steer the conversation away from computer games. I like to avoid discussing computer games because they bring a competitive mindset, induce bragging and lead to shallow conversations. I would be interested in how other people deal with this.
Lastly I found that kids needed way more tips to keep the conversation going than adults. They seem to be naturally more interested in themselves than in others.
Share to help other people!
If this article was useful, remember to share it with other people who might benefit. You can point them to my facebook page about teamwork. You can also point them to LinkedIn. If you’re interested in LEGO MINDSTORMS specific information I have a separate website called Anton’s Mindstorms.