Leadership Activities for Challenging Times
Leading a company or any group is hard during “normal” times. The challenge is exponentially more difficult now, as we face the pandemic, political polarization, social unrest, and economic crisis. Every magazine I’ve read recently offers tips for leaders — share your sense of purpose; be transparent about goals; show empathy; be flexible; communicate relentlessly. The suggestions are good, but they don’t tell you how to develop those skills. They don’t offer a menu Leadershipof experiences and exercises — leadership activities — that draw out learning moments. If you’re looking to implement those tips and translate them into actionable skills, the exercises and tools below will help managers become the more effective leaders they hope to be.
Leadership Activities for the Leadership skills needed now
Before you select a game, activity, or experience, do a quick assessment to know where you are now and where you hope to grow. You may explore basic leadership skills through a Leadership Skills Assessment like HRDQs. Then, on top of that, you can layer your more specific goals, such as being able to…
- Coalesce remote teams
- Train managers while observing social distancing rules (working remote and/or while observing 6 ft. separation)
- Motivate smaller groups of staff who are taking on new challenges and wearing more hats
- Develop coaching and mentoring skills, to complement virtual training
- Blend divergent company cultures brought together by mergers and acquisitions
- Bring sense of calm and mindfulness to workers who are stressed and seeing co-workers laid-off
- Build relationships torn apart by political divides
- Improve communication
- Minimize misunderstandings
- Identify assumptions
- Differentiate conversations about content vs. process
- Communicating with masks and social distancing
Get conversations going with meaningful conversation prompts
While leaders face increasingly complex situations, the task of developing strong leaders is also tougher because of the imposition of remote work. Trainers must quickly shift from classroom and blended learning to predominantly virtual learning. These leadership games, activities, tools and resources should help:
1. Coalesce remote teams — allocate time to building relationships!
Relationship building takes time. Whether you’re working remotely or keeping distant within the office, allocate some virtual “water cooler time,” that is time to simply chat. Having a few good prompts on hand helps. Thumballs, UNZiP-IT! Decks and UNZiP-IT! Remote PPTs all have the same great prompts to get your group talking. The wide variety of topics lets you choose appropriate prompts, whether your group is just getting acquainted (Common Ground, Shaped by Our Past, or Favorites), knows each other well but wants to build stronger bonds (Getting to Know You or What Makes You YOU?), or hopes to dig into deeper topics like Get Happy at Work, Diversity, Stress Management, Team Dynamics, etc.
2. Train managers while observing social distancing rules (working remote and/or while observing 6 ft. separation)
Soft-skills training (leadership, communication, listening, time management, empathy, trust) has traditionally taken the form of face-to-face or blended learning. While everyone is feeling unsettled, these skills are more important than ever. Beyond explanations and presentations, skill development typically requires conversation, role-playing, trial and error, and simulations that give participants a shared–and safe–experience to discuss, analyze, and extract learning. The following tools can be used in person or online.
- Case Cards – Each card contains a single scenario focusing on Leadership, Feedback, Performance Management, or Human Resources. Practice these skills and discuss which approaches are most effective.
- Leadership Metaphor Explorer Kit – This deck of 83 postcard-size cards is illustrated with a rich variety of drawings and captions is designed to help people understand how leadership plays out in their organizations, communities, and across boundaries.
- Minefield Maze Game – When a group needs to get a blindfolded team member through a maze, explore how leaders emerge, how to organize multiple voices, develop trust and more.
3. Motivate smaller groups of staff who are taking on new challenges and wearing more hats
- Say Thanks with Kudos Notes & Cards – Positive feedback is key for growth and learning. While team members may typically look to leaders, managers or supervisors for words of appreciation, the happiest organizations also see peers reaching out to one another to express thanks or recognize a contribution. Give your staff the tools they need to acknowledge each others contributions, such as Mini Kudos Notes, Kudos for Colleagues, or Tokens of Appreciation. These can be put as someone’s desk, mailed or even emailed.
- Talk it out with Thumballs and UNZiP-IT! – Give your group a vehicle to express themselves. Pick a topic like Get Happy at Work or Team Dynamics and find out how you can better support your team.
- Wheel of Happiness – Use this popular self- assessment tool to assess your group’s happiness or satisfaction at work. See what each person needs to find themselves in a happier place.
4. Develop coaching and mentoring skills, to complement virtual training
To develop and train smaller groups of people, organizations will need many more trainers. Or, they will also need to teach managers and colleagues to train and coach one another.
- Get Fit for Coaching – Help non-trainers (or even experienced coaches) get in shape and hone the skills they need to help their colleagues grow.
- Practice with Peer-to-Peer Feedback Case Cards – Use these well-crafted scenarios to help peers work together more productively and learn from one another.
- View Changer Cards – Encourage coaches to utilize photographic imagery and metaphors to help their learners make connections, and express frustrations or goals.
5. Blend divergent company cultures brought together by mergers and acquisitions
Use one of these powerful metaphors to facilitate rich conversations about current and preferred situations.
- Road to There – discuss where you are, where you’re going, and the roadblocks to getting “There.”
- Vision Tree – use the metaphor of a tree to discover the roots that ground you, the systems that support you (trunk), and the fruit you hope to bear.
- Iceberg – talk about the unspoken ideas and assumptions that lie below the surface, but still affect work processes, environment, and relationships. Differentiate the visible (Actions, Outcomes, and Results) from the invisible (Attitudes, Perceptions, Unwritten Rules, Unconscious Biases, Values, Beliefs and Anchors).
6. Bring sense of calm and mindfulness to workers who are stressed and seeing co-workers laid-off
- Stress Thumball – Discuss triggers that create stress, as well as the tools and techniques to ground and calm your team.
- Mindfulness Deck – These 50 simple, yet powerful practices help build skills of awareness, compassion and presence for what matters in your daily life. The deck is geared for both those new to a mindfulness practice and those who have been practicing for years.
7. Build relationships torn apart by political divides
- Building Bridges Thumball / UNZiP-IT! – Focus on values you share rather than those that divide you. Develop trust by getting to know one another’s values.
- Develop Politics-Free Zones – use the DeskMate Politics-Free Zone sign to identify safe spaces to discuss anything but politics.
- Diversity Thumball / UNZiP-IT! – Use the prompts on these tools to understand sources of bias and experiences of feeling different.
8. Improve communication by minimizing misunderstandings, identifying assumptions, and differentiating conversations about content vs. process
- Seeing the Point – Online: In this game, players must assemble an assortment of shapes to make 4 uniform shapes.
- Murder Mystery – Online: Use this popular 30-minute Murder Mystery game to improve communication skills, team building, problem solving, leadership, and more. Send one or more of the 27 clues to each participant and challenge them to find the murderer, victim, time & place of the murder, and motive in 15 minutes — without writing anything down and using only verbal communication. If you have a large group, do make use online breakout rooms. After each team plays, they can select a spokesperson to share their team’s experience with the rest of the group.
- Zin Obelisk – Online: A challenging mathematical puzzle Is made even more complex, by using made-up words in the fictitious, ancient city of Atlantis, where a solid, rectangular obelisk -called a zin – was built in honor of the goddess Tina. The structure took less than two weeks to complete and the group’s task is to determine the day of the week on which the obelisk was completed. For virtual play, email a few clues to each player and try to sort it out over the phone–maybe with a shared online whiteboard! After all clear phone communication is more important now than ever! Normally, teams consist of 5-8 players. If you have a larger group of people you can use online breakout rooms. After each team plays, they can select a spokesperson to share their team’s experience with the rest of the group.
- Colourblind – Online: Virtual Teams of ideally 6 – 14 members gather and share knowledge to identify 2 colored abstract shapes that are missing from a complete set. If you have a larger group of people you can use online breakout rooms. After each team plays, they can select a spokesperson to share their team’s experience with the rest of the group. The communication processes involved are much more complex and take participants through increasingly sophisticated patterns of active listening until the task is achieved. Individuals draw on their experience and descriptive skills to explain to each other abstract shapes that they can see on their screens, but cannot share with the others. They use feedback and clarification skills to ensure that their understanding is accurate.
9. Communicating with Masks & Distancing
While we know that social safe distancing protocols save lives, we must also appreciate that human beings rely on proximity and facial expressions to communicate non-verbally and show empathy. To experience the impact of these new communication “norms” have your leaders and managers ask one another to share a short story of their past — a major turning point in their life; a time they went to the hospital; a hard choice you had to make; a stressful experience you lived through [Shaped by Our Past question prompts for more question prompts]. This exercise can’t really be conducted in real time, so you might need to ask your group to record their feelings about sharing their stories in these different situations:
- In round one, they should share their story on a Zoom or Webex-type call. Try it with 3-4 people vs. 10-30 (you may need to use the “breakout rooms” features on these services.
- In round two, have them have one of these “intimate conversations” speaking at a distance from one another, and having to speak loudly
- In round three, they should wear facial masks that hide.
DEBRIEF: In your debrief, discuss the challenges of each of these more restrictive communication devices. Ask:
What made each medium difficult?
How might we accommodate these limitations to achieve greater understanding?
Lead by Example with Leadership Activities
Leadership Games come in many formats. Whenever you take time out of your leaders’ busy days, be sure you have a clear purpose. On top of that, make the time worthwhile, but carving out a few additional minutes to debrief. Of course, if we’ve missed any of YOUR favorite Leadership Games, let us know!
NOTE: Click here for more ACTIVE LISTENING EXERCISES.