Managing Conversations During Teambuilding

Some of the most intense team building sessions that we have had the privilege of facilitating, have happened when we managed to break through a glass ceiling of trust amongst the members, and people truly & openly spoke and shared some of their deepest feelings, fears, hopes, influences, apprehensions and achievements. Yes, we are true believers in the Power of a Huddle!

But over a period of doing many such workshops, one of the realizations that has slowly crept on us is that, much as we would like it, the magic that happens within a group of people huddling in conversation, often times does not happen automatically – it needs to be facilitated.

team building conversations

Here are a few things to make this happen for your team:

1) Look out for everyone
The real magic in a team can only be captured when everyone is heard and also feels heard. As intuitively simple as this sounds, this does not always happen by itself. Very often, even when the breakthrough in trust happens and the sharing begins, the louder, more dominant members start hogging the conversation. And the quieter people slowly start retreating back into their shells again. Previously held stereotypes about individuals quickly re-surface again and the fragile trust is broken – and unfortunately, so is the conversation.

So, watch out for the conversation hoggers. A good way to steer the conversation is to acknowledge a point they make and connect it to another quieter person. For eg. “That’s a great point that you have made about the need for ethics Mahesh – Thank you” and then quickly, “What do you feel about it Puneet? Does your experience validate this too?”. As the facilitator, you are the one person who has to look out for everyone – and ensure that every single person is heard and feels heard.

2) Its ok to interrupt
But what do you do when there is a particularly tough conversation hogger, who just won’t stop? Its funny, but we have often caught ourselves thinking during such long monologues, “He has got to pause to take a breath somewhere!” Most of us have been taught that its bad to interrupt when someone else is speaking. So heres some advice against the grain, when it comes to team building programs : It is ok to interrupt.  Humour we have found is an effective tool in handling such situations. Also, another counter intuitive insight: the conversation hoggers most often are extroverted people who need to think by speaking aloud. So, once their point is made & is validated by you, they really don’t mind if you interrupt them. Infact it makes the conversation richer for them.

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3) Be an active listener
One of the mistakes that you can make inadvertently sometimes is to think 60 seconds ahead of the conversation. “What do I say next?”, “How do I move this forward?”. The reason we do this is perhaps because we are too anxious. But, that’s precisely the wrong thing to do to achieve that result.

When you are completely with the conversation and the speaker – there are a couple of things that you do at once: Firstly the sincerity always shows through – the speaker who is perhaps sharing intimate snippets of his life, feels respected & heard. In turn that helps him to open up even more. Secondly, the team in large takes cues from your behavior – the intensity builds. And finally, active listening unfailingly helps you as a facilitator to steer the conversation, when you encounter the conversation hoggers.

4) Be Flexible
Conversations many a times –  are like different rivulets that split away from the main flow to join back again. At a time when you sense the conversation is beginning to flow freely – facilitate loosely. If a revelation from someone gets a gasp and the conversation steers in a different direction, don’t be in a hurry to cut the flow & pull them back. Should you have an instance of someone breaking down during the sharing, stay with the moment & don’t make a huge fuss about it. Don’t be rigid in your approach.

Having said that, there is just one caveat. At times when a conversation is mid-stream, someone may take a completely different track. Incomplete conversations leave a feeling of “not being heard”. Watch out for these – and when you see it happening, saying, “Guys can we hear what Preeti has to say before we move on?” – is often the only nudge needed to pull back the conversation.

5) Work on cultivating relationships
Facilitators play a big role in opening up a conversation within a team. And much of that has to do with the relationships that you as a Facilitator have managed to build with the team. This is one reason why an activity like this never works as a stand-alone or as the first activity in a team building session.

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If you, the Facilitator are a part of the team (or its leader) – before you embark on an activity like this, you need to critically look at what is the relationship that you currently share with the team? Going in first as a leader and sharing vulnerabilities, in a sincere, genuine way, is one powerful method we have experienced the trust barrier being lowered.

Regardless of where you are having your next conversation – at home, with friends, at office with colleagues or at your next team building session, watch out for these 5 points – and let us know if they made your conversations richer!

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