By Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor, coauthors of Brain Boosters for Groups In a Jar®
Looking for a way to build team spirit with a group of teens? Trying to get them off their phones or electronic devices? Want to have them be fully present in the room with you instead of texting friends elsewhere? Or worse yet, texting back-and-forth with the classmate sitting next to them?
Create some time for play! Group games are timeless. They are the ultimate “fun, engage the group” tool for every youth worker and educator. They bring the group together and help kids bond, discover things about themselves and one another, laugh, de-stress, and develop skills. Plus, the “work” of teambuilding using games results in your group developing key 21st century skills they will need to succeed in life and at work. Games can help kids build collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and social and cross-cultural skills.
Here are six reasons you should include playtime in your group.
- Games help build bridges between people, creating common ground that didn’t exist before. Children and teens sometimes need a little nudge to start working together—either because they are too shy, too self-focused, too cliquey, or too judgmental. When we bring a group of young people together for the first time, we often play a game called “Common Ground,” where we ask pairs to list as many things as they can that they have in common. Then pairs join together to work in quads, quads join together to work in groups of eight, and eventually, the whole team is naming qualities that they have in common with one another. It’s a low-key game that creates opportunities for conversations that last beyond the game. It usually transforms individuals sitting alone into a lively, chattering group.
- Games allow groups to learn more about one another’s strengths and weaknesses, which leads to higher-functioning teamwork. Over time, as you play games from charades to monopoly to dodgeball, you will observe children’s strengths. For example, some kids will be natural performers, others will show their analytical planning side, and some will become caregivers. As kids and adults pay attention to their individual strengths in games, they can intentionally apply and use those same strengths in projects, tasks, and presentations. When adults take the time to name the strengths they see in team members, they help kids make wiser choices in regards to extracurricular activities, sports, classes, jobs, hobbies, and even careers. The self-awareness that emerges during games helps solidify the importance of working with others who offset individual weaknesses—and of the personal development needed to become a stronger leader.
- Games help build friendships, which are often founded upon moments of laughter, play, and common experiences. This bonding is important because it can strengthen a team of students, athletes, or club members into a cohesive unit. Creating a safe, caring space where kids are welcome to be themselves and how we create that space is an important job of adults. Games help create a welcoming, safe environment and start the bonding process. Building strong friendships within a team can lead to positive peer accountability, confidence, and healthy decision making—a plus for any group to perform and thrive. Additionally, the art of knowing how to build strong friendships teaches team members that they have others they can lean on when they need support to deal with challenges and temptations at school and throughout their lives. And if we don’t take the time to create these spaces and solidify positive relationships within our space, kids may turn to negative groups to find support.
- Games offer people a chance to practice skills and attitudes in a “mini-life” environment. An intense game might reveal tendencies toward perfectionism, selfishness, prejudice, fear, rudeness, or other struggles. The game leader can use the game as an opportunity to gently address issues with individuals or with the whole group. These insights can help the game leader make decisions about future opportunities for refining behaviors and choices. If a group needs to practice skills such as decision making, listening, planning, or compassion, caring adults can use games to provide the opportunity to do so. These intentionally chosen games will build individual and team skills further preparing kids for life.
- Games improve team morale. They provide opportunities for kids to reflect upon experiences, participate in self-discovery, and grow. They can tease out interests and passions or change the energy of the group. Games can help the group navigate transitions and celebrate successes. A team that takes time to notice and celebrate its members accomplishments, large or small, will continue to work well together. Team members will learn the importance of reflection, celebration, and gratitude—three aids in improving morale.
- Games = fun for individuals and groups. We saved the most obvious reason to use games for teambuilding for last: Groups that play games have fun together. But make no mistake, it’s not simply a matter of fun and games. As the previous reasons indicate, “play with purpose” (our mantra) creates an engaging space for self-discovery and skills identification and practice, and it builds group identity. Play fosters group retention, opportunity for growth, and cheerful group spirit. Individuals who play games have fun, and a person’s joyful attitude is contagious. It can impact your whole group in the very best possible way!
Convinced you need more playtime? Ready to play? Remember: Kids are experts in play, so give a little direction and space, and let them play! And remember to play along, speak up when necessary to move play along in healthy directions, and encourage the individuals and the group to grow.
Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor are the best-selling authors of Great Group Games: 175 Boredom-Busting, Zero-Prep Team Builders for All Ages and seven other books for educators and youth workers. Nationally recognized trainers in positive youth development, service learning, and play with purpose, they partner with schools and after-school programs for professional development. Learn more through their website and blog and follow them on Twitter @TheAssetEdge.
Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor are the coauthors of Brain Boosters for Groups In a Jar®.
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