One way to prepare youth for their future careers is to give them winning experiences while they're young. Team-building exercises, such as those that often take place as group icebreakers, at a camp, in a classroom or through an organization, teach young people how to trust others and themselves in challenging situations. Most require learning new ways to cooperate and communicate, developing valuable character and relational skills they'll need to succeed in life.
One foundational life skill that everyone needs is the ability to concentrate. Team-building exercises that foster quick mental reflexes can be both competitive and playful. For example, have everyone sit in a circle and prepare for someone to start. The first person begins by saying "bip" and looking at another individual in the circle. The second person looks at a different person and says "bap." Finally, a third person looks at another person in the circle and says, "bup" while pointing at him. This is the only option that has the added element of pointing. The round continues with random choices being made, until someone moves their finger while saying a word that doesn't require it or failing to do so when saying "bup." Later, debrief about the value of concentration in everything from work, school, home and relationships.
A classic problem-solving exercise is the human knot, a physical icebreaker that can be done in silence or with verbal communication. The group stands in a circle, and each person places his hands in the center. Everyone quickly grabs a hand, and within moments the group begins trying to untangle itself. This activity requires being both a good listener and speaker to make sure everyone contributes to the solution. You can repeat the activity several times by timing the group or asking certain dominant members not to speak so others do.
It's not always easy to tell who's on your side and who's against you. One activity to help develop this skill involves having a group surround a large soft object in the center of the room. Explain that if someone touches it, they’re out. When you say go, the group will try to get different people to touch the ball. Participants will likely form quick alliances to try to get others out; however, they will likely turn on each other as people are eliminated. The last person left is the winner.
Before you play the game again, take each student aside and secretly assign them one of three colors (i.e., red, blue or green). Tell them they can’t share which team they’re on until the game begins, at which point they can try to fake others out regarding which team they belong to. Let the game continue, with students second-guessing who’s working with them or against them. When you’re done and have a single winner, ask them to reveal their true team. Debrief about how it’s hard sometimes to tell who is legitimately working with us versus those who are secretly working against us.
Both introverts and extroverts alike need to learn how to form lasting connections with others. An activity that can help involves splitting the group into smaller groups and challenging each one to write down as many things that they can identify that they have in common with each other. Challenge them to dig deeper than the obvious, such as, "We all have lungs." You can also give them a time limit before everyone has to be done. Let each group share their observations.
Take the activity a step further and have each person write down something that they feel is unique about them. Have them pass their papers in to you, and as you read them, see if the group can identify who shared which attribute. These details will not only provide conversation within the activity, but it also offer the grounds for continued dialogue after you're done.
Tony Myles is a pastor and national speaker on youth culture. He has been writing professionally since 2000, has a weekly health and fitness newspaper column in the Cleveland suburbs, reviews for "YouthWorker Journal" and was a featured reporter for the "Kalamazoo Gazette." He holds a Master of Business Administration in adolescent development from Indiana Wesleyan University.