In order to develop truly interactive and supportive staff members, employees need opportunities to work together (outside normal business hours) in new and creative ways. Familiarity, as we all know, breeds contempt, and employees who perform the same tasks with the same people, day in and day out, soon lose their ability to communicate with each other in a productive manner. When this happens, they need a fresh approach to problem-solving and communication--they need to have a motivating and memorable experience.
Construct a New Way of Looking at Things
One way to lighten things up and at the same time get employees thinking about how their company really works, is to ask them to participate in an activity called, "The Real Organization Chart."
To begin, distribute blank organization charts to all participants. (If you do not already have a template for an organization chart, you can find one in the Insert/Diagram menu in PowerPoint.) Ask them to fill in the chart the way they think their company is really organized. (They can do this individually and then compare results, or do as a group.) This activity will lead to much discussion of where communication roadblocks might be occurring.
A variation of this activity is to ask the employees to draw the organization chart they think their boss (or supervisors) would draw. At the same time, ask managers to draw the chart they think their employees would draw and compare results.
Build a Team
There are many different activities you can use to promote a sense of teamwork among employees. One popular example is to give the team something to build, say an edifice of some sort that must reach a certain height. Then distribute marshmallows and plastic soda straws to each team and tell them "Here are your building materials." (Be sure to debrief after the exercise, asking questions, such as, "What contributed most importantly to the success--or failure--of your team's attempt?")
You can also promote teamwork in an engaging way by giving them a problem to solve together. A classic example of this type of activity is the "Lost on the Moon" survival exercise. Initially, individuals are told that their space ship has crashed on the moon, and they are provided with a list of "critical items" that may or may not help them survive, which they are asked to rank in order of priority for survival. Next, they are asked to work as a team to prioritize the list. Only after they have consulted together to produce a new list are they then given NASA's actual prioritized list. Inevitably, the teams score much higher than any individual, proving the old adage that two (or 10) heads are better than one.
Communication breakdowns plague every organization at one time or another. Usually the real problem is not that someone has not spoken clearly, it is that someone else has not listened well. Another classic exercise for promoting effective communication skills is a variation on the old "Telephone Game," in which one person "phones" (whispers in the other's ear) a message to another person, who then turns and repeats it to the next person, who then repeats it to the next, and so on. The result is always humorously garbled: What the first person said and what the last person heard are usually comically different.
The way to make this exercise really powerful as a communication skills tool is to ask the participants to play the game again, but this time each person who hears the message must turn back to the person who delivered it and say, "Let me see if I understood you correctly. You said . . . .?" When listeners paraphrase what they hear, the result is always clear communication.