“They’re such great kids, so creative, with so much potential, how do I get them to stop arguing about what to do, stop picking on one another, and get down to work?”  It’s a question that comes up in nearly every Team Manager’s experience.  Even teams that get along, who are productive (…most of the time), can benefit from a few plan-full practices to help them stay on track.

Many Team Managers, or TM’s, rely on Roadmaps to provide the plan for their team meetings, at least for the start of the season.  But once teams are launched on the “production” phase of their problem solving it helps to understand how to put together a Positive, Purposeful, and Productive team meeting.

Planning a great team meeting should focus on three goals:  keeping the teamwork positive, purposefully incorporating both critical and creative thinking activities, and working productively  toward team identified goals.

Teams are made up of individuals, some of whom are more complex and challenging than others, but you will have made great progress toward good teamwork if you can keep the interactions of your team positive. Easier said than done?  Of course, but these techniques can only help.  Behavioral psychologists have observed that teams who trust and value each other, teams who recognize the special abilities of each team member, and use those abilities to the benefit of the team, are more productive teams.

Simply providing opportunities for team members to get to know each other through ice breaking activities, such as those outlined in Roadmaps and those provided in a previous article in this blog, are a good start.  Reminding team members, in positive language, of the goals for the meeting can sometimes help. When there is conflict, and there will be days when it surfaces, teaching the team simple techniques such as “reflective listening” will help.  Team members talk, one at a time, about what the difficulty is, then another team member simply repeats (non-judgmentally) what they heard.

When members of the team are feeling beleaguered by unfair division of labor (a common problem) an enjoyable round of “Snowballs of Praise” can remind individuals that their efforts are valued. Snowballs is a fun and quick activity.  All you need is some white paper, and writing implements.  Each team member writes a “phrase of praise” on a piece of the paper.  This should be something specific that they value about another member of the team. They should write no names or identifying characteristics, just something like:  “You always offer to help me with something hard” or “You’re funny and make us laugh.”  The papers are scrunched into “snowballs.”  They should generate one snowball for each of the other team members, so there are lots of them.  Everyone (gently) throws the snowballs up into the air on a signal from the TM, letting them land on the floor.  Then the team members pick them up and one at a time read them aloud, while thinking, could this be me?  Should this be me?

Purposeful meetings happen more reliably when there are regular creative and critical thinking tools used to solve each part of the challenge solution.  Creative thinking can also be used to solve team problems:  What kind of snack should we have?  That can be turned into an “ABC” brainstorm, as can, “What materials do we need in order to build our scenery?” “What do we need to accomplish at our next meeting?”  How about using an AloU  to decide which of the many ideas the team has for a theme is the right one to choose?  Or perhaps a decision-making matrix will work better.  These are Creative Problem Solving (CPS) tools that can be found in Roadmaps, or in the Creative Problem Solvers Toolbox.

Productive meetings happen most often when they are well planned.  Many times meetings carefully planned by the team are more productive than those carefully planned by the Team Manager.  There are many planning tools, such as “Short, Medium, and Long” (SML) to help in this process.  This tool asks teams to plan backwards. Ask the team to think about what a solution will look like when it is done, and then thinking of the steps necessary to get to that point. Then have them divide those steps into ones that must be done in a short, medium, or long time frame.

Though there will still be days when you wonder what went wrong, keeping your team meetings positive, purposeful, and productive is a great goal, and with a few tools such as these, it’s also more possible.