Teams need to learn to value and trust each other, and to learn to make decisions as a team. They need to acknowledge that their ideas are not always going to be chosen. They need to develop pride in their work.

How do I do that?

Get away. Take a field trip, watch a movie, or play a game. Do something that is NOT challenge-related, but is more ‘just to have some fun.’ My high school team used to go for a walk in the woods together, and my middle school team jousts with foam noodles. We’ve also built snowmen and made hot chocolate. The idea is to step away from the challenge-solving and just have fun together.

Build an Identity. Have the team create a name and a logo for themselves. (You can then use the name and logo to create t-shirts for the tournament!)

Have the team define their expectations in a Team Charter. What do they expect of each other? How will they treat each other? Talk about what constitutes a great team (clear goals, shared experiences, responsibility, communication, openness, deal with conflict responsibly, trust) as you develop this document. Have every team member—and yourself—sign it and then keep it posted in your meeting area. The key phrase is “It’s the team’s solution and the team’s work, no matter which individuals might contribute to it.”

Post a list of phrases and words that focus on teamwork and getting along. Tell them the story of why geese fly in formation. One of my favorites is “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” I also like “None of us is as smart as all of us” (Ken Blanchard). I also like to tell my teams that snowflakes are unique and tiny but they sure can make a big difference when they work together.

Celebrate each team member’s unique abilities and talents. Find one thing that each team member does positively to contribute to the team’s success each week and put it on a running list.

Discuss “Killer Statements.” Ask team members to think about negative statements that can “kill” their ideas or suggestions or hurt their feelings. “Yes, but…” “No way…” “That’s a dumb idea.” “That will never work.” Have the team also share expressions and gestures that can produce the same result. Talk about why people do this, and how it feels to be on the receiving end of such statements. Then talk about the difference between this kind of gut-level response and the more neutral process of focusing down and refining the team’s ideas to create a solution.