November 6, 2015

Getting to Know You: Tips for New Groups

When you have a new group, it’s important to take the time to get to know each other better, so you have the best chance of working well together. Incorporating teambuilding exercises at the beginning of your first meeting may help group members have a better understanding of each other and feel more connected to one another. 

What’s new?

First, let’s define “new team.” You may be surprised to learn what constitutes a “new” group. Of course, if you are all starting out on the same day, it’s a new group. But what if you have a vestry of seven with six members remaining and just one new person beginning? Believe it or not, you then have a whole new group.

“It’s not practical to expect the one person to play catch up with the group’s dynamics and connections,” says Bethany Frazier, a teambuilding expert at Kanuga Conference & Retreat Center. “Even if just one person is new to the group you have the makings of a new team. The dynamics change when even just one new person is introduced to the group. It’s best to take the time to do a little teambuilding work to make the most of your efforts.” 

Start at the beginning

It may be tempting to move quickly through ice breakers to get your group acquainted (or reacquainted) with each other so you can move along with the other business at hand. Don’t rush it. Sequencing team building activities is important. Begin with a very general exercise – nothing too personal. Lead an exercise or activity that does not require people to be in close contact. Keep it light. 
With each exercise, remember that everyone has different levels of comfort in interacting with other people. “Be careful not to expect your group to step out of their comfort zone too quickly,” says Frazier. “The result could be the opposite of what you had hoped the exercise would accomplish—having people feel more comfortable with each other. Instead, the team may grow uncomfortable and feel disconnected.”

Ice Breakers

To start things off, Frazier suggests a “pair and share” activity where you ask people to pair up with someone they don’t know well, give them a question to answer, provide five minutes to discuss and then come back and share with the group what they learned about each other. For example, a question could be, “Why did you become a part of the vestry?”

Another ice breaker exercise, borrowed from teambuilding authority Jim Cain in his book, Find Something to Do! is called World Map. This exercise would be appropriate to do after the more general “pair and share” exercise is completed. You’ll need a large open space where the group can stand in a wide circle. Designate the space inside the circle as a map of the world, country or your state. Indicate which direction is north. Ask participants to stand in the relative location on the map where they were born. Go around the room and let people tell their story of origin. Next, ask the members to go to the place they would like to visit on vacation. The people can then share their vacation wish and why they want to go there. These activities will generate introductory discussion.
Whether you’re a fresh, new group or a recently modified team, your time will be well spent to conduct several ice breaker exercises in the early stages of forming your team. 

Learn more about church leadership at the 2016 Church Leadership Conference presented by the Episcopal Church Foundation and Kanuga. 

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