Team dynamics exercises

The summary of team dynamics exercises provided below was compiled by the Higher Education Academy in February 2010.

Team dynamics exercises—‘Not knowing the rules’

Based on Leask, B. (2000). Teaching NESB and International Students of the University of South Australia, Teaching Guide. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.

Also quoted in Carroll, J., and J. Ryan, (Eds) (2005). Teaching International Students: Improving learning for all. London and New York: Routledge, p. 143.

Make a simple set of cards by cutting up paper, and with different colour pens write the numbers 1–10 on a few of them (draw a line under 6s and 9s to show which way is ‘up’). On the remaining cards draw a few random marks such as black dots in some corners, green triangles at the base, perhaps a blue square in the top left corner, and so on.

Divide participants into groups of five or six people, and tell them to devise a simple card game based on Top Trumps or Snap. The rules need to be easy to learn, and they need to use the numbers and markings on the cards. The game needs to identify who is a winner and who is a loser in each round of play. Groups are instructed NOT to devise too complex a game! Allow groups to practise for three or four minutes until everyone is an expert.

Then ask one person from each group to leave the room.

Pass around the room a sheet of paper that specifies a change in the rules—for example, that all red numbers are doubled for everyone who has stayed in the room but not for those people returning (i.e. a 3 becomes a 6, etc); or that anyone with a green triangle is automatically the winner; or that black numbers don't count.

The groups now play the game with the additional rule until it goes smoothly, which may require a minute or two.

Invite those people who had gone outside to return and re-join the game. The groups are instructed to be friendly but not to explain what is different, just play. The groups are allowed to play for a maximum of five minutes.

After this, ask groups to discuss how they felt about the outsider; and ask the outsider to express how they felt. What was going on for the outsider? How much ‘head space’ was devoted to trying to understand the new situation?

Ask groups to consider how they could have helped the outsider.

Team dynamics exercises—‘An eye for an eye’

Based on an activity in Carroll & Ryan (2005; p.143). Also found in UKCISA. (2008). Bridging our worlds: A DVD for training staff working with international students. Trainers DVD and Manual.

The outcome of this exercise is to experience what it feels like to write in an unfamiliar style.

The task is for students to write an essay in 10 sentences (each representing the topic sentences for a full essay). The topic of the essay: ‘Evaluate the arguments in favour of capital punishment’.

You might want to brainstorm some of the arguments in favour of capital punishment such as: retribution, deterrence for others, revenge for the victim's family, cost saving for society, demonstrating the seriousness etc.

The following example instructions need to be given to the students about how to construct the essay:

  • 6 out of the 10 sentences need to explain who you are.
  • Why are you qualified to write such a piece? Why are you a reliable and authoritative person to comment on the topic? (Use of very personal information is crucial. It must be true.)
  • In 3/10 sentences provide background information about the topic, or put the issues in context. This can be either a historical or a political context.
  • In the last sentence present your own views or position. You can do this by asking a question, referring to a proverb, or making a general comment, etc.

Then refuse to provide any further guidance. Give students 10 minutes to do this exercise. Half way through, remind them that they need to include the arguments in favour of what was brainstormed at the start of the session, and to be evaluating them. (Most will have completely forgotten the topic as they focus on form).

Then ask the students to discuss the task in pairs with three guiding questions:

  1. What was that experience like?
  2. Have you written a good essay? How likely do you think it is to pass?
  3. What do you need now to know the answer to question 2?

This is followed by a debrief with the whole group, where students' answers to the guiding questions are written down. Participants usually say the same thing that any student asked to adopt a new and unfamiliar writing style says they need.

Sometimes it is then useful to offer the following contrasting examples.

“An eye for an eye”: evaluate the arguments in favour of capital punishment—Ghanaian version

This assumes that each of these topic sentences are followed by additional information, examples or repetition.

  1. I am the mother of three small children and the daughter of a respected teacher.
  2. I have never killed anyone. I do not know anyone who has killed anyone but I hear people talking about their worries and their fear of being killed.
  3. I believe I would kill to protect my three little children. It is a mother’s duty. I believe I would not think but just act from my heart.
  4. I would never kill someone else such as a shopkeeper or rob him with a gun and threaten his life. My heart tells me this is wrong and my father’s teaching, too.
  5. Sometimes people do kill and each victim is someone’s child.
  6. I know because I have heard the story being told that last month, a Hausa man in Abeyo village robbed a shopkeeper who tried to stop him and the Hausa man hit the shopkeeper and killed the shopkeeper and the crowd caught the Hausa man and was mad with anger and started to beat him and beat him maybe to death—they did not mind that happening—and the police came and took the man away.
  7. Should we kill a thief? Should we listen to angry hearts? Should we kill other people’s children when they do wrong?
  8. The man was hungry. The man was wrong to kill and must be punished. Feed him and he will never rob again and if he does not rob, he will not kill.
  9. No, the Abeyo people wanted quick justice. They wanted cheap justice and no more stealing.
  10. If you want wise decisions, do not use your heart. A father’s teaching is stronger than a crowd that kills.

“An eye for an eye”: evaluate the arguments in favour of capital punishment—United Kingdom version

This assumes that each of the following are topic sentences in a student essay, and that the paragraphs built on and included data gathered from a range of sources.

  1. Supporters of capital punishment cite deterrence as their primary goal with retribution, cost savings, and ensuring the public’s safety being seen as persuasive.
  2. There are many arguments against capital punishments but only those in support will be addressed here.
  3. Arguments for deterrence are based on personal values and feelings and also based on statistics and data.
  4. Statistics do not support the view that capital punishment deters but this appears to have little or no effect on beliefs held by the majority of the population.
  5. Using capital punishment for cost saving is not a well-documented argument and is generally viewed as being ‘in bad taste’ though it may be important in policy decisions.
  6. Arguments about cost probably carry less weight as they are not seen as value-driven.
  7. Ensuring public safety, like all preventative measures, is difficult to evaluate and its importance is probably skewed by media coverage of a tiny number of high profile cases.
  8. Statistics do not support the view that those ‘eligible’ for capital punishment usually pose a high risk of re-offending.
  9. Retribution can only operate at an individual level yet capital punishment is a state function, designed to be a measured and rational decision.
  10. There is overwhelming evidence in other fields that decisions based on individual cases are likely to be unhelpful to the majority.

Therefore the arguments in favour are weak but widely held, unsubstantiated by facts and likely to give prominence to the needs of individuals over the needs of the majority.

Cultural diversity game (© Janette Ryan, 2006)

  • Ask students to play the empathy game (PDF 7.7 KB). This is a ‘fishbowl’ exercise: one half of the group will do the activity while the other half observes and takes notes. You’ll need a set of large dice.
  • Allocate half the group to play the game. It’s probably best to get this group in to the middle of the room with the others watching from the sides—I like to number everyone off as a ‘One’ or a ‘Two’ and the ‘Ones’ become the first group and the ‘Twos’ the second. Give the first group a copy of the rules of the game but tell them that they must not speak during the game. Ask the other half of the group to observe and take notes (also without speaking). The second group needs to try to work out what the rules of the game are. They should also note any other interesting observations about how people acted and reacted to what was happening (these can sometimes be more revealing).
  • When the game is over, ask the second group (the observers) to report on their observations. When they have finished reporting, ask the first group for their comments, in particular, how they felt about the exercise (especially what it’s like to have to behave in ‘foreign’ ways). Also ask them to let the other group know how accurately they had guessed the rules of the game!
  • See if you can draw out from the comments of both groups the emotional impacts of not understanding social or cultural mores and how this might impact on individuals in a classroom or other learning situation.