Skip the Trust Fall: Relevant Team Building for Cultural Orgs

Team building. The phrase often conjures up memories of offsite field trips, boxed lunches, and the inevitable "team building activity." Interpretation or any work in the cultural field requires a highly collaborative and integrated team that values trust and communication. And, one way to do this is to do things outside our everyday routines and comfort zones. 

But, traditional team building activities like trust falls, egg drops, and scavenger hunts can feel frivolous and inauthentic amongst cultural professionals as they focus more on icebreaking and novelty than cultivating the vulnerability and empathy needed for a successfully integrated team. 

Below is a list of ways to use interpretation-related activities during your next retreat or team building session. By using elements vital to interpretation like object-based learning and empathy, you'll foster meaningful, lasting team building experiences


Personal Response Gallery Experience

This activity is best done with a group that already knows each other moderately well and with a collection the team is not very familiar with. Consider going to another institution or having a staff member outside your team lead the group. 

Established by museum educator Ray Williams, the personal response gallery experience offers an opportunity for individual reflections and personal connections with museum objects. Originally designed for use in an art museum, the experience could easily be adapted for other museum types or sites. The participants are offered a series of prompts they select randomly like:

Find a work of art that you might choose to share with a depressed
friend. Imagine their reactions...

Find the work of art that is most like you. What qualities do you have in

Find an image of a person you would like to meet.... How might your
conversation go?

Then each individual finds a work of art (or museum object) that answers their question and share their response with the group. I've used this activity with a variety of groups from business leaders looking for team-building to museum colleagues on a day-long retreat. What I love about this experiences is it allows participants an opportunity to share as much or as little as they want while encouraging close listening and critical thinking. Everyone is asked to be vulnerable to their point of comfort while also respectfully learning more about their colleagues and coworkers. As a result, the experience is both intimate and safe at the same time. 

You can learn more about the personal response experience from Ray Williams article in the Journal of Museum Education including a full list of prompts. Or, email me for a digital copy.

From: Williams, R. (2010). Honoring the personal response: A strategy for serving the public hunger for connection. Journal of Museum Education, 35(1), 93-101. 


Values Click Down

This activity is great when your team is working on establishing or clarifying group or organization values. It is an effective way of practicing team communication with active listening and rephrasing as well as helping participants identify their individual core values.

Break your team into pairs and have them establish a role as the listener or the speaker. Give each pair a prompt  to respond to like "share one thing about your job you enjoy" or "describe an experience recently that you felt truly alive."  The pair will each take turns responding to the question as the speaker while the listener does the following:

1. Listens carefully to identify a "click down" word. These are words or phrases that speaker emphasizes through body language, voice inflection, or repetition.

2. When the speaker finishes, the clicker "clicks down" on one of the words asking an open-ended follow up question to dig deeper. Then, the clicker listens carefully again, listening for additional "click down" words.

3. Repeat step 2 until the "click down" question reveals no new answers. At this point the speaker has identified one of their core values. 

This activity comes from culture connect. Learn more by reviewing an example video. 


The Space Deck

The Space Deck was created as part of Museum Camp 2015 at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History:

The Space Deck is a co-created deck of 56 space making cards. Each card presents a prompt for a way to make space in your life and work. Space for you to grow. Space for others to communicate and do their best work.

These cards are intended to assist the creative, the museum professional, the librarian, the artist, the activists, the burnt-out, in making space for self and for others with intention and awareness.

The deck is highly flexible made up of "suits" like creativity, activist, or courage. For team building, I'd recommend pre-selecting cards from the creativity, relational, or movement decks suits that make sense for your team. Or, invite individuals to select and complete a card in advance of your team building and share their experience with the group.

You can purchase a deck or use the random card generator.