Whether your employees are in customer-facing roles, need to work together on projects, or are just giving and receiving instructions, communication is key. In fact, when teams are having problems with anything from quality of work to a conflict between team members, the issue tends to lie in communication. The solution is to train your employees in communication exercises that will actually lead to results.
1. Blind Drawing
Divide groups into pairs, assigning one person in the pair the role of speaker and the other the role of listener. Without letting the listener see, give the speaker a picture of geometric shapes. The listener will need a pencil and sheet of paper.
Next, the speaker needs to describe the picture to the listener, who is not allowed to speak. Once the listener has finished drawing, compare the attempt to the original picture.
This activity shows what happens when communication breaks down. In particular, it shows the importance of two-way communication. It demonstrates that, in addition to transmitting and interpreting a message, communication is about creating strategies to understand one another.
Use the exercise as a starting point to discuss how employees can use better communication skills at work. Consider how someone may misinterpret unclear instructions — including how the activity would have had different results if the listener was able to ask questions.
2. Card Pieces
This is one of the most popular communication exercises for teams because it’s so effective. You’ll need at least six people to create a minimum of three teams. It’s even better if each team is made up of three or four people.
For each employee, take five playing cards. Cut the playing card diagonally from each corner to create four triangular pieces. Mix up the pieces and give each team an envelope containing the same amount of pieces.
To start, the teams will need to sort their pieces to see what they need to create complete cards. Then, give them around eight minutes to negotiate with the other teams for the pieces they need. The winner is the team that has the most complete cards.
This activity teaches employees the importance of empathy in communication. Employees need to use negotiation tactics to improve their chances of receiving the card pieces they want. Talk about what strategies they used, including what worked and what didn’t.
3. Forming Groups
If you have a large team, this activity is a great choice for practicing effective communication exercises. It’s particularly useful for team members who don’t know each other well.
The game works by asking employees to form groups with others who have something in common. For instance, you could tell participants to form a group with everyone born in the same month as them, with those that have the same hobbies, or with those who have the same number of siblings. The options are endless, and you can get as creative as you like. The point is for employees to use communication to form new groups as quickly as possible.
At the end of the activity, talk about what types of communication employees used. How could they apply these strategies at work?
4. Blindfolded Obstacle Course
An important aspect of communication is trust. There’s no better way for employees to learn to trust their coworkers than when they’re blindfolded!
Create an obstacle course in a reasonably large room using everyday items from the office. Blindfold one employee and have a second employee lead the first through the obstacle course. Repeat to give all your team members the chance to try.
Those who are the most successful at leading will be the ones who used clear and concise language. At the end of the activity, use this as a teaching point as to why it’s important to use as few words as possible when explaining to avoid confusion.
5. Just Listen
Come up with a few topics to discuss, avoiding anything too controversial but perhaps choosing a topic that has caused an issue in the past. Split the group into pairs, assigning one person in the pair as speaker and the other as listener.
Give the speakers about three minutes to talk about their topic to their partners. The listeners must not interrupt. Once the speakers have finished talking, listeners should summarize what their partners said — being completely objective. Give them around a minute to make the summary, then reverse roles.
After you’ve concluded the activity, bring the group back together. Talk about how it felt to speak uninterrupted. Were speakers able to better express their views? Did the summaries show that the listeners were paying attention? How easy was it to listen without being allowed to speak? Finally, ask employees how they will use the activity to improve their speaking and listening skills at work.
6. Don’t Listen
You can also try an activity that’s almost the opposite to the above. Again, divide the group into pairs of listeners and speakers. This time (without letting the speakers know) tell the listeners to stop paying attention after 30 seconds.
For this exercise, allow speakers to choose their own topic — something they are passionate about. Again, ask them to talk for about three minutes. However, you should actually stop the activity when all the speakers become aware that the listeners are not paying attention.
Discuss as a group what indicated that the listeners were not paying attention and how not being listened to makes us feel. Use this to stress the importance of active listening.
7. Four at a Time
Another way to examine the importance of nonverbal communication is with this team activity. You’ll need at least nine people, but it’s best of all if you have a large group.
Arrange seats in a circle. Have four people stand up and keep everyone else sitting. At the end of 10 seconds, the four employees who are standing must sit down and another four must stand up. The trick is that no one is allowed to speak!
Keep playing with a new four people standing up every 10 seconds. The game ends if, at any time, you have any more or less than four people standing.
After the activity, talk about what methods of communication you used. Think of how these could strengthen relationships between coworkers.
8. Acting Emotions
Another way to learn about nonverbal communication is with this activity. Create a set of cards with a different emotion written on each. Hand a card to one employee, who needs to act out the emotion. The other employees need to guess the emotion.
Once everyone has acted at least one emotion, hold a discussion. Talk about which emotions were the easiest to portray and guess. Why might this be? Next, move on to discussing in what situations facial expressions become particularly important at work. It could be a coworker, client, or someone else expressing the emotion. Finally, consider how it becomes more difficult to know how someone is feeling when you’re unable to see the person’s face or body language. Brainstorm ideas for overcoming this challenge.
9. Body Language Speaks Louder Than Words
Frame this activity as an exercise for following instructions as fast as possible. Ask employees to do a series of actions, like touching their nose, standing up, raising one knee, sitting back down, crossing their arms, etc. Do around eight to 10 actions, demonstrating the actions as you give the instructions.
For the last instruction, while telling employees what to do, perform a completely different action. Make a mental note of how many people followed what you asked and how many copied what you did. You’ll likely find that the majority copied you rather than listened to the instruction.
Ask your employees how many noticed the last mistake. Discuss how this shows that body languages can be even more influential than the words you say. Use the lesson to demonstrate how important it is to be aware of what you are portraying with your body language and why you need to make sure you are delivering the right message.
Using These Communication Exercises
These communication exercises for employees are suitable for a wide range of businesses — you have options whether your team is large or small. They also work for all sectors and job titles. Whereas many are better as communication exercises in the workplace, there are some you can even use for employees working remotely. In fact, it is often extra important to engage with remote employees, as communication is more challenging when you are not face to face.
Try implementing these communication exercises for work before your next big project, at a regular team meeting, or whenever you notice communication is breaking down. You’ll find that the exercises lead to noticeable results, including increased productivity, improved trust, and higher overall morale. All these are critical for reducing turnover and building a team that will help your business achieve its long term goals.