25 emotional intelligence activities for happy and productive teams

on on 22 min read 1 comment

Working together to create a happy and thriving workplace starts by improving emotional intelligence. When groups are better aligned and equipped with clear communication skills, teams feel valued and supported. The benefits of observing and working with our emotions are huge and result in less conflict and a better understanding of one another.

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of emotional intelligence for groups and explore 25 emotional intelligence activities to help build our skills, creating a more positive work environment.

Self-improvement efforts and exploring ways to become more emotionally intelligent are at an all-time high. I thought it was just me who geeked out on Daniel Goleman, but according to this article, 94% of Millennials were working on some form of self-improvement. Self-awareness, effective communication and empathy skills are all valuable character traits we can actually develop and improve.

Burnout, miscommunication, and workplace conflicts can impact employee happiness, even affecting turnover. This can be avoided by having better conversations and collaborating to constructively resolve issues as they arise. By understanding ourselves and others better, we become more resilient to challenges and feel more emotionally connected with our team. 

In this guide, we’ll primarily focus on developing skills in the context of a work environment, these relationship skills, and emotional intelligence activities can also be applied to our personal lives as well. Together we’ll look at:

What is Emotional Intelligence?

So what is Emotional Intelligence? 

Like you, I was curious to research how we could understand our own emotional intelligence to build better relationships. Understanding our basic emotions helps social awareness, and objectively identify emotions before acting. I read Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, considered to be a key text on the topic. Goleman is seen as the founder of Emotional Intelligence, however, the term itself was defined by Salovey and Mayer as:

“the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”

Salovey & Mayer

Goleman goes a little further in his definition, and outlines the skills of emotional intelligence as being able:

  • to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations
  • to control impulse and delay gratification 
  • to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; 
  • to empathize 
  • to hope 

The first three abilities: motivation, self-regulation and the self-imposed delay of gratification come under emotional self-management, which can aid us in achieving our goals, whether it be building a business, writing a blog post, or running a marathon.

My favorite definition is the simplest. The Cambridge dictionary defines emotional intelligence as: “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems.” Emotional Intelligence is a set of skills that can, in most people, be improved.

Improvement in emotional intelligence could be by adapting the way you communicate, considering how your point will be heard. An example of this is understanding the difference between assertiveness and aggression when setting firm boundaries.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important in the workplace? 

Work is an emotional subject. It has the power to affect our mood positively or negatively and impacts our health and relationships. Organizations that expect emotions to be left at the office door can create an unhealthy separation between being human and being productive. Undervaluing empathic employees in this way means missing out on beneficial soft skills that produce higher productivity, connection, and trust within teams.

Recently, more businesses are championing qualities like openness and active communication, recognizing that these skills are an asset to business productivity. A great leader sees the value in aligning people to work towards a common goal. They approach this by cultivating an emotionally inclusive work environment, resulting in a less stressed and more productive team.

Caring for our teams isn’t a tick-box exercise of fruit bowls, desk yoga, and “Wellness Wednesdays” – although I wouldn’t say no to desk yoga. We take active involvement in improving communication by understanding our emotions and how they affect our actions.

Finding better ways to communicate with our colleagues will result in meaningful contributions to our team and a thriving workplace. Similarly, if we can recognize areas for growth and align with our personal motivations, we are more likely to fulfill our career goals. 

Goleman’s book was written in 1995, and points out that,

“Almost three out of four executives see EI as a “must-have” skill for the workplace in the future as the automatizing of routine tasks bumps up against the impossibility of creating effective AI for activities that require emotional skill”

Daniel Goleman

That future he speaks of is very much here, and developing emotional intelligence in the workplace is a necessity for a productive and healthy team. 

How to Build Emotional Intelligence for Teams

The context of the emotional intelligence group activities outlined in this article is to develop our emotional quotient to guide us in taking a personal commitment to work better as part of a team. We focus on specific areas of your team’s development, which are based on Goleman’s Five Categories of Emotional Intelligence to improve team cohesion:

  • Self-awareness (knowing one’s emotions)
  • Self-management (managing feelings, including how to stay motivated!)
  • Empathy (identifying, understanding and empathizing with others)
  • Communication (identifying blockers, listening, expressing feelings and thoughts proactively)
  • Group Dynamics (team dynamics, organizational vision, roles and responsibilities, build team norms)

When choosing group activities focused on building a team’s emotional intelligence, it’s important to have a facilitator who understands them. The facilitator should also have the fundamental skills related to group cohesion and be able to spot any conflicts, or issues prior to running the activity. Not everyone will feel ready to contribute, which the facilitator and group must respect. 

It’s important to develop creative ways for the team to achieve their goals of understanding different emotions and developing emotional intelligence. If they are working on improving communication and emotional connection, you could select listening activities to help deliver their purpose. Identifying any risk levels in regard to self-disclosure is essential to creating a space of trust that means everyone can develop their own emotional intelligence.

Setting boundaries at the start of a workshop is vital to keep the conversation contained within that space. Emotional intelligence exercises explore deep aspects of people’s lives, especially in identifying and sharing so many emotions. Participants need to feel safe to share without judgment in a group setting. 

Activities to Improve Self-Awareness

So, why do we have emotions and how do we become more self-aware?

Here comes the science. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for identifying emotions based on our body’s physical sensations. Then it stores these as memories so that when our body experiences similar sensitivities in the future, the amygdala recognizes it as an emotion. It lives in a very primal part of our brain, vital for our evolutionary existence. 

Emotional intelligence starts by knowing and recognizing your own feelings. Emotions may not always feel positive, but they do serve a positive purpose. They are our mind and body’s way of communicating to try to push us to take positive, helpful action in response to something that has happened, is happening or could happen. Simply put, emotions are impulses to act.

The following emotional intelligence activities help teams identify and understand emotions, with greater context and nuance. There is also a workshop template with an Action Plan and Presentation specifically designed to improve self-awareness. These exercises will help people communicate their emotions, and practice self-awareness within their team, allowing for much better understanding and group cohesiveness.

Weather Check-In

Checking in with ourselves and communicating our feelings to our teams is the first step to becoming self-aware. The way we feel emotions differs from person to person and understanding this can not only help develop self-awareness but also build empathy for how others are feeling.

As an example, Gill Hasson asks in her book Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook, Little Exercises for an Intuitive Life.  “When someone says ‘I’m happy’ – what sort of ‘happy’ are you?” The word happy has a bouncy, uplifting feeling for some people. For others, happiness might mean feeling calm with zero stress, or a zen-like feeling.

The exercise, Weather Check-In uses the weather as a metaphor to describe our feelings. This way, our emotions become relatable, and people can be more honest about their feelings within a safe container. You may want to use this exercise at the beginning and end of a workshop to compare any changes.

Weather Check-in #zoom #virtual #opening #listening and awareness #self-awareness #teambuilding 

Each person describes how they are feeling in terms of a weather system.    

Who You Are

Knowing ourselves is a multi-faceted process, and we have different ways to describe ourselves, varying from day-to-day, who we are with, and what we are doing. Our emotions and moods are changeable. Our personalities may differ or even mirror the people we are surrounded by. So, “Who Are You?” can have a spectrum of answers.

Who You Are is a creative approach to self-discovery where we create personal fanzines or narratives and collages that reflect our personality in response to the question “Who Are You?” The exercise starts with a paired meditation, taking it in turns, with one person asking “Who Are You?” and the partner giving a different response each time. Our variety of answers helps the participants to create a collage or mini-zine expressing their personal narratives. 

It’s okay that we have a spectrum of answers, this exercise helps us accept that we are multi-dimensional people. We can become more self-aware of how we act in different situations with different people and understand better why that might be.

Who you are #identity #emotions 

The activity is aimed to create personal fanzines, a collage method for auto-narrative and self-discovery.

When I Feel

When we can recognize our feelings, we can register what our responses to these emotions might typically be. As we identify that emotions are impulses to act, we can consider how our inner feelings cause us to react or to take certain actions, and if these are similar to how others act.

In this activity, everyone begins by checking in with their own emotions. The facilitator may tie this in with another exercise, such as a meditation, or emotional vocabulary task to help aid the participants in better identifying their inner state. One person shares how they are feeling, and then calls someone’s name. The second person shares what they do to express that feeling, or what actions they might take. 

The goal is to listen and become aware of how we are feeling. We can understand ourselves and see how we might act when we feel that way. Do other people react to feelings in the same way we might?

"When I feel…" #zoom #virtual #teambuilding #listening and awareness #self-awareness #opening #closing 

People take turns sharing how they feel and stating what they do when they feel the way someone else is feeling. 

The Feeling Wheel

By developing our emotional vocabulary we can check in with ourselves and can better pinpoint the right words to express different feelings. American psychologist Robert Plutchik, mapped eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. These emotions were believed to be imperative to keeping our early ancestors alive.

Using the Feeling Wheel created by Plutchik, you can use this exercise to explore your own emotions with deeper nuance and improve your emotional intelligence. The visual guide allows us to group similar emotions together, and discuss the differences. In this activity, we check in with ourselves and share how we feel with each other using the wheel and adding any relevant context.

The simplicity of this exercise allows for easy modifications, for example, creating scenarios and characters to imagine what human emotions would be felt. A group may create a dictionary of different feelings going far beyond the five basic emotions. Variations of the emotions can be used, for example, the universal human needs used in nonviolent communication workshops.

The Feeling Wheel #emotional intelligence #self-awareness #icebreaker #team building #remote-friendly 

By growing our emotional vocabulary, we can better identify our emotions, and check in with ourselves. Doing so can help bring a level of self-awareness, and a better understanding of others.

I used to think…But now I think…

Part of improving our self-awareness is that we recognize that our feelings can be mutable. For example, we receive a short, bluntly worded email and this snippet of information causes us to feel anxious. Later, with more clarity, we’re given more context that the person was just in a rush, so we no longer feel anxious.

In this exercise, the participants are asked to complete two sentences: “I used to think…” and “Now I think…” This might be a private consideration, or the group could share their thoughts, collating them together on a whiteboard.

We identify that feelings and opinions can change with more knowledge and social context. By looking at the world through another’s eyes, our thoughts may change as a result of these learnings. The exercise works well as a reflective self-awareness activity after working to empathize and communicate with others.

I used to think…But now I think… #teampedia #review #debriefing #team 

A simple but effective closing activity that could lead to identify the learning point or outcomes for participants and measure the change in their behavior, mindset or opinion regarding the subject.

Activities for better Self-Management

Once we have identified our own emotions, our next step is to recognize how we might react and if that is the most appropriate and useful action. Handling feelings is an important part of self-management, and by mastering this skill, we are able to pick ourselves up when life throws us a curveball.

You may be familiar with Parkinson’s Law? It’s the saying that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Procrastination has definitely crept up on me when I’ve sat down to complete a task. An important essay is due and suddenly it seems very important to clean my apartment first! Nowadays, I’m better equipped with self-motivation, my favorite technique being the Pomodoro technique, and using the Plan Your Pomodoro exercise.

The following collection of emotional intelligence activities encourages teams to build self-motivation and learn to better manage their own emotions. Self-motivation is essential in the workplace for achieving the goals and tasks we’ve set out to accomplish. By overcoming procrastination we can hone our ability to focus and get into the “flow” state that creates the right environment for us to work effectively. 

Leadership Pizza

A goal-setting exercise can work really well as a tool to improve our self-management and our motivation. Firstly, we can reflect on our current qualities by doing a self-assessment, and then identify areas of improvement, along with a timescale of when we want to see a difference.

Leadership Pizza is a tried and tested exercise that can be adapted and molded to suit leaders and team members anywhere within the company structure. Firstly, like a blank canvas, participants can identify skills, qualities, and characteristics they find important in being an effective part of the group. They can then assess their ability in that area, and create goals to become more emotionally intelligent members.

Leadership Pizza #leadership #team #remote-friendly 

This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.

Letter to Myself

Writing is often a very cathartic process to understand our own emotions and consider perspectives that allow us to see things more clearly. From a goal-setting perspective, writing our ambitions down in detail can help cement the ideas and serve as a visual cue. Forbes has an article on the neuroscience behind this.

‘Manifestation’ is having its moment and whilst that might be a good place to start, goals without taking action rarely materialize. A Letter to Myself exercise works similarly, team members can focus on key actions they’d like their future selves to take, and their motivations behind these goals. The facilitator might suggest prompts such as:

  • What will I achieve by X date?
  • What will I do tomorrow, next week, next month?
  • How do I feel now about my work/job/team? And how do I want my future self to feel?
  • Don’t forget…
  • I want to change… because

Goleman mentions in his book on Emotional Intelligence, “People with greater certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives, having a surer sense of how they really feel about personal decisions from whom to marry, to what job to take.”

Letter to Myself #hyperisland #action #remote-friendly 

Often done at the end of a workshop or program, the purpose of this exercise is to support participants in applying their insights and learnings, by writing a letter and sending it to their future selves. They can define key actions that they would like their future self to take, and express their reasons why change needs to happen.

Everyday Hassles

We often have built-in responses to stressful situations that we repeatedly do and on occasions, regret. Our knee-jerk reactions can also cause friction with others and can create conflict with our team members. By identifying and challenging how we respond, we can adapt better to future situations.

Everyday Hassles is an activity that reframes our approach to inconvenient situations. Things that might crop up in everyday life, such as being stuck in a traffic jam, can cause us to feel negative about the disruption to our plan. By thinking of alternative, more positive solutions, the group can change their mindset towards everyday annoyances, seeing them as opportunities.

The key takeaway from the exercise is that teams can see how they can control their emotional reactions, take ownership over their responses and better manage stress.

Everyday Hassles #issue resolution #issue analysis #stress management #thiagi 

It is a great activity to show participants that it is plausible to change our automatic behaviours and reactions to annoying situations.

Object Meditation

Meditation exercises are useful emotional intelligence tools to help us manage our own temperament. The great thing about meditation is that it can be done almost anywhere – with our eyes open or closed. The important part is to notice how we feel emotionally, mentally and physically. Like a car has its MOT, we can use meditation in a similar way for ourselves.

We make meditation accessible by checking in with how we are feeling and using an object as a vessel to visualize letting go of what doesn’t serve us right now. It’s useful to allow the team the option to fully let their emotions go, and leave their body, or that they can ‘collect’ them again from the object later on. It’s useful to recognize that although emotions can feel negative, we can choose to view them as potential impulses to act. 

Allow the participants to choose which emotions they wish to take into the workshop. Most will pick positive emotions, such as feeling energized or relaxed, but some might take a shard of anger or sadness to address that ‘negative’ emotion within the meeting. 

Object Meditation #icebreaker #meditation #emotional intelligence #managing emotions #check-in #self-awareness 

A focused meditation to become present and aware. We accept our feelings, leaving behind what we doesn’t serve us right now. A ideal way to open a workshop or team meeting.

Plan Your Pomodoro

If you have the concentration of a goldfish, it might be worth exploring some self-management strategies like the Pomodoro technique. Francesco Cirillo developed this simple and effective method involving setting a timer for 25 minutes to focus on a task, and then taking a 5-minute break. Every 25 minutes is called a Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) because he used a tomato-shaped timer to measure his time slots. After 4 Pomodoros, we take a longer break.

This planning exercise is centered around this technique to plan our day ahead into smaller, more manageable chunks. The facilitator can explain the Pomodoro technique, and emphasize its successes. We start the task by creating a to-do list and breaking it down into Pomodoros which we share with the group. We can reflect on how optimistic we may have been with our to-do list and share any wins and struggles. 

Emotional intelligence skills help us become flexible enough to find different ways to arrive at our goals and having the sense to break a task into smaller, manageable pieces. By repeating this process, we become more responsible and have a better ability to focus on the task at hand. The results are deeper concentration and improved self-control.

Plan Your Pomodoro #self-management #emotional intelligence #productivity #time management 

Using the Pomodoro technique, this is an exercise to prepare your day by breaking it down into digestible chunks. Say goodbye to procrastination!

Exercises to build Empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognize emotions in others, and the awareness of differences in the intensity of how people feel, process and act on emotions. Edward Diener, a psychologist, created a scale to record how intensely people experience and react to emotions. Just as we don’t all recognize color in the same way, we all experience and react to emotions differently. 

Interestingly, he found that we feel more content when we are able to pick up on subtle social signals that indicate what others feel and need. When we work together as an emotionally intelligent team and understand that every emotion has value and significance, we are happier and more fulfilled. Teams need to productively build trust and understanding to support and rely on others.

Heard, Seen, Respected

Building our empathic skills starts with listening, understanding and respecting people’s stories. We create empathy by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feeling how they might feel in a certain situation.

In this exercise, we can practice deep listening and empathy by working in pairs. One person is invited to tell a story of a time when they didn’t feel heard, seen or respected. The other person’s job is to listen deeply, and not try to fix or judge the situation. At the end of the storytelling, each person reflects on how they felt from their perspective, whether they were listening or speaking.

Active listening exercises help us build empathy, and create a safe space for conversation allowing people to feel heard and understood. We create an environment where we respect one another without judgment, and by relating to how they might feel.

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR) #issue analysis #empathy #communication #liberating structures #remote-friendly 

You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.

Strength Building Exercise

An empathic environment is a space where people feel safe and confident to speak up and share. By building up others, we support their wins, celebrate their successes and create a positive place for our teams to thrive.

This strength-building exercise encourages a participant to share their experience of a time when they felt they had achieved something good. The rest of the team listens to the story and takes turns to share two or three strengths they must have used to achieve their goal. All strengths are noted down, and the storyteller may take this strength and share it aloud, for example, “I am determined”.

The outcome is that teams can share their appreciation of others by highlighting their strengths and building their self-esteem. It builds trust within groups and shows the power of good storytelling to build empathy and assurance.

Strength Building exercise #team #appreciation #self esteem #remote-friendly 

People develop confidence and self esteem as they discover that their achievements and skills are valuable. This is an exercise for team building and for increasing self esteem and mutual trust.

I’ll Take that Fear

Vulnerability and trust go hand in hand and can be developed between teams and partners over time. It can be challenging to feel safe enough to be open with other people, but by showing support, and listening to others without judgment, we can encourage a safe space.

I’ll Take that Fear is an exercise that helps people share their fears and doubts, and reframe them, whilst being heard and supported by others. The group starts by taking a moment to think of a great friend, mentor or supporter they have in their lives, they then re-name themselves with their own name first, and then the name of the person they have in mind, for example, “Carrin-Lisa”.

When that person shares a fear or doubt, a second team member offers “I’ll take that fear”, and asks “What would Lisa say?” encouraging the person to reframe their doubt, by considering someone else’s perspective. It’s a great way to encourage teams to listen and to think of their doubts differently.

I'll take that fear #trust #courage #fear #authenticity #psychological safety #remote-friendly #zoom #online #empathy #feedback #perspectives #problem solving #coaching 

People share a fear, it is received by another, and then they are asked to share the advice that a trusted mentor or friend would give them.

Paired Walk

When managing our emotions, heading outside for a solo walk can work wonders for letting off steam, or taking some time to step away from a situation. Being outside allows us to refresh and connect with nature. Meeting a friend and walking side-by-side can help us communicate and express our ideas and thoughts much more freely, with more casual eye contact than if we were sitting opposite each other in a café.

The paired walk is a simple and effective way to connect with another person, and its benefits are multiple: increasing trust, empathy and communication – all whilst energizing our bodies and refreshing our minds. This exercise involves pairing up, ideally with someone they don’t know as well, and taking a walk outside for an allotted amount of time.

You might suggest a topic for participants to discuss, such as gratitude, and share what they are grateful for. Or it’s often best to just let the conversation flow naturally allowing as little or as much detail, as an informal everyday conversation out in nature. Maybe you’ll take your next meeting outside? Or conduct a 1-1 that way?

Paired walk #issue resolution #outdoor #team #active listening #hybrid-friendly 

Inviting a paired walk is surprisingly effective in its simplicity. Going for a walk together increases trust and can help prepare the terrain for conflict resolution, while acting as an energizer at the same time. Make it hybrid-friendly by pairing a person in the room to one joining online!

Simple Ethnography

The best way I can describe Ethnography is to imagine yourself being Louis Theroux for the day. Ethnographers observe people, and immerse themselves within that group’s local setting- be it a community or workplace, perhaps recording the experience on film, and following up with interviews.  

This exercise, Simple Ethnography suggests that a small group of people, our ‘ethnographers’, immerse themselves in a local setting, where our people with local experience go about their usual business. It’s best to frame the context by asking what is the problem we hope to solve in this exercise. The ethnographers first observe and record what they experience, either in notebooks or if consent is given, on camera. 

Afterward, a reflective interview can happen, by asking the people what they might have been thinking or feeling as they engaged in certain activities or routines. The group can finish the exercise with an emotional intelligence assessment or a story of their findings. You might use this in a workplace setting to shadow how top performers go about their day and learn from the experience; or by working alongside front-line workers to better identify team members’ strengths.

Simple Ethnography #innovation #issue analysis #liberating structures 

You can enable participants to find novel approaches to challenges by immersing themselves in the activities of the people with local experience—often their colleagues on the front line or anyone who uses their product or service. You open the door to change and innovation by helping participants explore what people actually do and feel in creating, delivering, or using their offering. Their observations and experience can spur rapid performance improvements and expedite prototype development. The combined observations may make it easy to spot important patterns.

Exercises to improve our Communication Skills

Improving our communication skills allows us to be better understood, and to better understand others. Communication and the way in which we connect are said to be the key to personal and career success. We all have different ways of feeling and expressing emotions, and the same goes with communication styles. 

At SessionLab, we are a 100% remote team, and we primarily work asynchronously on Slack, using written communication. This method of communication works so well because everyone can consider their response and reply in their own time. 

Identifying everyone’s preferred ways to communicate is vital to great teamwork. This might mean having important conversations face-to-face creating a space for eye contact and body language; and by running day-to-day tasks asynchronously. Consider how the tone of voice, body language, and environment contribute to how information is received. Effective communication starts with choosing the right format for conversations so that people can feel safe and communicate openly. 

This set of emotional intelligence activities is designed to boost communication skills and they will help your team have better conversations too!

Back-Turned Feedback

Speaking about someone behind their back damages trust, creating a loss of credibility and confidence. Plus, no one likes the town gossip! Feedback, both positive and negative, should be delivered constructively, and openly. Discussing both sides of the story helps make amends, and creates a flourishing space for the team to thrive.

In this exercise, teams do speak about someone behind their back, but that person is present in the room, and the things being discussed are positive and constructive. One person sits with their back to the room, and the others speak about them in the third person, noting their strengths and what they appreciate about them; and then what they would like more from this person.

This open method of giving feedback is essential to keep the team’s efforts on track and to learn to accept criticism. Everyone has the opportunity to be transparent about their strengths and weaknesses, and to feel supported by their fellow team members.

Back-turned Feedback #hyperisland #skills #feedback 

Regular, effective feedback is one of the most important ingredients in building constructive relationships and thriving teams. Openness creates trust and trust creates more openness. Feedback exercises aim to support groups to build trust and openness and for individuals to gain self-awareness and insight. Feedback exercises should always be led with thoughtfulness and high awareness of group dynamics.

Roses, Buds and Thorns

Goleman notes that criticism is one of the most important tasks a manager has but is also one of the most ignored. An interactive method of delivering feedback is by giving people the space to reflect on their own performance and share with the team. They may already be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and may have a plan for where they might have gone off track.

Harry Levinson, a psychoanalyst suggests being very specific with critique, sharing what has been done well and where improvement can be made. Roses, Buds and Thorns is an exercise that gives each individual a structure for creating their own reflections. It is a simple way of sharing how tasks have gone using:

  • Roses: our successes and strengths
  • Buds: areas for development
  • Thorns: challenges

Roses, Buds and Thorns #communication #motivation #strengths #weaknesses #discussion #dialouge #honesty #teambuilding #quick 

Roses, buds, and thorns is a quick and simple team exercise that can be performed at the start of a group meeting. The idea is to evaluate a project, team task, or even your day by having each team member come up with a Rose (positive highlight), Thorn (struggle or challenge), and Bud (opportunity for improvement). The goal of this activity is to open up discussion among team members and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of others. This can allow you to put measures in place to do more of what’s going well, and fix what needs fixing. As well, this activity inspires creativity and debate within teams. Discussing Buds can encourage new, creative ideas to come to the fore. Finally, the activity allows you to gain insight from all members of the team as communication and honesty are important for every group!

From Silence to Vibrance

Sometimes groups aren’t as forthcoming with communicating their thoughts. It is important to be mindful that not everyone feels safe or encouraged to share their feelings. Keep in mind that there isn’t anything wrong with silence, not every pause needs to be filled with words, and we can reframe silence as reflectiveness and thoughtfulness.

This technique is useful for groups that are quieter or less assertive. The goal of the workshop is to build participation by allowing space for conversation. A facilitator’s role is to reframe any silence as reflection, or as a consideration of others.

By using storytelling as a tool to discuss similar situations of silence, the facilitator can encourage participants to open up, and what their positive outcomes may have been. When participants do speak, give positive praise and encouragement.

From Silence to Vibrance #managing difficulties #group development #online #engagement #team dynamics 

Sometimes a number of people are silent and there is not necessarily a dominant person in the group. This often happens in cultures where being assertive is not valued.

Open Questions

Asking open questions can be an easier way to gain a better understanding of someone, and to open up further conversation. Pairing this with active listening makes for stronger communication.

This exercise works to develop both our listening skills and ways to think about how we form and ask questions. It works well with 12 or fewer people, and the aim is for the group to find out something unknown from the volunteer using open questions that start with:

  • What
  • Why
  • When
  • How
  • Where
  • Who

Practicing open questions helps participants be more mindful of the questions they pose in everyday conversations and invites the other person to open up more. It also signals that they really are interested in what is being said.

Open Questions – Role Play #communication #skills #active listening 

An extract from Rudyard Kipling’s poem in “The Elephant’s Child” literally OPENS up opportunities to practice a key skill as part of a communication skills course as well as allied skills in active listening and observation.

Seven Words

Are you familiar with the phrase, It’s not what you say, but how you say it?

According to a study at UCLA, our words make up only 7% of the impact of what we say. Tone of voice makes up 38% of expressing our emotions and feelings, and gestures count for a huge 55%. This means that 93% of how a person is really feeling isn’t in the actual words themselves. 

Seven Words‘, explores the effect of tone of voice on what we say. A volunteer chooses a seven-word sentence about themselves. The first time they say the sentence, stress or emphasis is put on the first word. The rest of the group discuss the possible interpretation of the sentence. Next, the exercise is repeated by putting an emphasis on a different word, and the team discusses what the sentence might mean to them now. It can be modified to choose different sentence lengths and doesn’t have to be exactly seven words.

Recognizing the differences in context and meaning by the simple variation in intonation can make an interesting reflection. The goal of this exercise is to understand and reflect on how we speak. Meaning and emotion are carried across in our voices, and awareness of this will help develop emotional intelligence skills.

Seven Words #thiagi #communication #skills #remote-friendly 

Ever heard the cliché, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”? The Seven Words jolt dramatically demonstrates this principle. You demonstrate how the meaning of a sentence changes as you emphasize different words. Later, you invite pairs of participants to explore this concept.

Emotional Intelligence Games for better Group Dynamics

In high-performing teams, most people will cultivate positive ways to deal with negative emotions. These groups value clear and open communication and react positively when presented with an opportunity to build their emotional intelligence skills. 

Those employees who take the opportunity to improve their E.I. might be your star players and future leaders. They make work a dream as they create strong relationships with others. If they encounter a hurdle at work, they have an already established network of people to go to for help and are appreciative of their team. They are also available to support when needed.

Some people may not be as aware of their emotions and are less able to get to grips with them, perhaps even bottling things up, or avoiding situations. These issues can be changed if they are open to exploring ways to improve emotional intelligence and seeing the potential benefits.

Noticing and working with differences can be part of creating the right team atmosphere to build a stronger group identity. These emotional intelligence activities help participants understand the role they each play in a group discussion and will help them better handle relationships, solve problems and collaborate more effectively.

Map Participation Styles

Working together in groups involves a balance of how people actively participate in meetings, workshops and in day-to-day communication at work. Goleman noted that surprisingly, in group situations, those who are overly eager to take part were a drag on the group by being too controlling or domineering. Equally, those who did not participate brought the group down. So learning to balance our styles is important in group dynamics.

The Map Participation Styles exercise uses a visual to aid self-reflection for participants to identify their participation style. They can see where they lie on the X-axis between being shy or being loud. And on the Y-axis, if they need to think in order to talk, or if they think by speaking aloud. 

The exercise helps groups understand the team’s participation styles so that they can adjust their behavior. It helps create balance and opportunities for all voices to be heard.

Map Participation Styles #teamwork #psychological safety #empathy #self-awareness #ice breaker #culture design #remote-friendly 

In most meetings, 20% of participants do 80% of the talking. Unfortunately, remote meetings amplify this lousy behavior.

Some people like to talk to think, while others need to think before they talk. Some people are shy and quiet, while others are more vocal and outspoken.

This activity helps assess participation style and adjust behaviors.

The Thing From The Future

Working on a creative project together can be a fun way to harness team dynamics. By focusing our efforts on a lighter approach to building emotional intelligence, we can see the benefits in a more organic way.

The exercise is an inclusive storytelling activity where the team travels to the future and are presented with a variety of objects. It works well with 12 or fewer people, with each person choosing an object and spending 10 minutes modifying the design to create an artifact from the future. Taking it in turns, each member of the team presents their object to the group with a story behind its use and purpose. The stories help to create a mutual understanding of the object together.

This activity can be modified to design a specific object relevant to the team’s industry or even relate it to an emotional need. They can also form a group at the end to develop an object together based on what has been created so far. It’s a great way of prototyping and aligning in a joint vision.

The Thing from the Future #imagination #storymaking #idea generation #issue analysis 

Help a group to time-travel and tap their imagination by fictional objects.
With tangible objects and the stories your participants make up w/ them you’ll get so much richer inputs and context to inform joint visioning / strategizing:
The future doesn’t look that far away when you can pick it off the shelf.

Nine Dimensions Team Building Activity

Aligning our own self-awareness with that of our team is paramount to building Emotional Intelligence. By honestly reflecting on what skills we excel at, and seeing which areas we may need to develop, we can be transparent with our team members and work together to create a stronger group.

The Nine Dimensions activity guides us to rate our abilities in nine aspects important to our work environment and how we relate to others. Participants choose colored dots to mark how well they are doing in each area.

The exercise is followed by a team discussion, to discover how everyone feels about the skills, and if we are all in the agreement or not. It works to identify where people may need support, and where others might excel. This awareness can help build better skills in both individual and group emotional intelligence.

9 Dimensions Team Building Activity #ice breaker #teambuilding #team #remote-friendly 

9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members.

There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.

Sit – Stand – Disappear

An energetic icebreaker to work together as a team is an effective way to connect when working virtually. At SessionLab, we are all scattered across Europe and we tried this exercise out with some silly music.

Sit, Stand Disappear is a virtual game in Zoom. Everyone adjusts their screen so that they only see 3 people in a row. In each row, the goal is to work in sync to have one person sitting, one standing, and one out of the frame in their row. As each person will have a different view in Zoom, the game will work by making it very difficult to complete!

In a debrief, jointly discuss the dynamics of the group, did you work together by observing others? Did one person take the lead and direct the rest of the team? What were your thoughts and feelings throughout the game?

Sit – Stand – Disappear #remote-friendly #opening #zoom #energizer #large group #ericamarxcoaching 

As a virtual game in Zoom, have people narrow their screen so they only see 3 people in a row. Each person will simultaneously try to have one person sitting, one standing , and one out of the frame in their row.

Myer-Briggs Team Reflection

An interesting way to explore team dynamics could be by using a Personality test such as the Myer-Briggs model. The group can use the test as a jumping-off point to discuss if they identify with that personality type and if they agree or disagree with them.

The exercise works by first of all giving people time to complete the test, and then see for themselves if they agree with the underlying motivations of their character type. Each person then shares with the group points they consider to ring true, and which points don’t. Our group can then feedback on their thoughts.

The point of this exercise is to start with our own self-awareness, and equally that of our team, so that we can recognize certain behaviors, inclinations and motives in the unit.

Myers-Briggs Team Reflection #team #hyperisland 

A workshop to explore personal traits and interpersonal relations using the Myers-Briggs personalities model. Use this tool to go deeper with your team to understand more about yourselves and each other on personal and professional levels.

What are your thoughts?

I hope you’ve come away from this article inspired to use emotional intelligence activities to make your team happier and more productive. The rewards of recognizing our emotions before we take action are huge, and our team can greatly benefit from how we manage our feelings when working together.

Improving your team’s emotional intelligence helps to improve empathy and better our communication skills resulting in a tighter support system with less conflict. I’ve created a workshop template designed to develop your team’s self-awareness to build their emotional intelligence skills.

Are there any exercises you have tried out? Do any of the activities motivate you to develop emotional intelligence skills within your facilitation practice? Let us know of any successes in building emotional intelligence within yourself, and within your team in the comments below.

1 Comment

  1. Can I just say thank you very much for the fantastic detail and resources in this article?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Play Demo Video

Design your next workshop with SessionLab

Join the 150,000 facilitators using SessionLab

Sign up for free