The phrase “team building” can mean a range of things depending on where you work. For many, it conjures images of trust falls and other corporate clichés. At Button, we like to look at team building as a way for the company to take a break from the daily routine, inspiring employees to step outside of their comfort zones and get creative.
Too often, team building exercises are one and done and quickly forgotten. At our last company offsite, we decided to try a team building exercise that would leave a lasting impression and had direct application to employees’ day-to-day in the office. We wanted to get our employees thoughtfully involved in building the best, most successful teams for our future.
We borrowed from Shelley Hammell’s Lego Replication challenge, and adapted it to fit our business model. Here’s how it worked:
We split our employees into groups of four, teaming up folks who don’t typically work closely with one another, and put them into roles completely different from their everyday jobs. Each group was tasked with building a structure out of Legos that mimicked an original model, with the catch being that only one team member was able to view the model. This team member then had to relay this information accurately — and without seeing the pieces his/her team actually had available — to the person building the final product.
It might sound complicated, so to jump into specifics each group member was assigned a role that had its own limitations and challenges:
Looker — This person was able to view the model and was responsible for telling the “Runner” exactly what it looked like. Fun fact: the Looker sometimes only had 10 seconds to check out the model, and other times had a full minute.
Runner — This person was not able to see the model, but could receive information from the “Looker” and take it back to the “Builder.”
Builder — This person could not talk, but could receive information from the “Runner” and build the lego construction.
Marketer — This person was tasked with branding their team’s construction, taking into account the “Runner’s” description, telling the story of the product their team was building and why consumers should be interested.
Teams had 30 minutes to look, run, build, and market. After the final versions were submitted, we reconvened to talk about what went well, what didn’t, and what we learned. At this point the moderators of the exercise revealed the roles of Looker, Runner, Builder, and Marketer were analogous to specific team functions at Button and how we communicate between teams.
A few key takeaways emerged that not only applied to the Lego challenge, but also how we collaborate across teams here at Button every day:
- Develop a common language: Without shared terminology, teams found it incredibly difficult to talk about the challenge at hand. Conversations were rife with miscommunication and misinterpretation without a common shared language — whether it was describing the shape of a Lego piece or where each piece needed to be placed. We learned a lot about the importance of a unified language, accepted terms, clear communication, and sharing details.
- Change is expensive: Time and resources were lost when we had to go back and fix something later on. A little more planning and better communication up-front could have avoided costly and frustrating errors down the line.
- What’s our end product?: Difficulties arose when some team members were unaware of what the end product looked like and were working with incomplete information. We created a fairly random Lego model (it didn’t look like a house, or car, or any other recognizable structure) and gave each team about 4–5x more Legos than what they’d need, in order to challenge this very point. Some weren’t sure when to call the project complete, and others were watching a changing model unaware of why it was changing and what direction it was headed. Teams agreed it would have been in everyone’s best interest to know from the start what they were trying to achieve.
- Establish a timeline & mile markers along the way: Teams had 30 minutes to complete this challenge, but few paid attention to the clock and what they needed to accomplish in that window. For instance, every “Looker” had a set amount of time to view the model. They were then told when the next “viewing” would be, which some didn’t take into consideration in order to relay to the “Runner” what they saw as fast as possible. Others noted that they tried to tackle the whole project in one fell swoop, whereas they would have been more successful had focused on completing specific tasks, little by little.
After the Lego challenge, we took a step back and looked at how all of this applies to the cross-collaborative work our teams do here at Button. Whether it’s how our Sales team works with our Partner Engineering team or how our Engineers work with the business side of the company, the takeaways from the challenge were incredibly relevant to the ways we work together and have remained with us long after the Legos were put away.
If you’re interested in joining a company that cares deeply about building strong and effective teams — be sure to check out our open roles!