Motivation Matters: 7 No-Fail, Get-Them-Talking Ideas

If attendee dialogue is the heart of your face-to-face meetings, read on.

More and more companies are turning their non-customer-facing events into virtual ones. So when you get the green light to bring employees together face to face, it's important to take the opportunity to reinforce your team and add an element of fun.

Some teambuilding activities are simple ice-breakers, others are more time-consuming opportunities to learn about co-workers, while some help the group move a discussion forward or make a decision. Here's a sampling of participation activities that I have found valuable:

Breaking the Ice. Give each attendee a blank index card with five items on it (Hobby, Hometown, Sports Team, Favorite Food, Vacation Preference) and ask them to find someone else in the room who shares their preference for each item. As an alternative activity, ask each person to find out one unique thing about five different people in the group. Have people report on the most unusual items they learned.

Team Discussions. Break attendees into groups of five or six people. Give each group an item to discuss related to the meeting, such as “ideas for building business in a tight economy” or “ways to cut costs in our operations.” Ask the groups to brainstorm about the topic, then select their best idea to report back to the group. Collect all ideas at the end and have them typed up and distributed to everyone.

Fish Bowl. In a “fish bowl” discussion, two or more participants sit in a small circle of chairs in the midst of the group and discuss an issue, problem, or pending decision facing the company. Any other attendee can enter the discussion by tapping an individual in the fish bowl and taking his or her place. Once all points of view seem to have been expressed, summarize the discussion and move to action items necessary for finalizing any decisions.

Fast Break. Have all attendees stand and face to the left. Ask each person to knead the shoulders of the person in front of them. After a couple of minutes, ask everyone to face to the right and return the favor. (It helps to be from California for this activity!)

Billboard Ranking. List a number of ideas that were shared from a group discussion (i.e., strategies for developing promising markets), each on a posted flip chart page. Have each attendee vote for their preferred strategy by placing a Post-it on the corresponding flipchart page.

Polling Preferences (similar to Billboard Ranking). Allow each attendee to rank the group's shared ideas on a scale of 1 to 5 (i.e., 5 = “Excited by idea; move forward with it as soon as possible” to 1 = “Reservations about the idea; more work should be done on it before moving forward”). No matter what the results, allow participants to share comments.

End With a Bang. At the end of the meeting, distribute an uninflated balloon and a small piece of paper to each participant. Ask each person to write a message on the paper on topics such as: “something I promise to do as a result of this meeting,” or “a question that remains to be addressed from this meeting.” Have everyone insert the paper into the balloon and blow it up. At your signal, tell attendees to toss their balloons in the air, grab a new one, then pop it. Ask each person to read the message they received aloud.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc.; a frequent presenter to management teams and conferences; and a best-selling author of several books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and The Management Bible.