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How to make your team fall in love — or at least fall in like

Until a few weeks ago, many of us on our 11-person team at Consider had never met in person. We’re a bi-coastal team, so our first-ever team offsite was a special opportunity for us to really get to know each other and connect on a deeper level.

I was asked to lead our ‘getting to know each other’ session, and thanks to friends from IDEO and Stanford GSB (I emailed my entire class to solicit ideas— something more than ‘two truths and a lie’ but not quite ‘Touchy Feely’), we landed on four activities that helped us get to know, certainly like, and (dare I say) maybe even love each other more.

While we started with innocuous self-disclosure that had about the same depth as ‘two truths and a lie,’ an hour into the session, we were sharing from realms some of us may only trod with our therapists. It didn’t go quite as far as Touchy Feely, but emotions surfaced, and that was a good thing.

The result? After two hours of facilitated activities, multiple awkward silences, several empathetic acknowledgments, a few gasps of surprise, some tears shed, and dozens of shared laughs, our team felt emotionally drained, but spiritually lifted and more connected— understanding and accepting each other on a deeper, more personal level.

Warm-up circle

5 minutes

We gathered in a private room, making sure everyone had their morning coffee, eggs, or whatever they needed to start their day. As the facilitator, I introduced the purpose of the next two hours: quite simply, getting to know each other on a more personal level.

The first warm-up activity eased everyone into the session with a physical activity. We formed one large circle. I had a series of statements and everyone was instructed to step into the circle if the statement I read was true for them. As this was just a warm-up, we tried to go rapid fire.

Step into the circle if…

  1. You were born in a country outside the US.
  2. You can speak at least two languages.
  3. You can speak more than two languages.
  4. You’re the eldest child in your family.
  5. You’re a middle child in your family.
  6. You’re the youngest child in your family.
  7. You’re an only child.
  8. You played a sport in high school.
  9. You’ve ever played an instrument.
  10. You identify as an extrovert.
  11. You identify as an introvert.
  12. You’ve ever been judged unfairly.
  13. You’ve ever judged someone else unfairly.
  14. You typically eat breakfast in the morning.
  15. You learned something new about someone else here just now.

Closeness creation questions

1 hour, 40 minutes

After returning to our seats around a large table, I introduced our main activity: answering a series of questions to help us understand and feel closer to each other. This was where things got real. We dialed up the depth of personal disclosure and encouraged everyone to be as honest and vulnerable as possible, to the extent they felt comfortable.

For those of you familiar with Fast Friends or The New York Times’ The 36 Questions that Lead to Love, some of these questions might look familiar. As the facilitator, I introduced each question to the group, and everyone took turns (popcorn-style) answering the question until everyone had answered.

Note: for questions that lend themselves to more self-disclosure, it’s helpful if the first few people who share their answers are especially open and vulnerable, to set the right tone for the rest of the group.

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. What would constitute a perfect day for you?
  4. Take two minutes and tell your life story in as much detail as possible.
  5. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  6. If your current job were no longer an option, what dream job would you pursue?
  7. If you were going to become a close friend with everyone in this room, what would be important for everyone to know about you?
  8. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Quick break

3 minutes

At this point several cups of coffee, pitchers of water, and some tears later we all needed a short break.

Positive affirmations

10 minutes

There’s nothing quite like the cozy blanket of warm fuzzies we get when we give and receive compliments— especially following the emotional bender of sharing things you previously never thought you’d share with your team. Upon returning to the room after our break, I introduced our final activity: everyone would have 20 seconds to share positive affirmations with each person in the room. These could be things we liked about the other person, things we respected or admired about them, or things we appreciated them sharing during the previous activity.

I was surprised by how powerful this exercise was. After bearing pieces of our true selves, we were all individually accepted and appreciated.

While there are multiple ways to pair each person in the room with every other person in the room, here’s how we did it:

  1. We started by forming two lines (Line A and Line B), facing each other.
  2. Line A would start by sharing positive affirmations with the person directly across from them in Line B. After 20 seconds, I’d call out, “Switch!” and then everyone in Line B would return positive affirmations to the same person across from them in Line A for 20 seconds.
  3. Then I’d call out, “Rotate!” and everyone in Line A would step one person to their right, with the person on the far right walking around to the opposite end of the line.
  4. We repeated this same process until everyone in Line A had exchanged affirmations with everyone in Line B.
  5. At this point, Line A formed two lines (Line A1 and Line A2) facing each other. Line B also formed two lines (Line B1 and Line B2) facing each other. We repeated the same affirmation exchange process above.
  6. Then all lines formed even shorter lines facing each other (e.g., Line A1 became Line A1a and Line A1b facing each other, Line A2 became Line A2a and Line A2b facing each other, etc.). We continued this process until everyone in the room had exchanged positive affirmations with everyone else in the room.

Closing meditation

2 minutes

At this point in the session, the room was abuzz with the positive energy of everyone feeling closer, more connected, and accepted. It felt like a unique opportunity to give everyone the headspace to reflect on, process, and capture this special moment. Having been in the Bay Area long enough to jump on the meditation bandwagon, I led the group in a closing meditation.

After hitting play on my Spotify ‘Energizing’ meditation soundtrack, I asked everyone to get comfortable in their seats and close their eyes.

  1. We started with three slow deep breaths.
  2. I then guided the team through first letting their thoughts wander through their minds— maybe the things they shared, maybe the things other people shared.
  3. Then I prompted everyone to think about what parts of themselves they wanted to bring to the team, especially after just hearing affirmations from everyone else on the team.
  4. Finally, we ended the meditation with gratitude— thinking of the affirmations they just gave, thinking about what the things they shared with the group earlier that they were most grateful for, and thinking about the other things they were grateful for that they weren’t able to share with the group earlier.
  5. And when everyone was ready, we all opened our eyes and I thanked everyone for participating.

While I’ll admit that our team didn’t ‘fall in love’ the way we typically hear that phrase used, we took great strides toward building an initial foundation of trust, closeness, and acceptance that will most certainly continue to strengthen as we continue getting to know each other.

One member of our team captured it best when she said that during our closing meditation, she took a mental snapshot of the moment for herself: this was a special time for us as individuals sharing our whole selves with our team and a special time for us as a team— together on a journey with so much potential.