4 Exercises to Avoid Communication Breakdown in the Workplace
With some employees in an office and some working remotely, hybrid work has wildly changed communication norms. Between email, in person, chat messages, “in-person” through a video call, or even the old-fashioned phone call, whatever’s the easiest way to reach a colleague is now the norm. But figuring out how to prevent communication breakdowns in this new normal is no easy feat for organizations. In fact, the demand for training related to business communication skills grew by 1,585% between 2019 and 2020.
Useful communication exercises can help individuals, teams, and leaders listen and communicate more effectively. Use the following exercises with your team to strengthen communication skills and keep projects running smoothly regardless of where your employees are located.
1. Icebreaker exercises
There are a number of different icebreaker-type communication exercises available to help the more reticent or hesitant among us open up and begin effectively communicating.
Ideally, icebreaker-level exercises shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes, and many of them actually last only about 10 or so minutes. One popular icebreaker exercise is the classification game.
Suppose you have a group of 12 employees, all relatively new to each other. Using the classification game you can split your group of 12 employees into four groups of three. To start the classification game have each of the three employees in your four groups introduce themselves to each member of their groups, quickly running through a few of their likes, dislikes, and so forth.
Once your four groups of three employees have all discussed with their group members a few things they like or dislike you can begin the classification game. First, reveal to the four groups that it’s their task to determine how they should classify themselves as a team, including into two or three sub-groups. It’s important that the employees in your groups don’t use prejudicial, negative, or discriminatory judgments, because those too are subjective.
There are many different examples of the types of sub-groups that arise as a result of the classification game, including “baseball fans,” “workaholics,” “pizza lovers” and so on. The benefit to the classification game is that it encourages participants to open up a bit about themselves, learn about each other, and avoid making subjective judgments about those around them. Subjectivity is frequently an enemy of good communication. Effective communication exercises should seek to strip out subjectivity, teaching people to realize when they’re engaging in it while communicating.
2. Problem-solving exercises
Particularly effective communication exercises frequently involve some sort of problem-solving event. The “sneak a peek” game is one particularly effective problem-solving exercise. The only materials needed are a simple set of children’s building blocks.
To play sneak a peak, employees gather around while one person, usually the facilitator, builds a small sculpture using some of the blocks, taking care to hide the finished product from the group of people.
Once the building block sculpture has been completed, but still hidden from general view, divide the group into small teams with building blocks of their own. Allow one member from each group to come up, all at the same time, to examine the sculpture for 10 seconds. Those team members then have 25 seconds to instruct the other members of their group on building an exact replica of the block structure. Each group then has one minute to construct the sculpture based on their team member’s description.
Once the groups exhaust their one-minute build rounds, have another member from each team come back up, sneak a peek at the block sculpture. They should then return to their groups, instruct team members on how to construct the sculpture, and repeat the process again. Continue the sneak a peek communication game until one of the groups successfully recreates the original sculpture.
3. Team-building exercises
There are many different team-building exercises that also act as communication exercises, often without the participants even realizing they’re honing their communication skills at the same time.
One effective exercise is an office scavenger hunt. As the scavenger hunt game facilitator, draw up a list of about 20 items you want your game’s participants — working in teams — to find, along with a time limit for finding them.
Successful scavenging as a team requires a great of communication and coordination. Invariably, leaders and followers in a scavenger hunt team emerge.
4. Listening exercises
Too often, people talk past each other, believing they’re communicating when they’re not. Developing effective listening skills is crucial to developing overall communication skills. In fact, there are many different communication exercises that can help cultivate listening abilities.
“Draw what you hear” is a listening exercise in groups of two. One participant to describes an abstract object as the other participant draws it. Typically, each duo has two minutes to complete the task, with the person describing a given object providing the drawer all sorts of directions and descriptions. At the end of the two-minute period, each group compares what was drawn to the actual object and discusses why any differences may have occurred.
The objective of this exercise is to teach the value of good listening. When unable to communicate with someone on the same level, you’ll both have to adapt. This helps people to realize that there’s more to listening and verbally communicating, than just talking past each other.
Make communication exercises a conscious effort
Effective communication withers away if it’s not consistently practiced. If you’re a leader, plan out regular communication exercises like those listed here. With the wide range of useful communication exercises available, you and your team will have some fun while becoming stronger communicators.
Get more insights on the most in-demand communication and collaboration skills for distributed workforces in the 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report.