A Powerful Team-Building Exercise

May 26, 2017
Stethoscope and mask both on a table

What’s the best way to be safe in your work environment? What’s the best way to get patients more involved in their treatment? And what do you do if you’re trying to help someone, but your efforts are met with resistance?  
If you’re like me, staff in your organization ask these questions a lot.
If you’re like me, staff also tell you, in one way or another, that sometimes they feel anxious, nervous, or even afraid that if they continue to try to help someone, the person they’re trying to help could get angry.
“Rapport,” is what I tell staff. “You have to build and maintain rapport with your patients.”
We must all do this individually. Building rapport is something you can practice and do on your own.
It’s also important to help your colleagues develop rapport and work together as a team. This requires commitment, sacrifice, honesty, taking risks, truth, and respect.
In our hospital, I tell staff that I can help them with this by showing them fun exercises to develop rapport and build their teams. I say, “If you’re interested, speak with your supervisor and have them contact me.”
Once contacted by a supervisor, I gather a deck of playing cards and use the following exercise to demonstrate the importance of building a cohesive team and having a plan for defusing crisis situations.
Insight Development and Problem-Solving Exercise

  • Divide staff into teams of two people each.
  • Ask them to place cards, Ace through 8, in the boxes of a diagram like this:
problem solving exercise boxes graphic
  • Start by having the teams place the cards in consecutive order—vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.
  • Next, have each person take a card.
  • Now ask them to place the cards so that the cards are not in consecutive order—vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. That is, the Ace should not be adjacent to the 2 vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. The 2 should not be adjacent to the 3 vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. And so on. (When you try this, you’ll see how difficult it is!)
  • After one minute, combine the teams into groups of four. What had seemed difficult with the two-person teams is now simpler with four staff to a team.
  • After one more minute, combine all the staff, now functioning as one team. Have them complete the task with everyone’s combined skill sets.

Through this activity, your staff will realize that they’re stronger collectively as they work to achieve a goal. The team will start to emerge from strife. And staff will be surprised and happy to learn more about each other’s abilities, interests, and strengths. This activity will give them a better understanding of their combined abilities and their potential for effectiveness in a number of different situations.
At the end of this exercise, explain that Therapeutic Rapport with patients can be built in much the same way. And give examples of how it has been built in the same way!
Whether it’s a work team or a staff-and-patient team working toward the patient’s health, three things create the foundation of a team: inclusion, respect, and valuing each individual’s contribution.
For work teams, this activity helps with bonding, promotes collaboration, and supports the team’s use of their diversity and strength-based approaches—especially when they’re problem-solving.  
Next, point out how a single event, decision, action, choice, selection, or interaction can affect others and cause ripple effects. This reinforces the concept of the Integrated Experience.
Then challenge staff to discuss any issues they’re having regarding safety, rapport, team building, support, and motivation. Discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and what everyone needs to support their clients in the most person-centered, effective way possible. Ask staff to consider:

  • What helps you resolve a crisis successfully?
  • What contributes if you fall short? What can you do to avoid falling short?
  • Why is it important to plan for various crisis scenarios? What’s the value in rehearsals and drills?
  • How did this exercise help you understand crisis prevention and intervention strategies?

Developing into a team allows for different perspectives, more and better communication, and safer outcomes.

With over 30 years of experience at the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix, D.C. Foster is a Behavioral Health Intervention Specialist and Master Level CPI Instructor. D.C. works with individuals identified as Serious Mental Illness (SMI), Forensic, and Sexually Violent Persons (SVP). Since 2012, he has been using CPI training to create a more person-centered, trauma-informed, recovery-oriented therapeutic environment for patients. D.C. is also a leading member in the CPI Instructor Community, where he exchanges training strategies and professional development techniques with his fellow Instructors.

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