How can remodelers turn a group of employees into a learning team in which every player feels emotionally and intellectually safe and connected? Strong, effective business meetings are one means to this end.

Our company runs 50-plus meetings a year for remodelers and remodeling staff from all over the U.S. and sometimes Canada. To help attendees get to know one another quickly and without embarrassment, we always add some well-chosen activities into the mix of business-oriented discussion. I find that the more people open up on a personal level, the better their experience is with the group and the better the group coalesces into a team.

Over my years of working with people, I've also learned that allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open is powerful for you and for your listeners.

CREATING CONNECTIONS We've all been to meetings where the speaker or facilitator uses an awkward or superficial device to force everyone to create a connection with the stranger next to us. No. 1 on my list of the 10 worst ways to force interactivity is when attendees are asked to massage the shoulders of the person next to them. Eeek!

For much better ideas, I recommend The Big Book of Team Building Games: Trust-Building Activities, Team Spirit Exercises, and Other Fun Things to Do by John Newstrom and Edward Scannell. The book presents a smorgasbord of ideas and games from which to choose. I wouldn't recommend them all, but here's what I do like about the book — and what I suspect busy remodelers will like as well:

  • Its format is friendly and easy to use. Instructions are clear, props are minimal, and tips are offered.
  • The first 30 pages are a concise discussion of how, when, and why to use games.
  • There are 70 simple-to-lead games sorted into 12 solution-oriented categories, such as icebreakers, creating team identity, and coping with change.


One activity that I plan to use with groups I'll be facilitating later this spring comes from a part of the book about helping teams build mutual support.

At our meetings, some members are invariably new to the group, while others are returning. Not only do we want everyone to learn about one another's business but we also want them to learn something about the business owner. The idea from the book, condensed here, is for each person to design his or her own “coat of arms,” using a template with five sections. The book suggests filling those sections by sketching or writing out the concepts:

  • Something that characterizes a recent peak performance you've had;
  • Something about yourself that very few people know;
  • A symbol of how you like to spend your spare time;
  • Something you are very good at;
  • And something that communicates your personal motto.

I'll ask each person to explain his or her coat of arms to the group, revealing as much or as little as feels comfortable. We'll post drawings behind each person's chair, and they will undoubtedly lead to engaging conversations during our time together.
To illustrate: In the case of my own coat of arms, I might use the first section to depict a heavier figure and a thinner figure, to represent the 15 pounds I finally lost. In the fourth section, I might draw a large ear attached to a heart, because I think I'm a good listener who hears the undertones of what is really important. In the “motto” section, I would write: Follow your values, always set goals, and work hard for continuous improvement.

So try games, but don't use them solely to entertain. Newstrom and Scannell also urge being selective about your goals, and summarizing the key learning points afterward. Speaking only for myself, I would also add: No massaging, please.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;