In less than an hour, this exercise can teach any team how to work more productively and, like many of the best lessons, they learn on their own. Would you like to know how it works? You can read the story, or skip to the 5 steps below and have at it. Enjoy!

Every Wednesday, I’m privileged to work with the TKO Graphix production department table leads. This is an entry-level supervisory position, and for most, it’s their first management experience. Last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, we had an unusual, fun, and effective outing. I conducted a “leaderless” group exercise. The group was given a task, time limit, and conditions, but no instructions. It was their responsibility to devise a plan of action. The purpose was to show the importance of cooperation, persuasiveness, and encouragement in a team dynamic.

The Task Was Simple

The group was transported to a local discount store, handed a set amount of cash, and given a time limit to purchase 20 toys. The toys were being donated to the Indiana Salvation Army’s Christmas Assistance Angel Tree Toy Drive.

The group immediately began discussing how to divide the work. One of the managers took the lead by asking others their thoughts and ideas. For example, after deciding to allocate the shopping, she asked who would like to shop for boys or girls. They shared the amount each could spend, where each would go in the store, and checked the remaining time. The assignment was successfully completed ahead of schedule. They learned the importance of planning, organization, and delegation, and how teamwork enhanced the process.

5 Steps to a Leaderless Group Exercise

• Assign a simple task to the group. An old classic involved erecting a tent without instructions. It could include assembling, creating, building, writing – or like the example above – shopping. Be creative.
• Set the stage by explaining all planning and activities will be up to the team.
• Set conditions such as time limits and resources.
• Observe, but don’t participate. Believe me, you’ll want to help, but the team will learn more without outside direction.
• Review the results with the team. What was learned? How can the lessons be applied to the workplace?

Our team saw firsthand the effectiveness of cooperative team work. To them, it was the natural way to get the job done. The most important takeaway was when they realized they didn’t always use these same leadership skills at the workplace. Conducting a leaderless group exercise can show how helping each other helps everyone.

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You can find more on leadership in my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, Many organizations, large and small, use my book as the basis for their leadership development program. Does your business have a  management training plan?