Focus on Empathy to Increase Team Effectiveness

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Multi-Cultural Office Staff Sitting Having Meeting TogetherWhether you’re working with a new team or looking to inject a fresh perspective into one that’s already in place (and maybe gotten stale), I’ve got an activity you might like to try.

It’s a great way to learn more about the mindsets that we hold and how they impact the work we do together. It’s also a way to deepen empathy, a key skill for problem solving, design thinking, and innovation. Empathy can help us in our work with each other and in our team’s work on behalf of others.

Here’s the activity: Learning How We See

Choose from an outdoor or indoor option.

If you head outdoors, choose a location where there is a lot to watch and observe. Once your team has arrived, ask that each of them take notes in silence for 10 – 15 minutes on what they see. To set this up, explain that their observations can center on dialogue they hear, colors they observe, activities they see, and so on. Place no limits on what they choose to document. After time is up, ask them to share highlights from their notes. After everyone has had a chance to share,  ask them to reflect on similarities and differences in what they’ve seen. How might this influence how we work together? Are there strengths in perspective we can leverage?

If you stay indoors, provide each team member with an image. To keep it simple, you can choose a copy of a painting. The less familiar the image and the more complex it is to everyone, in terms of subjects and colors, the better. The goal is to provide the team with something they have not seen before, so that they are seeing it for the first time with fresh eyes. Once again, give everyone a time limit of 10-15 minutes to work in silence. During that time, everyone should take notes on what they observe about the image. After each person shares, ask everyone to reflect on similarities and differences in what they’ve seen. How might this influence how we work together? Are there strengths in perspective we can leverage?

Additional questions for discussion (if time allows):

  • What do we focus on?
  • What do we see?
  • How do we see?
  • How might our way of seeing impact our work and how we work with one another?
  • If most team members notice the same things, what might that mean for our work together?
  • What about team members who notice things most did not see? How can we capitalize on that in our work?
  • Knowing how we can see, are there ways we can head off frustration in our work together or capitalize on similarities and differences?

Opportunity to innovate (if time allows):

  • What did you like and/or dislike about this activity?
  • How could we improve on this activity or build on it for our work?

If you try it out, let me know what you think and how you’d improve or customize this activity.

 

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