Category Archives: Team Building

Motivational Team Building


At a Research Roadshow held at our college this week, I led a one hour workshop on a technique called Photovoice.  In participatory research, Photovoice uses photography as a tool for social change (Community, n.d.).  In this workshop I was demonstrating how to use Photovoice in research but I realized that it can also be used for team building and motivation which leads to individual and organizational change.

I asked participants to bring a picture to the workshop that represents an achievement in their lives.  Let me share this experience with you.

The first photo was of our colleague who is leaving the college.  She was ‘on stage’ with the Director of the college, and the organizer of the social event where the recognition took place. 

At first I was concerned that the participant had misunderstood my request, because she wasn’t in the picture and she talked about the achievements of those in the photo and how much she admires them. 

With a little trepidation, I asked her how this photo represented her achievement.  Her answer reassured me that she completely understood my request. She loves to acknowledge others and she does this through photography.  She had spent her time at the event taking pictures of people engaging with their colleagues and families taking part in the activities, just, having fun. Then she had sent these pictures to the people who were in them. That was her achievement, capturing the enjoyment of others and giving it back to them!

The second photo was of a young couple on a beautiful beach. The woman who shared it explained that this was a photo of her newly married son and his wife on their honeymoon and that as a parent; it was a huge achievement to see her son married to his childhood sweetheart.  She told us that her family lived in one of the cities in Mexico that has a major drug problem and she is so proud that her son and his wife have managed to be successful in their careers and their lives.  This is a clear reflection of her and her husband’s parenting.

The next photo was of stacks of paper on a tile floor and I had a difficult time figuring out what this might represent.  Had this person finished his marking?  No, it turns out that this was a picture of his Master’s thesis in its last iteration!  His relief, joy and pride of having finished were evident as he talked about this achievement.

Another participant showed a photo of himself with two others in a formal setting.  He said that he had entered a sustainability competition in the Netherlands and he didn’t win and this was a photo from this competition.  But, he went on to enter a second completion in the Far East where he did win!  So this photo was his inspiration.

Finally, one of the women shared a photo of a painting called ‘Reclining Woman’.  The painting was full of rich, vibrant colours.  The woman explained that this was her first painting and she couldn’t believe she had done it.  She loves interior design and dresses flamboyantly and many people had commented that she seems like an artist – and it seems that she is.

This portion of the workshop took about twenty minutes and really energized the group. 

As I reflected back on it, I thought that this would make a wonderful team building exercise for a department or a small company.  It brought to light the strengths of the people in the room, helped them get to know each other and created some alliances as they discussed their achievements.  I know that this has given them topics to follow up on with each other – positive, generative topics – that are always good to have in the workplace.

I think many of us have learned that talking about ourselves is ‘bragging’ and we shouldn’t engage in it. And, yes, sometimes that is the case.  But in a loosely structured setting, where everyone has the opportunity to share, talking about our achievements and successes can be energizing and motivating.  Why not give it a try in your next team building session?

Photovoice Websites and Resources

Not All Year-End Team Building Events Require Seasonal Celebrations

It’s that time of year when retailers smile wide and bend over backwards to help you make those seasonal purchases.  It’s no surprise in North America that once kids put away their Halloween costumes, retailers begin to pull out red and green jumpers, ready for purchase the next morning.  Giant retail displays, flashy lights and everyday items dipped in glitter can be overwhelming – even for those of us who celebrate a religious holiday at the end of the year.

What’s often forgotten this time of year is that not all year-end team building events need to involve Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa.  In fact, you don’t need to celebrate a seasonal event to plan a meaningful and fun event for staff, even if it does take place in December.

One of the local organizations that I work with often is the Vancouver Civic Theatres.  We’ve had great success in the past teaming up with coworkers to raise money for Cancer research.  Our next great endeavour is to raise money for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

Our fundraising team is called the Civic Theatre Drama Queens.  The first time we decided to get together and raise money for a meaningful cause, we raised nearly $7500 over the span of two months.  Our focus at the time was preparing to participate in the annual Relay for Life in Vancouver.  Although our decision to participate was sudden, our group raised the most money for the Canadian Cancer Society that year, and definitely unified us as a team. 


Like any other company, the positions we employ at the Civic Theatres are diverse.  As a result, certain roles lump groups of people together, and separate others.  By spending time with coworkers outside of the workplace, we were able to enjoy the company of individuals that we wouldn’t have otherwise even seen in the course of a day.

It was an amazing experience that unified us, brought us cheer and spread hope beyond our organization. 

The Vancouver Civic Theatres employs a diverse group.  We represent multiple ethnicities, each have unique religious/spiritual affiliations, and our staff demographics range from individuals in their early twenties to those well into their seventies.  By organizing an event that had nothing to do with a religious or spiritual celebration, there was no fear to offend any co-worker by our activities. 

Currently the Civic Theatre Drama Queens are seeking donations for our 2013 Silent Auction.  Although our fundraising event will take place in the spring (as opposed to the winter), there’s really no reason why you can’t organize a similar fundraising effort in your workplace in December.  Consider replacing a politically correct, non-denominational winter celebration with a team building event!  It’s easier to avoid offending someone when your event has nothing to do with holidays at all.

Last year the Robson Square Provincial and Supreme courthouses competed to see which location could donate more to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.  The Provincial Courthouse initially set the goal of collecting the weight of three sheriffs in non-perishable foods, and then challenged the Supreme Courthouse to meet their goal.  Each monetary donation counted as one pound of food.  In the end, the Provincial Courthouse raised more food, but the monetary donations in addition to food donations collected at the Supreme Courthouse named them the victors.

Robson Square Food Bank Fundraiser

Here in Vancouver where our population of homeless folks continues to grow, there are so many events that staff can participate in to develop as a team without celebrating a particular holiday.

It doesn’t take much research to find local non-profit organizations with themed donations, including shoe box drives, blanket drives, and even collections of used makeup.  Dress for Success Vancouver helps women in need transition into the workforce by providing work-appropriate attire through local donations.  Local food banks can always use donations throughout the year, and volunteering in soup kitchens is also a rewarding group experience.

Certainly, not all teambuilding events need to spread social awareness – there are many outdoor activities to enjoy in the winter.  Plan a snowshoeing day, a family outdoor skating afternoon, or perhaps try curling for the first time!

At the end of the day, employee inclusion is not about avoiding offense; it’s not about being politically correct.  It’s about ensuring that everyone in your workplace feels welcome to participate in whatever’s going on.  When people feel genuinely included, they’ll participate happily.  It’s much easier to find solutions that encourage participation rather than seeking ways to avoid stepping on other people’s toes.