Studies have found a correlation between employee engagement and organizational output, leading many forward-looking companies to invest in methods of engagement through interpersonal activity when attempting to encourage employee development.

These leadership exercises – also known as training games – enable both managers and supervisors to experientially learn and understand the values of facilitative leadership, either as individuals or as a team. Ideal for use in training sessions, meetings, workshops, seminars or conferences, leadership exercises offer the added benefit of enhancing business projects as well as providing pre-defined business outputs that lead to direct organizational benefits.

There are a number of types of exercises and each one targets a specific area of leadership. Popular categories include:

  • Motivation: This category enables participants to understand the situations that motivate team members as well as the individual practices. Often defining the approach a new leader should follow, these exercises center on the leader’s attitude.
  • Change Implementation: Providing insight related to behavior within a team dynamic, this category attempts to provide team members tools for success during periods of restructuring through strategies arising from problems that occur during the process. These exercises establish clear objectives to achieve success and an individual will often have to take notes on the task and then reiterate them to the team as part of the exercise.
  • Clear communication: As the name implies, the exercises that fall into this category revolve around achieving a target which is bound to fail if not properly communicated.

A Sample Exercise to Get You Started

Getting your group to work together as a team is crucial for effective management. And few exercises are more instructive (and fun) than tying people together – literally – and giving them a problem to solve.

For this leadership exercise, you’ll need the following:

  • Materials: Rope, bandanas or cloth strips; additional supplies for specific task
  • Time: 15-30 minutes, depending on the goal and number of group members
  • Group Size: 2-15

The purpose of this exercise is to get your group to work together to achieve a common task. To begin, arrange all participants in a circle and have them face each other. Next, ask them to hold out their arms. Then tie the entire group together (while standing in a circle) so that each person is tied to both neighbor’s wrists. Doing so should prevent anyone from having a “free” arm. After tying up the group, assign a task. Ideas could include:

  • Make root beer floats for everyone
  • Wrap a package with gift wrap, bows and a signed card
  • Prepare a snack
  • Eat a meal
  • Create a painting, clay sculpture or similar art project
  • Pour a cup of water for each person in the group and then have each person drink their cup

This is a great exercise for retreats or other opportunities that would allow people to dress-down, thereby preventing ruined clothing. And if you really want to add an air of challenge, impose a time limit, offering rewards to the team that accomplishes their goal before other teams or within a certain time limit.

As with any leadership exercise, the goal is to enhance individual and team skill. So after each exercise, ask questions to generate discussion related to areas of success as well as those that need improvement. Questions might include:

  1. Why were you successful at completing the task?
  2. How did the time restrictions aid or hinder your group?
  3. Did everyone in the group participate in achieving the goal?
  4. If someone didn’t help, how did that affect the outcome?
  5. Do you ever feel “tied up” with someone you work with? If so, why, and how did you deal with this feeling?

There’s a wealth of leadership exercises available on the web and through business development books. Among the most notable are the resources available through the Holden Leadership Center at the University of Oregon and the book 201 Icebreakers by Edie West.