Team Building Activity – The Dangers of Chinese Whispers in your Organisation

8th October 2021

EML Team recently ran a team building workshop for a client who were looking to take a longer-term approach to the development of their teams.

The client’s management team of 20 were well developed, the business was over 20 years old with some 14,000 employees and a highly experienced inhouse HRD team. With such an experienced inhouse HRD team it is always a challenge for our consultants to suggest fresh ways to enable them to achieve their desired learning objectives from their conferences or team meetings. But we are always up for a challenge!

Firstly our client wanted to have a meaningful team building activity in the afternoon of their conference, this was the easy part for us. Our consultants ran through a number of options to achieve their aims while staying close to their Learning and Development goals and language used. Options included Lego Master BuilderBuilding Bridges and a Communication Workshop – the client opted for Lego.

The morning ice breaker was a slightly different matter as it had a very specific brief. The client had identified 3 ‘tests’ that they had set themselves within their revised business structure. These 3 tests needed to be developed, committed to memory and easily explained in a visual and fun way.

The output of this session needed to be able to be taken away by the client’s employees and used with other teams within the business as a part of a wider piece. The things discussed in the conference needed to be disseminated through the rest of the business and a fun, visual solution was identified as a great vehicle for doing this.

The answer came in the form of the old game of Chinese Whispers. We chose not to use ‘language’ instead we used visual hand movements. A few of the delegates first discussed and then agreed on a series of hand movements and gestures to represent and explain the 3 tests to the rest of the management team and then on to the employees not attending the conference.

Guests were lined up facing the front of the room and then the first recipient of a message was tapped on the shoulder and asked to turn around where upon they were then shown the message. The message had to be passed down the line one by one to the rest of the team.

The results on this occasion were interesting to say the least. The core 3 messages were quickly lost and the relatively complex movements that the delegates had agreed upon had been replaced with a simplified, erroneous version.

Clear Communication is Key

This activity demonstrated that positive reinforcement and accurate communication are key when rolling out new systems and initiatives. In this case we only had 20 guests from a senior team – imagine what it will be like getting this information across to 14,000 people without significant loss of program integrity.

In short this was an excellent way of clearly demonstrating how easily imprecise communication can degrade an information stream, ultimately leading to the failure of a program which may have had many thousands of hours and a good deal of money invested in it.


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