6 Communication Exercises for Better Meetings and Discussions

Most team communication exercises seem useless because the lessons fail to stick. Within days, maybe even hours, people are back to their bad habits.

Exercises shouldn’t just be used for team building or mending work relationships. Like with most healthy habits, developing good communication requires consistency and self-discipline. Playing a game once isn’t going to impact your team dynamic — integrating it into your daily work will.

I compiled exercises that can immediately impact communication in meetings, brainstorming sessions and team relationships. Try introducing them into your daily work activities. And because I don’t want to be the fun police, there are a few entertaining exercises you can try at your next offsite or team retreat :)

1
Progressive Brainstorming

Do you have a few team members who always seem to dominate the conversation, leaving little room for other members to contribute? Or have brainstorming sessions been lacking in new, good ideas? This exercise makes sure everyone’s voice is heard in an unconventional, somewhat old school way.

image of notebook and a pen

What you need:

  • Two participants or more
  • Paper
  • Pens

Instructions:

Without saying it out loud, write down a problem or prompt at the top of a sheet of paper. Pass it, along with a pen, to a member of your team. Instruct them to write down any ideas or solutions they may have. Pass the paper around the group so everyone can add or build on other’s ideas.

Read aloud and discuss the ideas shared.

Benefits:

This practical, unique approach ensures that everyone on your team is heard. It also accommodates the three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Your team must see, write and hear everyone’s ideas.

A new brainstorming style may elicit fresh input, especially from those who have trouble speaking up in traditional sessions. And because everything is written, it’s easy to do with remote teams. Set up a shared Google doc and set aside time for the team to write.

2
Concentric Circles

This exercise works best when you have a specific important topic that needs to be discussed within a large team. It welcomes diverse opinions without risking people talking over each other.

What you need:

  • Four participants or more
  • Chairs for every participant
  • Pens
  • Paper
  • Timer

Instructions:

If you’re organizing the meeting, create a list of goals to achieve with your discussion topic. Print enough copies for everyone attending, or write them on a whiteboard visible to all.

Set up two circles of chairs, with a smaller circle inside a larger circle. The participants who sit in the middle are called the “talkers” while the ones sitting on the outside are called the “watchers.” Assign these roles before beginning the discussion.

Using the goals, the talkers in the smaller circle will discuss the topic while the watchers listen and take notes. After fifteen minutes, have the talkers and listeners switch circles until everyone has had a chance to discuss. Conclude with a debrief to reflect on the process.

Benefits:

The exercise allows everyone to voice their opinions without worrying about others interjecting. Because those in the outside circle can simply listen and take notes, they’re more likely to absorb the conversation instead of waiting to talk or planning what they want to say.

It can also help teach participants to listen and wait their turn to speak, and to allow enough time for others to voice their opinion. Fifteen minutes goes by quick, so speakers may learn to be more direct and use the time well.

3
One Up, One Down

Have you ever been in a meeting where people regularly go off-topic or bring up points that weren’t prewritten in the discussion notes? Before you know it you’re going past your booked time for the meeting room and still struggling to reach a decision.

image of happiness scale

This exercise helps you and your team call out these types of issues.

What you need:

  • Three participants or more
  • Something to write on (not required)

Instructions:

At the end of a meeting, pick two people to each share something they appreciated about the meeting and something that can be improved. Do this after every meeting with two different people each time.

Responses can also be collected privately but sharing them aloud gives the issue transparency. A public critique can help everyone else improve.

Benefits:

This exercise, though daunting, helps meeting holders learn from the experience on the spot. Everyone gets a chance to be honest and make future meetings better.

4
Pet Peeve

Is something bugging you? Is there something going on at work that just steams your nuggets? Use this exercise to get it off your chest!

What you need:

  • Two participants or more

Instructions:

Create teams of two and assign one participant as the “ranter” and the other as the “listener.” The ranter has 60 seconds to rant about something that annoys them. Work-related subjects are ideal, but it can be about anything.

Meanwhile, the listener needs to “listen through the noise” for the issue the ranter truly cares about. Once the ranter is done letting loose, the listener repeats the rant back, but instead focuses on what the ranter likely values or cares about.

For example, if the ranter hates when colleagues leave their dirty dishes on the countertops, the listener may conclude that the ranter values their shared space and wants others to take ownership of their own mess.

Benefits:

This exercise lets your teammates let off some steam and have their grievances acknowledged by their peers in a healthy manner. The listeners learn to look for the real message and the ranters discover what’s truly important to them. Try this method the next time there’s an issue in the office.

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5
PB&J Sandwich

This exercise is great for those who struggle to accurately express their thoughts in writing — and you get a snack out of it. Win.

Sometimes we omit or include certain details that have a negative effect on our written communication. This simple activity will show how much weight words, or a lack of words, can have.

What you need:

  • Two or more people
  • Paper
  • Pens
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Bread
  • Butter knife
  • Tarp — could get messy
  • Plates or napkins

Instructions:

Create teams of two. Assign one person as the “sandwich maker” and one person as the “recipe writer.” Have the writers write out a recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and give it to their partner. The sandwich maker must then follow the recipe literally (if it says to spread some peanut butter, then use “some”...could be a little, could be a lot).

This could get messy, especially if the recipe writer instructs the sandwich maker to “use a liberal amount of jelly” or “smush the bread together.”

Benefits:

Participants will learn how to express themselves better in more or fewer words. Seeing your writing put to action may make you think twice about how you relay your messages. Maybe you intentionally omit details and assume others know what you mean or unintentionally exaggerate your message. This exercise will bring that blemish to the surface.

6
Zen Counting

The workplace isn’t safe from awkward interactions. In fact, it can be a cesspool. This exercise helps teams work through their discomfort and find the courage to speak up.

cartoon of brain with chat bubble

What you need:

  • Three or more people
  • Chairs, or you can sit on the floor

Instructions:

Sit in a circle but with your backs facing the inside of the circle. In no particular order, start counting from 1 to 10 aloud, one at a time. Each member must say at least one number, but you must stop and start over if someone interrupts another or repeats a number.

Benefits:

This game is fun and maybe a little frustrating but it builds trust and cohesion. Participants learn to speak confidently without depending on social or facial cues. They have no choice but to listen carefully to each other and go with their gut.

Give feedback after communication exercises

Speaking up can cost you your position at other companies, so employees may feel apprehensive about being too honest. If you make one or more of these exercises as part of your work routine, make sure you’re giving your team feedback and encouragement during and after.

If the exercises emotionally impact your team and improve communication, they have a better chance of sticking. Just make sure you’re ready for feedback to become more and more honest as time goes on.