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Tip of the Week: Putting the Pieces Together

March 11, 2024, The Association

Looking to help staff enhance their communications and leadership skills? Give this classic team building activity a try

“Jigsaw puzzles are well-known for their brain-boosting abilities,” says Sandi Mercado, ED of Citizens for Animal Protection. “They give both the logical left and creative right sides of your brain a little workout, and they help improve your memory, Most importantly, jigsaw puzzles remind us that there’s always a place to fit in.”

When done as a team, putting together a jigsaw puzzle can teach us important lessons—such as understanding that communication is mandatory when working together toward a common goal, or understanding, says, Mercado, “You make progress one piece at a time.”

Here’s the how-to on the staff training activity Mercado facilitated at CAP:

Prep Work & Planning

  • Divide staff into teams of equal numbers.
  • Purchase puzzles—each team will need their own puzzle, and they should all be the exact same puzzle.
  • Place puzzle pieces in Ziplock bags. (Don’t leave them in the boxes—it’s crucial that teams do NOT get to see what final product should look like)

The Exercise

  • Tell the teams the task is to complete their puzzles within one hour, and that this is NOT a competition between teams.
  • During the exercise, have teams stop working. Tell groups to change tables, leaving their puzzle for the next group. Do this twice. The third time, have them return to their original table.
  • At the end of the allotted time, do a quick walk around the room to see whose puzzle is closest to completion.

Discuss as a Group

  • What was your first plan of attack when presented with the challenge?
  • What happened when you “inherited” someone else’s “problem”?
  • How did you work together as a team in the beginning of the activity?  
  • What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?
  • Did you communicate at all with other teams during this exercise?
  • Did you nominate a leader? What did you take into account when deciding who it would be? Was there one person who was perceived by others as an obvious leader?
  • Looking back on the exercise, what things did you do well as a team?
  • What is one thing you can take away from the activity? How can you apply this to your role?

One of the most valuable lessons for the exercise, shares Mercado, is it can demonstrate that everyone has their own style and strengths. “Providing leadership opportunities to everyone is important,” she adds. “The best followers also have leadership abilities. Effective followers are some of the most important people in an organization. He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader.”

Have you tried this, or are planning on it? Let us know how it goes.

About The Association
The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement is a cohort of leaders on a mission to champion, advance, and unify the animal welfare profession.

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