My father is 100% Polish. My mother is mostly English. For about three straight years, however, I was Italian. Everyone called me Phil Pepperoni. No it wasn’t because of my fondness for a certain doughy, saucy, meaty culinary delight. No it wasn’t because I was extra cheesy (okay maybe a little). It was because of a game I played at the start of every group I ever worked with in a Team Building situation.
It was a simple name game. We stood in a circle and each person had to come up with a food that started with the first letter of their first name. I would always start by calling myself Phil Pepperoni. The trick here was the person to my left had to say my name and food and then his or her own name and food. The next person started with me, then the person to my left, and then their name and food so on and so forth until the person on my right had to try to remember every single name (and food) in the entire circle.
This game was a great ice breaker that worked to set the tone on many levels.
First, it helped me get to know all their names. If they didn’t know each other, it helped them get to know everyone’s names, too. Names are powerful. Calling someone by their name creates a stronger bond that helps people learn to trust each other.
Second, it forced people to be creative. Since we were going to be talking and thinking and being creative throughout the day, getting them talking and thinking and being creative right off the bat made it easier as the day went on. Some people really have to be creative in this game, especially if your name is Xavier or you are the fourth Kristen in the circle. (Think about it.)
Third, it gave people a chance to shed an old image and start a new persona. On an established team there are already roles and perceptions and labels that inhibit true teamwork. By giving yourself a new name, you get to shed the other labels and be seen in a different light. Instead of being Fred the Whipping Boy, you get to be Fred Filet Mignon.
Fourth, it taught lessons such as the power of repetition. No one forgot the food name of the person to my left because everyone in the circle had to say it. But the person on my right had to work hard to keep her food name on everyone’s minds.
Fifth, it taught the power of listening instead of just waiting to speak. Many times people would be so focused on what they were going to say that they forgot to listen to the person who went just before them.
Sixth, it got people to laugh. Strong emotions such as laughter help ideas become stickier in our brains. The moments we remember in our lives almost always are associated with strong emotions of Love, Laughter, Hope, Gratitude, Fear, or Anger. I have had people run into me years after doing a Team Building event and immediately say. “Hi Phil Pepperoni!”
Seventh, it helped identify who were the leaders in the group who paid attention, remembered names, and helped others out. Plus it helped identify who needed to be coaxed into doing things, who had discomfort in group settings and discomfort in being in the spotlight and would need extra attention to make sure they didn’t get trampled throughout the day by more powerful personalities.
Eighth, it gave people a reinforcement of the team building lessons when everyone got back to the office. One manager told me people were still using their food names months later. Another told me that they finally had a great way to tell Michelle Maple Syrup apart from Michelle Mango apart from Michelle Mustard apart from Michelle Minestrone.
And you thought it was just a silly game to learn their names.
-Phil Pepperoni (Wrzesinski)
PS We’ll be playing this game and whole bunch of other games, plus learning how to lead them and use them to build a stronger team at the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop on Wednesday, April 26th. This is a Jackson Retail Success Academy™ event in association with Spring Arbor University for anyone who manages three or more people. There are still spaces available.