Published 03.24.2021

Written by Jill Mueller

Jill Mueller is a trainer, coach, and learning experience designer dedicated to helping people teams become high performing by being Thoughtfully Fit.

Need Team Building? Try a Pool Party.

One of the most popular topics in training and development right now is employee engagement. This was the case before the pandemic, and it’s even more relevant with teams working remotely or needing to stay six feet apart. Leaders and managers want to know, “How can I get my employees to engage more in meetings? How can I get people more invested in projects? What can I do to get them excited?”

One Strategy to Try… Host a Pool Party

As soon as you read that, you likely had a thought somewhere on the spectrum from “Sweet—let me find my swimsuit!” to “Umm—you’re insane”. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, welcome to my pool party!

At a recent group coaching session, I asked the participants how they were feeling about the environment within our group. After a long pause, one person cautiously replied, “I feel like we’re all standing around the edge of the pool wondering if we should jump in.”

Some nodded their heads in agreement.  Others said they were in the pool, but still testing the water. As a coach who has facilitated a bazillion group coaching sessions, I realized I jumped right into the deep end! This pool party analogy helped everyone identify where they were and then explore where they wanted to be. It created a fun and safe way to raise awareness without people needing to feel too vulnerable or exposed. 

Metaphors are effective because they help put language to what team members are thinking in a clear and fun way. Here are a few examples:

Involvement in a task: Which team members are swimming laps? Who is watching from the stands? And who isn’t even coming to the pool? (In other words, who is doing most of the project work, who is overseeing the work, and who isn’t involved at all.)

Current workload: Are people struggling to keep their head above water? Having fun in the shallow end? Climbing up the ladder to head down the water slide? (Who is overwhelmed, at a good place, or working hard—but knowing the benefits will make it all worthwhile.)

Enthusiasm about something new: Similar to how I was having fun in the deep end of the pool during my group coaching session, I quickly realized not everyone was with me. It was new and they needed to get comfortable before diving in. Anytime there’s a new project or direction, it can be difficult to know if people are still thinking, are resistant to the idea, or are with you and ready to move on. This is the opportunity to name where you are in the pool (dipping your toe in, getting used to the water, diving into the deep end) and then invite others to do the same.

What Does This Have to Do With Employee Engagement?

In order to get an employee more engaged, you have to start by acknowledging where they currently are. If you want them in the deep end of the pool with you, you have to first meet them where they are. You could throw them in, but we all know not everyone responds well to that.

So offer a playful metaphor and ask some questions instead. Get clear on their current reality and then discuss expectations. Explore what will help them get to the deep end. What would make them feel safe and supported? What resources do they need?

Whether you have a pool party, a masquerade, or a weather system, the possibilities for playing with metaphor are endless. Have fun with it!

One-Minute Thoughtfully Fit Workout: For Your Team 

Pause: Next time you find your team members on different pages—or if you’re not sure where people are at—hit the Pause button for a one-minute pool party.

Think: Name where you are in the pool and then ask others where they are. Give everyone a chance to respond. Keep it light and playful!

Act: With that new awareness, discuss where the team needs to go next.

Team engagement is something for all teams to focus on in order to be high-performing. Let us know how your pool party impacts your team performance!