Spirit animals improve teamwork. When all else has failed—or when you’re sick of trying all else—spirit animals work magic.
Imagine you’re part of a team at work, and you’re trying to get everyone excited and involved in a project. You’re facilitating a brainstorming session and you want all members of the team to share their ideas. But you quickly notice that, no matter how much you encourage or what kind of environment you create, it’s the usual handful of people who suggest all the ideas and the same few people who sit back and quietly observe.
You already know the team members’ Myers-Briggs’ types, and it’s generally the extraverted types who do the talking while the introverted types do the observing. You’ve tried most of your tricks in the past, such as putting people in pairs, having the quiet people brainstorm together, asking people to write down their ideas, going around the circle one-by-one, giving each team member a set amount of time to speak, starting with creativity games.
Now, you’re ready for something different.
You bring in a deck of animal oracle cards. Yes, in other creativity and team-building exercises, the group has been asked questions such as, “If you were an animal, which animal would you be,” or “If you were a song, what song would you be.” And those questions can be fun, but they can also put people on the spot in an uncomfortable way since they require digging around for an answer can make them feel more vulnerable than they want to feel in that moment.
You’ve decided to bypass thinking and discomfort (mostly) and get straight to the fun with the animal cards.
You show the team members a quick look at the cards to spark their interest. You shuffle the deck and have each person pull a card—without looking at what they’re pulling—starting with the quiet observers in the group.
You’ll want to pull a card, too!
When everyone has a card, they can look at their animal and show them to each other. Now the fun begins.
You want to limit your exercise today to the brainstorming session—or whatever your meeting is about.
You start out by quickly going around and having everyone give 3 – 5 positive aspects or strengths about their animal. If they can’t think of anything (some people will have only negative associations with theirs) or they run out of things, you invite the group to help as you write those strengths on a a flip chart or dry wipe board.
After you’ve done that for everyone’s animal, including your own, it’s time to brainstorm from the perspective of the animals.
You now go around and ask each person one-by-one, “What would your animal suggest?” You ask for a volunteer in case one of the quiet observers feels more comfortable speaking up now. If not, you start with one of the usual many-idea-talkers since this may be easier for them.
It’s fascinating to watch how Bobby, who’s normally a many-idea-talker, alters his tone and types of ideas when he speaks from the perspective of Mouse—quiet, observing, creating order and organization . . . quiet the opposite of Bobby’s usual perspective. He may need some reminding if he slips back into his perspective, but that’s okay. You simply ask, “Is that a Mouse idea or a Bobby idea?”
Janelle, who’s normally a quiet observer, pulled Otter from the deck and now speaks from the perspective of chatty, playful, curious, exploring, and outgoing—not what you usually see from Janelle.
Some people get animals that reflect aspects of their usual personality. So, Vanessa who’s already adept at speaking and leading, pulled Lion from the deck and may not have to stretch too much to come up with Lion ideas in this exercise.
But Rick, who normally struggles to see the big picture, pulled Eagle from the deck and now has to stretch quite a bit to come up with ideas from a visionary perspective.
How is this brainstorming session going?
You find that the team is laughing and having fun, and that has opened up a lot more creativity than normal.
You find that more team members are talking and suggesting ideas than normal. You end up with more and better ideas to work with.
Additionally, team members are less attached to their ideas, as such, the brainstorming is more effective. Since the ideas feel as if they came from Otter, Mouse, Lion, and Eagle, Bobby, Janelle, Vanessa, and Rick don’t feel personally slighted when various ideas end up getting thrown out at the end of the session.
Finally, you find that team members have formed a closer bond. They have seen each other in a different light, from a different perspective, and have a greater appreciation for each other—and for you. They have had fun together and now have a tool they can look forward to using again.
Next time, you can have them keep the same animals so they can practice what they have learned. Or you can go ahead and have the pick new cards to keep things fresh and to prevent them from falling into expectations.