There is No Them

Lessons on leadership from the world of game development

Team Building Activities: Sharing Personal Back Stories

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In a previous post I mentioned I would discuss examples of how to encourage a team to share their personal back stories, having already discussed how personal back stories can play an important part in supporting high bandwidth communication within a team. In this post I will present two examples, one that works when you need to introduce a whole group of folks to each other and one for when you are introducing a new member to an existing group.

Group Game: Random Truths

When you have a group of people who have worked with each other, but still may not have consistently shared any of their personal back story, this game can be a great way to get things off to a good start. It takes minimal up front preparation, but the payoff has always been consistently positive in my experience. This game works well for groups of a dozen or less.

Ask each person in the group to contribute (in email) to you three truthful but unusual things about themselves, things that the rest of the group is likely unaware of. No one need share something they are not comfortable with, but encouorage folks to share things that others will find interesting (even if they don’t themselves).

Once you have collected the three truths from each person collate all of them such that you can print them out as individual slips of paper. Then cut all of the separate truths out. The result should be that you have 3 times more slips of paper then folks in the group, and each sheet of paper has a truth on it that someone submitted (but that DOES NOT identify the person who contributed it).

At the meeting you will pass out three random slips of paper to each person, asking them to keep the information private. The rules of the game, you explain, are as follows: each person, in turn, is going to read aloud the three truths they have been given. Once read out, they will try to guess who each truth belongs to, by passing the slip with that truth to that person. The person receiving the truth does not respond to this directly; they will have a chance to respond to this when its their turn to read the truths they were given.

Once the first person has read and presented their three truths the next person takes their turn, doing much the same thing. However, people who have yet to go may end up with more then the three truths they started with. When they read the truths they have aloud they must admit which of the truths they were given is correct, and if not correct, pass it on to the person they guess contributed that truth. Any truth that is correctly given to its contributor is removed from the game. Over time the number of truths in the game will decrease, and some truths may pass through multiple hands until the correct person is identified.

Keep taking turns until all truths are correctly identified. Everyone now knows more about each other then they did before the game, and unless the group is unwilling to have a good time, folks found the game fun as well!

New Person Game: Three Truths and a Lie

For groups that already have a fair understanding of each others personal back story, or as a way to start the process of sharing personal back story more subtly, consider playing Three Truths and a Lie.

This game works best when used to introduce a small number of new folks to a group, though it can be used with the whole group as well. This game also needs no preperation, making it easier to use on the spur of the moment.

For each player in the game ask them to prepare two statements about themselves that are true as well as one statement about them that is not true. The intent, you explain, is to present the three options such that the rest of the group has difficulty determining which of the three options isn’t true. Once the players have decided what they intend to use (give folks a moment to think about it, coming up with good options isn’t something you do on the spot), have each of them, in turn, share their three statements in no particular order.

The rest of the group must then, as a group, try to determine which of the three options is not true. The player then responds letting the group know whether they chose correctly or not, and perhaps explaining for a moment the three options chosen. Then the next player goes, doing the same thing, until all players are finished.

This game can be played again and again, each time requiring the players to come up with a new set of options. Not only does this game help people share their personal back stories, but it also offers a bit of interesting insight into them, based on what they are as their untruths.


These are only two of the various methods I have used to encourage a group to share their personal back stories. Invariably the group comes away having learned some interesting fact they were unaware of, and often, a fact that is relevant to the professional work at hand. As the moderator of either of the above events, helping the group tie the personal information with a relevant business issue can go a long way towards demonstrating the value of personal back stories.

In yet another future post I will present an exercise that helps teams understand why personal back stories are important, but is not about sharing their personal back stories (as the above games do).


Written by joshuahoward

August 26, 2009 at 9:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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