A team-building exercise to understand your team’s pulse

Mapping your team’s journey is an effective way to understand each member’s perspective and facilitate team building. Just like our body, your team’s pulse can reveal a lot about its health and productivity.

A healthy team doesn’t beat with the regularity of clockwork. Like our heart, teams speed up and slow down to accommodate the changing dynamics and challenges. Also, each teammate’s pulse can vary. What is a ‘normal’ team heartbeat varies from person to person–and team to team.

The purpose of this exercise is to understand each member’s rhythm and how they contribute to the overall team’s heartbeat. By understanding the gaps, we can understand what drives (or not) people and align the team toward a more productive future.

What is the ‘Team Heartbeat Canvas’?

This team-building exercise consists of mapping the highs and lows of each team member from the day they joined the team up to today. By comparing and analyzing the similarities and differences, the team as a whole can identify a path toward better collaboration and productivity.

Each team member shares their own heartbeat, what are the things they believe drive the highs and lows of the team, and uncover the respective emotions and mindsets.

the team heartbeat canvas is a tool for mapping your team journey and uncover the team pulse
The Team Heartbeat Canvas is a tool to diagnose and understand your team’s pulse.

How to Facilitate the ‘Team Heartbeat Canvas’

This exercise can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over one hour, depending on the size of the team and the complexity of the situation.

Download and print one copy of the canvas (size  22×34 inches) per each team member plus one extra copy to consolidate findings.

You will need a large room. Ideally, the team heartbeat canvas should be posted to the wall so that everyone can work independently, but then it’s easier to share and compare everyone’s results.

Provide people with post-its and sharpies.

Key steps to understand your team’s pulse (individual exercise)

1) Ask each person to draw the team pulse from their own perspective. Mimicking a heartbeat graph, participants use a color marker to draw a curve capturing the team highs and lows. The line starts the day they joined the team (different for each person) until the day they are doing the exercise. Some lines might be more pronounced depending on the lengths of each person’s tenure.

The top of the canvas is the highest point, and the bottom represents the lowest mark. Consider the middle as a neutral zone–everything above or below represents the pulse.

2) Once everyone’s finished, ask them to mark with an x the peaks and valleys. They should add a post-it per each high and low, identifying the event that happened (i.e., my first day at the team, we won a client, we lost a team member, we started an exciting new project, etc.). The goal of this part is to uncover what drove the highs and lows

3) Now, participants should capture how they felt and thought at each critical moment and why. The purpose here is to understand how people reacted to each key event.

Shareout and analysis of this team-building exercise

Ask each member to share their own version of the team pulse. Give each person 2 minutes. They should focus on telling the overall journey, identifying key events and emotions. But, most importantly, to share their view of the team’s ups and downs and what drives or hinders the energy and passion for working together.

Ask a facilitator to capture 2-3 key insights per person on a larger post-it and place it on each canvas.

If you have extra time, you can allow some time for people to ask questions or comments after each individual presentation.

Once everyone has presented their team heartbeat canvas, ask the team to focus on understanding the commonalities and differences.

Use the following facilitation questions to start the conversation:

What are the common themes that we observe?

What are the key highs and lows of our team?

Are there events that drive some people’s pulse up and others’ down? Why is that happening?

What are the things we need to remember about what drives and hinders us (both individually and collectively)?

What have we learned about our team heartbeat? How can we work better together to create more positive moments? How can we support each other during low moments?

What can we do differently next time?

Coaching Tips for the Team Heartbeat Canvas

The purpose of this exercise to capture the emotional journey of the team. When participants are drawing the highs and lows, encourage them to capture the essence, not get caught in drawing a perfect curve. This not a quantitative but a qualitative exercise.

Empathy among team members is crucial to increase collaboration. Encourage the team to listen and understand what drives or hinders each other. To capture the differences and become more aware of how a similar event might be rewarding for one person, but challenging for another. For example, winning a new client might get the sales team excited but upset the operation folks because there’s more work for them to do.

This exercise is also very effective to onboard new team members by giving a quick download on what the team has been going through and the challenges they are facing as a team.

Last but not least, don’t get people stuck in the past. Though we are using what happened to understand the team pulse and dynamics better, the final goal is to improve how they will work together today and in the future.

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